The proliferation of book clubs, reading groups, "outline" volumes, and new forms of book reviewing in the first half of the twentieth century influenced the tastes and pastimes of millions of Americans. By examining both the form and content of this popularization of literature, Joan Rubin recaptures here an activity that brought the humanities ...
The proliferation of book clubs, reading groups, "outline" volumes, and new forms of book reviewing in the first half of the twentieth century influenced the tastes and pastimes of millions of Americans. By examining both the form and content of this popularization of literature, Joan Rubin recaptures here an activity that brought the humanities to the general public on an unprecedented scale. In doing so, she provides the first comprehensive analysis of the rise of American middlebrow culture and the values encompassed by it. Exploring the democratization of culture in a consumer society, Rubin concentrates on five important expressions of the middlebrow: the establishment of book clubs, including the founding of the Book-of-the-Month Club; the beginnings of "great books" programs; the creation ofthe New York Herald Tribune's book-review section; the popularity of such works as Will Durant's The Story of Philosophy; and the emergence of literary radio programs. Rubin also investigates the lives and expectations of the individuals who shaped these middlebrow enterprises--such figures as Stuart Pratt Sherman, Irita Van Doren, Henry Seidel Canby, Dorothy Canfield Fisher, John Erskine, William Lyon Phelps, Alexander Woollcott, and Clifton Fadiman. By demonstrating that an emphasis on character, liberal learning, and aesthetic training at least partly animated many of these writers, she revises the conventional view that the genteel tradition in American letters had vanished by World War I. Moreover, as she pursues the significance of these cultural intermediaries who connected elites and the masses by interpreting ideas to the public, Rubin forces a reconsideration of the boundary betweenhigh culture and popular sensibility.
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Publishers Weekly, 1992-02-03 Rubin's ( Constance Rourke and American Culture ) discussion of American culture from the 1920s through the 1940s is less revealing of middlebrow values and attitudes than of what the people who dispensed packaged culture thought such attitudes were. She offers entertaining details on the instruments of middlebrow culture and their creators: the heyday of the New York Herald Tribune' s books section, the early years of the Book-of-the-Month Club and the ``great books'' movement, the first literary radio shows and the then-popular ``outline'' volume. She examines the tension between informing the public and forming its tastes, between marketing knowledge and standardizing it. Rather less interesting is Rubin's preoccupation with the relationship of her subjects to academia, for example, ``great books'' originator John Erskine (an insider) and BOMC book critic Dorothy Canfield Fisher (an outsider). However, there is much to enjoy in her accounts, and as an added bonus the book itself demonstrates that middlebrow culture lives on: Rubin received NEH funds ``to bring the results of cultural activities to a broad, general public''--thus, it's a middlebrow work. (Mar.)
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