Women in the Reading Circle

While going through boxes that my mother had saved when she moved from her condo to a seniors residence, I came across an article from a course we’d taken on the novels of Jane Austen. I can no longer remember the exact year we took the course, however it was likely 2002 or 2003.

Painting by Albert Bartholome

I do recall being somewhat embarrassed when it appeared that I was the only one attending the course who’d never read any of Jane Austen. Blame it on terrible English teachers and a preference for Mathematics and Science topics in university and in later years of high school. Along with my mother, I embarked enthusiastically on Pride and Prejudice, Sense and Sensibility, Northanger Abbey, Emma, and Persuasion. [But, please don’t ask me to describe the plots now.]

Back to my mother’s boxes. In one of them, Mom and I discovered a course description she’d saved along with an article our instructor had provided: Women in the Reading Circle by Patricia Howell Michaelson. The opening sentence caught my eye.

Throughout the eighteenth century, novels were maligned for corrupting women.

Seriously?

The author goes on to say: “It was not only the content of novels that was targeted: the act of reading itself was dangerous.” Reading was considered antisocial. Reading led women to neglect their duties. Reading could lead to lifelong spinsterhood. Reading might confuse women about the realities of life.

Michaelson also points out that “reading aloud in the family circle placed novels behind patriarchal safeguards. In the extreme, family reading became a form of censorship, controlling access to books, censoring offensive passages, and interrupting the text with moralistic commentary.”

An elocution movement of the time celebrated the art of reading aloud as a “system of rules, which teaches us to pronounce written composition with justness, energy, variety, and ease.” It was also a system where men did the reading while women listened, where men controlled what was read – the books chosen, the passages omitted – and how it was read in terms of tone, voice, and emphasis. Men also chose which passages to discuss and led such discussions.

Jane Austen places reading in this context within her novels. In Sense and Sensibility, for example, Marianne Dashwood criticizes “poor, dull Edward and praise[s] her Willoughby by contrasting their readings.” In Mansfield Park, “Edmund advises Maria how best to read a dangerous play: ‘Read only the first Act aloud, to either your mother or aunt, and see how you can approve it. It will not be necessary to send to your father’s judgment, I am convinced.'”

Are you as astonished as I am?

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M.K. Tod writes historical fiction. Her latest novel, TIME AND REGRET was published by Lake Union. Mary’s other novels, LIES TOLD IN SILENCE and UNRAVELLED are available from AmazonNookKoboGoogle Play and iTunes. She can be contacted on FacebookTwitter and Goodreads or on her website www.mktod.com.

Book blogging in Iran

Several months ago, when I asked for people willing to be interviewed about their book blogs or bookstagram activities, identical twins from Iran got in touch with me. As it turns out, they don’t currently have a blog, however, they do belong to an English book club and are planning to create a blog. With what is going on in our world right now (!!), it’s encouraging to hear what these women have to say.

The sign advertises English Book Club

Why did you start blogging about or featuring books?

To be honest, we didn’t have enough information about blogging. We express our warm thanks to Mary for informing us and giving us this opportunity to start our own blog and read various books. That’s why we have decided to start our own blog. Thanks to her, we have this chance to connect with other readers.

What type of books appeal to you and why?

Honestly, English is our favourite language and we read a huge selection of books and articles in English. In other words, the books help us feel better and develop our minds. Certainly, the ones that have much more depth. Gaining different experience from various books is really enjoyable. We like reading the book even holding it altogether. We are highly fascinated to read and share the joy of reading with our  friends.

Do you concentrate on a specific genre? If so, can you tell us a bit about your passion?

We’re into historical fiction. In addition to it, romance and non-fiction book genres are our favourite. Above all, we’re willing to read all genres but hardly read horror.

Who are your readers and followers? How do you engage with them? [These comments refer to the English book club.]

Followers and visitors are a group of lovely readers who are passionate about reading, discussing and being informed. It’s noteworthy that some of the people join us since they are interested in English books and learning English. Likewise, some decide to follow us out of curiosity. Honestly, the book club aroused a lot of curiosity among Iranian people. Actually, it’s the first in Iran. We’re greatly interested in following other post links. We do hope they follow us.

What ways do you use to attract new readers and followers?

Via indirect story post and reading ecosystem. Above all, we have a growing interest in introducing  books through acting. We ourselves enjoy reading and sharing such posts more. Just share our happiness and joy of reading. Hope others enjoy.

How do you interact with authors and publicists?

On Instagram, social networks, post office and email. Likewise, we feel honoured and proud when we interact  with such lovely people. Our words fail to express our feelings when they contact us. Our top priority in the book club is writing an open letter to the authors of the select book. Then, we send the members’ letters to the authors by email. Actually, it planted the seed of interest for the members of book club. It’s noteworthy that childrens’ letters for the book “The Fire Eaters” were sent to Professor David Almond and his kind response was an amazing event.

