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Reading, novels and the ethics of sociability: Taking Simmel to an independent English bookshop

Smith, Daniel R. ORCID: 2022. Reading, novels and the ethics of sociability: Taking Simmel to an independent English bookshop. Olave, Maria Angelica Thumala, ed. The Cultural Sociology of Reading: The Meanings of Reading and Books Across the World, Palgrave Macmillan, pp. 361-384. (10.1007/978-3-031-13227-8_13)

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We have inherited two conflicting but dominant imaginaries of reading from modernism. One is reading as a refuge from sociability: as Marcel Proust remarked, “With books there is no forced sociability”. Another is reading as sociability by other means: as T. S. Eliot observed, “we read many books, because we cannot know enough people.” In between these two imaginaries, the sociability of books recalls the ethical tensions of modern individuality: the perils of having to share our unique and singular life with others, all the while knowing that our singularity is nourished by who we share life with. Set in a culturally prestigious independent bookshop in a provincial English town, this chapter puts forward the claim that this modernist aesthetic finds its way into the reading practices and philosophies of a portion of the highly educated (upper-)middle classes in England. Through accounts of how booksellers conceive of their bookshop, life history interviews with committed readers and an ethnographic extract from a reading group discussion of Sebald’s The Emigrants, we learn that the ethics of sociability is, in reading, as in sociability, a society of unalike people finds a way for all to remain alike in their uniqueness.

Item Type: Book Section
Date Type: Publication
Status: Published
Schools: Social Sciences (Includes Criminology and Education)
Publisher: Palgrave Macmillan
ISBN: 9783031132261
Date of First Compliant Deposit: 4 August 2022
Date of Acceptance: 1 June 2022
Last Modified: 15 Jul 2024 12:52

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