From mainstream media to academic circles, institutions create and assign value to books in order to create different ideas of a literary canon. In this course, we will focus on debates around the value of books singled out for commercial success in contrast with other books selected for critical acclaim. We will consider the Twilight series as a case study in the contrast between popular vs. critical success, and we will consider how Oprah’s Book Club and the Nobel Prize in Literature contribute to the production of literary prestige for particular authors such as Toni Morrison, Jonathan Franzen, James Frey, Charles Dickens, and others.
Through a series of reading and writing exercises, students will consider the following questions: is the success of a book a direct reflection of its instrinsic aesthetic and cultural value or the result of the intervention of external, non-literary factors? Do all books, independently of the site and culture where they originate, have the same chances to reach a large audience? How do different institutions project different types of readings on the texts and authors they choose to promote?
To work on the success of their own writing, students will write short papers, including an exercise in close reading, a short creative piece, a final argumentative paper, as well as various informal assignments throughout the academic term.