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The Woman Reader [Hardcover]

Belinda Jack

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Book Description

June 25 2012 0300120451 978-0300120455

This lively story has never been told before: the complete history of women's reading and the ceaseless controversies it has inspired. Belinda Jack's groundbreaking volume travels from the Cro-Magnon cave to the digital bookstores of our time, exploring what and how women of widely differing cultures have read through the ages.

Jack traces a history marked by persistent efforts to prevent women from gaining literacy or reading what they wished. She also recounts the counter-efforts of those who have battled for girls' access to books and education. The book introduces frustrated female readers of many eras—Babylonian princesses who called for women's voices to be heard, rebellious nuns who wanted to share their writings with others, confidantes who challenged Reformation theologians' writings, nineteenth-century New England mill girls who risked their jobs to smuggle novels into the workplace, and women volunteers who taught literacy to women and children on convict ships bound for Australia.

Today, new distinctions between male and female readers have emerged, and Jack explores such contemporary topics as burgeoning women's reading groups, differences in men and women's reading tastes, censorship of women's on-line reading in countries like Iran, the continuing struggle for girls' literacy in many poorer places, and the impact of women readers in their new status as significant movers in the world of reading.

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"Engaging, lively and vigorous. The Woman Reader is a landmark work that no feminist—or for that matter, general reader—should miss."—Naomi Wolf, author of The Beauty Myth
(Naomi Wolf)

"An utterly gripping history of women and reading, brilliantly conceived and told depth and detail for the first time. Belinda Jack's remarkable book is destined to be a landmark in its field."—Claire Harman, author of Jane's Fame: How Jane Austen Conquered the World
(Claire Harman)

"A lively and erudite history of the many and ingenious covers thrown over women's minds to keep us in the dark, Jack's absorbing story describes and deconstructs the endlessly remade cover versions that men (mostly) have told to women, and to themselves, about the reasons why books and women should be kept apart."—Jeanette Winterson, Times of London

(Jeanette Winterson Times of London)

Selected as a Choice Outstanding Academic 2012 Title for Social and Behavioral Sciences within the Reference category.
(Outstanding Academic Title Choice 2013-05-22)

From the Author

A Conversation with Belinda Jack

Q: How did you come to write this book?

A: I became interested in just how different men and women's reading has often been. Men have worried since ancient times about what women read but the reverse has hardly ever been the case.

Q: What were the most striking stories uncovered in the course of your research?

A: It's been fascinating tracing women's responses to misogynist writings that they then re-wrote—across the centuries and different cultures. And I was astonished by so-called medical works in the nineteenth century recommending that unstable women should be prevented from reading novels. One eminent physician recommended books on beekeeping!

Q: Is the story essentially one of slow improvement?

A: In some ways, but not altogether. I was struck by just how similar attitudes to women's reading were in late-eighteenth- and early-nineteenth-century Europe and in Ancient Rome. In both contexts women were encouraged to read only insofar as it provided them with a moral training, or helped them to be good mother-educators. The other parallel was that literate women reflected their husband's social status.

Q: Were you ever discouraged from reading or denied access to certain books?

A: Both my parents were keen readers but my father didn't think I should read stories in which people died—which ruled out a good deal! They used to call me either a "bookworm" or a "great reader." Even when quite young I saw how very different those descriptions were.

Praise for Belinda Jack’s George Sand:

“[Jack’s] approach is psychological but with a light touch. . . . Thorough without being pedantic. . . . A pleasure to read.”—Library Journal

“Focused and engaging.”—New York Times Book Review

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