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UBC Theses and Dissertations

Paying attention to public readers of Canadian literature : popular genre systems, publics, and canons Grafton, Kathryn


Paying Attention to Public Readers of Canadian Literature examines contemporary moments when Canadian literature has been canonized in the context of popular reading programs. I investigate the canonical agency of public readers who participate in these programs: readers acting in a non-professional capacity who speak and write publicly about their reading experiences. I argue that contemporary popular canons are discursive spaces whose constitution depends upon public readers. My work resists the common critique that these reading programs and their canons produce a mass of readers who read the same work at the same time in the same way. To demonstrate that public readers are canon-makers, I offer a genre approach to contemporary canons that draws upon literary and new rhetorical genre theory. I contend in Chapter One that canons are discursive spaces comprised of public literary texts and public texts about literature, including those produced by readers. I study the intertextual dynamics of canons through Michael Warner’s theory of publics and Anne Freadman’s concept of “uptake.” Canons arise from genre systems that are constituted to respond to exigencies readily recognized by many readers, motivating some to participate. I argue that public readers’ agency lies in the contingent ways they select and interpret a literary work while taking up and instantiating a canonizing genre. Subsequent chapters examine the genre systems of three reading programs: One Book, One Vancouver, a public book club; Canada Reads, a celebrity “book brawl”; and The Complete Booker, an online reading challenge. Chapter Two explores how a reading public and canon are called forth by organizers and participants of the One Book, One Vancouver genre system. Chapter Three analyzes public readers’ collective literary selection within the canonizing genre of the Canada Reads brawl. Chapter Four investigates how participants in The Complete Booker genre system instantiate the canon of the Man Booker Prize in ways that construct distinct subject positions of public readers who can evaluate the Canadian Booker winners in meaningful ways for their imagined public. My conclusion proposes that paying attention to public readers offers us new insights into reading as shared practice and Canadian literature.

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