02 September 2014

Emily Dickinson's book group

Emily Dickinson, via Wikimedia
[T]here is one ... epistolary feature that makes Dickinson original: from her teenage years onwards she conducted a postal - and virtual - book group. If it wasn't the first it was certainly one of the strongest: a huge amount (perhaps even half) of her letters contained at least some reference to her current reading material or an oblique literary reference her middle-class friends would be sure to recognise. It is highly likely that she also attended what she may have called a 'corporeal' real-life book club in her early twenties (in one letter she writes to her brother how 'Our Reading Club still is, and becomes now very pleasant'), but when she saw less of the real world she seemed happy to keep in touch with it through books and letters about books. Her first tentative steps towards this occurred in 1848 at the age of 18, writing to a friend 'What are you reading now?' before launching into her own list, and her regular book circle soon expanded to include her brother Austin and his wife Sue, her cousins Louise and Frances Norcross, and at least three friends. The Dickinson scholar Eleanor Heginbotham has observed that her 'book club manners' in her letters are still reflected in book club behaviour today: a sociability, a boastfulness, a competitiveness, a delight. Present-day book club members may well exhibit all of these in discussing the work and life of Emily Dickinson.

- Simon Garfield, To the Letter, Edinburgh, 2013, p.252-3.

See also:
Books: Mark Twain on knowing nothing about New Zealand, 31 July 2014
Books: Mr Pooter puts his foot in it, 28 June 2014
Books: Satan amongst the sofa cushions, 29 May 2014
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