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Readers and Retailed Literature: Findings from a UK public high street survey of purchasers’ expectations from books

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Critical literature studies tend not to think about readers as customers and consumers or, in economic terms, end-users. From the Frankfurt School to World Literature, those critical studies have little to say about fiction from the viewpoint of readers as commercial actors aware of their participation in and construction of the market. But book retail, both online and off, remains the frame in which book-purchasing choices are made. To understand the hopes and desires of readers, would it not make sense to ask them? Using the high street bookshop as a metonymic site for reading within commodity culture, this article will present findings from a national survey with a corpus of 530 responses about expectations from purchased books. To ask what is expected from a book just purchased is simple, banal even, but collectively the answers to this question may provide the first tentative steps towards a political theory of reading, not from without, but from within our dominant economic frame.

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