This month we kicked off the new year in style, with the first Reading, Writing and Memory Research Seminar of 2016. Roehampton’s own Dr Alison Waller spoke on ‘Experiments in Rereading: Childist Criticism and Bibliomemoir’. You can listen to Alison’s talk below.
Alison is Senior Lecturer at the University of Roehampton and member of the National Centre for Research in Children’s Literature (NCRCL). She has research interests in adolescence and young adult fiction, and her first book was Constructions of Adolescence in Fantastic Realism (Routledge: 2009). She has also written articles on Robert Cormier, JD Salinger, and Philip Pullman, edited the New Casebook on Melvin Burgess (Palgrave Macmillan, 2013) and recently co-edited a special issue on Margaret Mahy for The Lion and the Unicorn (2015). She was involved in organising the AHRC-funded Memory Network project at Roehampton and is on the advisory board for the Memories of Fiction project. She is currently writing a monograph called The Poetics of Rereading Childhood Books, which investigates adult memories of early reading.
‘When Hugh Crago mused in an article in Signal in 1979 ‘whether it could be useful if I, and some others, were to set down what we do recall about our reading habits in childhood’ he was a relatively lone voice representing an interest in autobibliography in the field of children’s literature. In the years following, autobibliography – or bibliomemoir – has become an increasingly visible and valid methodology for exploring questions about childhood reading, with critics and popular writers examining their own youthful reading histories from a variety of perspectives and for multiple purposes. In this paper, I focus particularly on the practice of rereading in autobibliographical criticism and in the boom of contemporary bibliomemoirs, exploring what adult voices can tell us about early reading experiences by reflecting on childhood books they have returned to later in life. This alternative ‘childist criticism’ raises new issues and reflects a range of assumptions about children and their personal reading, and in this paper I will set out some of the patterns of ‘compliance’ and ‘resistance’ that can be observed in accounts of rereading such as Francis Spufford’s The Child that Books Built (2002), Rick Gekoski’s Outside of a Dog (2009), and Patricia Meyer Spacks’ On Rereading (2011).’
We were delighted to welcome Dr Gill Partington (Birkbeck, University of London) to speak as part of our Memories of Fiction seminar series in March this year. Gill is a member of Birkbeck’s Material Texts Network and has co-convened various network symposia, including most recently Perversions of Paper (2014).We’re very happy to say that Gill’s paper, ‘Taking it Literally: Mae Brussell and the Misreading of Fiction’ is now available to listen to here in full.
“On 16th March 1979 the radio talk show host Mae Brussell recounted reading a book whose contents provoked a violent, visceral reaction, making her nauseous and faint. The book in question was Alternative 3, an exposé of a sinister global plot at the highest levels. It was also, however, a spoof: a work of fiction, whose contents she misrecognised and quoted to her listeners as factual information. This talk examines her retrospective accounts of reading, concentrating on how her interpretations of Alternative 3 and other texts negotiate a complex and shifting boundary between fiction and non-fiction.”
* Please note that the recording level is low in places so it is advised to turn your speakers up to full volume.
Do book group members get nervous when they take their seats and prepare to share their thoughts on that month’s book? After having a cherished book ‘all to themselves’ is there a moment of trepidation as it’s released to the wider world of the book group for critique?
We’re hoping to pose these questions – and many more – as we interview book group members. And if the answer to both questions is ‘Yes’, then we may know something of how they feel. This week we’ve had a sense of Memories of Fiction going from the speculative to the suddenly very real as we’ve got up in front of various audiences to share our aims and hopes for the project. After keeping the project ‘all to ourselves’ in the first month as we plan and organise, we’ve now had the opportunity to gather some feedback from others, and, very excitingly, meet our first book group.
On 4th-5th September we attended the Story of Memory conference at the University of Roehampton, organised by the Memory Network. Shelley and Amy introduced the project on a panel entitled ‘Memory and Reading: A View from the Sidelines’, alongside papers from Dr Alison Waller (University of Roehampton) and Dr Sara Whiteley (University of Sheffield). All three papers worked really well together, drawing fascinating threads about both memory and reading and how people discuss reading in groups.
On the evening of 4th September we were delighted to host Professor Martyn Lyons (University of New South Wales) as the guest speaker for this month’s IHR Oral History Seminar. Professor Lyons spoke on his and colleague Professor Lucy Taksa’s groundbreaking work, Australian Readers Remember, now celebrating its 22nd anniversary since publication. A podcast of the talk is now available here.
Oxford University Press, 1992
Professor Lyons, currently on an extended visit to the UK, was then able to join us on Monday for the first meeting of the Memories of Fiction Advisory Group. The group, which aims to meet once a year throughout the project, brings together some of the foremost scholars working in reading and memory. The conversation was lively and engaging, and a huge boost to us as we continue to formulate and refine our research and prepare to begin in earnest.
Speaking of which, perhaps the highlight of the last week was our visit to our first reading group. Last Friday we visited Battersea Library (worth a visit to see the beautiful arts and crafts style reading room) and sat in on the Alvering book group. This month they were discussing Dancing to the Flute by Manisha Amin. We were thrilled to get a really positive and warm response to the project and delighted that over half the group signed up to take part as interviewees. The group, now in its fourteenth year, meets once a month, at 12pm on a Friday. Many thanks to Ferelith and the group for welcoming us.
We’re delighted that Professor Martyn Lyons is spending this summer 2014 in the UK. With Lucy Taska, Martyn published the first oral history of reading, Australian Readers Remember (1992), and he’ll be giving the first of the Oral History Society‘s research seminars at the Institute of Historical Research on Thursday 4 September: ‘The Australian Readers Remember project in retrospect, or why we (still) need an oral history of reading’.
The seminars are at 6pm, free and open to all. Click here for more information.
Martyn is also part of the project’s Advisory Group which is first meeting on Monday 8 September.