Must Read: Rediscovering American Bestsellers from Charlotte Temple to The Da Vinci Code has been receiving some gratifying reviews recently.
In American Book Review, Erin Smith writes:
Churchwell’s and Smith’s “Introduction” is masterful, and it, alone, makes the volume worth reading. They not only offer a thorough, engaging historical overview of bestsellers in America, but also map the scholarly field of American popular for their audience [...] Must Read succeeds both in its parts and as a whole. The essays are generally of high quality, but Churchwell and Smith have also created an unusual degree of unity and coherence among the essays. Must Read’s thorough, clear introduction and careful selection and framing make it feel more like a monograph. Together, these essays make a coherent argument about popular literature as a site of struggle over meaning across history, a space where controversies over religion, race, nation, gender/sexuality, social and cultural value are negotiated.
In Studies in the Novel, Patrick Hamilton writes:
Ranging from the late eighteenth to the early twenty-first century, the various essays and their authors convincingly demonstrate the cultural significance of the bestseller, collectively revealing a complexity and significance often belied by their popularity, as well as how such texts respond to American cultural values and, quite often, fantasies [...] Overall, Must Read provides engaging analyses of selected best-selling texts that synechdochically represent the bestseller genre from the late 1800s to the near present. Together, these essays demonstrate the particular role the bestseller can play in bringing to light predilections within the American reading public as well as a thematic and aesthetic complexity to works too often denigrated as simply "popular."And in the European Journal of American Studies, Christina Dokou writes:
Must Read expands the usual time limits of the bestseller inquiry exponentially [...] What’s more, they opt to focus on “the critically ‘neglected’ bestseller” to avoid revisiting texts already favored by scholarship [...] They thus synthesize a picture of American (bestseller) reading that functions well on both a micro- and a macro-cosmic level [...] they reveal the precarious and wholly arbitrary nature of bestsellerdom, born out of a momentary conjecture of public trends, publishing bets, and authorial intent.More reviews available here.