Yalda is a celebration of the winter solstice

What trends or changes have you noticed in the book world?

We’ve noticed  that young children in addition to old readers are big fans of books and interested in book club. Therefore, it motivates young readers to start reading. To the best of our knowledge, smart phones keep children from reading. So that sharing the books through videos would be useful and motivate them to keep reading.

If you could wave your magic wand, what would you change about the book industry?

Nowadays, books are so expensive. In addition, the access is not easy, especially, in Iran. Finding a way to solve this problem would be highly appreciated. Another thing would be sharing the books from bookcases since even holding a book puts everybody in the mood for reading.

Dear twins – I’m so delighted you took the time to connect with me and with the audience of A Writer of History. I know my readers will be very intrigued! When you do start your blog, please send me a link so I can publicize it.

FOR MORE ON READING & WRITING HISTORICAL FICTION FOLLOW A WRITER OF HISTORY (using the widget on the left sidebar)

M.K. Tod writes historical fiction. Her latest novel, TIME AND REGRET was published by Lake Union. Mary’s other novels, LIES TOLD IN SILENCE and UNRAVELLED are available from Amazon, NookKoboGoogle Play and iTunes. She can be contacted on Facebook, Twitter and Goodreads or on her website www.mktod.com.

Book blogger Erin of Historical Fiction Reader

Erin, the blogger at Historical Fiction Reader, and I have been Facebook friends for several years. She’s passionate about historical fiction (hmm – maybe you’ve already guessed that?) and shares that passion regularly on her blog and on Facebook. Welcome, Erin!

Why did you start blogging about or featuring books?

I’m a voracious reader and love talking about books. Unfortunately, I don’t know as many book enthusiasts in the real world. Blogging allowed me a means of connecting with other readers regardless of geographic distance between me and them.

What type of books appeal to you and why?

I’ve always been drawn to historical fiction. Something about utilizing the past as a lens to explore people and ideas fascinates me to no end.

Do you concentrate on a specific genre? If so, can you tell us a bit about your passion for that genre.

I owe my enthusiasm for historical fiction to Elizabeth Chadwick. I stumbled over one of her books, The Champion, on accident and fell head over heels in love with it. I’d always been passionate about history, but the book marked my first real experience with the genre. The framework of the narrative resonated with my passion for the past and I suppose I’ve never really gotten over it.

Who are your readers and followers? How do you engage with them?

I’m followed by fellow historical fiction enthusiasts. Some are readers, but several are writers and/or publishing professionals. Most of my engagement takes place on my Facebook page where I feature titles that have caught my eyes, share historical fiction articles, and host literary inspired discussions.

If you have a blog, what features does it offer? For example, ‘best of’ lists, author interviews, a book rating system.

I post historical fiction reviews and author interviews at Historical Fiction Reader. I post new release slideshows once a month and a weekly reading lineup on my Facebook page. Recently, I’ve also begun experimenting in historical fiction inspired flat lays on Instagram.

What ways do you use to attract new readers and followers?

Engagement mostly. I am naturally introverted but I love talking books and I find that simply posting questions invites others to share their thoughts with me.

How do you interact with authors and publicists?

Much the same way I interact with readers. Both camps are passionate about literature and publishing. Most seem to enjoy sharing their insights and opinions in casual social media discussions. That said, I am trying to attend more writer events. The Southern California Chapter of the Historical Novel Society has graciously allowed me to attend their bi-monthly meetings and I believe I’ve grown as a reader from their insights and expertise.

What trends or changes have you noticed in the book world?

The market is becoming increasingly dominated by trends, to the point where the market is flooded by the “it-topic” of the moment. I respect and understand the realities of the marketplace, but as a reader, the tidal wave of single subject lit is overwhelming.

Writing styles have also changed a great deal. Commercial fiction is riding high and while I respect the entertainment value of these titles, I can’t help missing the artistry of prose in the more literary offerings that used to dominate the market.

If you could wave your magic wand, what would you change about the book industry?

If anything, I’d like to see mainstream publishers invest in more diverse and inclusive narratives more regularly.

As a genre, I feel historical fiction overwhelming anglocentric with a heavy emphasis on only a handful of specific people, places, and events. I think this a disservice to readers and writers alike as it restricts opportunities, stifles talent, and represses artistic expression while growing a decidedly monochromatic collection of titles with all too similar content.

Many thanks for sharing your perspective, Erin. As someone who writes historical fiction, I truly appreciate the support you give to the genre.

FOR MORE ON READING & WRITING HISTORICAL FICTION  FOLLOW A WRITER OF HISTORY (see left hand sidebar)

M.K. Tod writes historical fiction. Her latest novel, TIME AND REGRET was published by Lake Union. Mary’s other novels, LIES TOLD IN SILENCE and UNRAVELLED are available from Amazon, NookKoboGoogle Play and iTunes. She can be contacted on Facebook, Twitter and Goodreads or on her website www.mktod.com.