Book Clubs: Literary Salons to Online Communities
The Rick O’Shea Bookclub is Ireland’s largest bookclub. It has 17,000 members and is growing fast. Book clubs have never been more popular. But where did they begin, and what role have they played in literary history? Well, quite a large one, it turns out: culturally, politically, and commercially.
Ever since the first literary salons in the 18th century, shared reading spaces have been extremely important meeting places. From a cultural point of view they provided an opportunity to discover and discuss literature. But they have always been about much more that.
Reading groups played a critical role in women’s education, at times when formal education was unavailable. They allowed for a safe space to discuss political and social issues. They allowed people otherwise denied a say in society to gain cultural capital through reading and self-improvement.
In incarnations like the National Home Reading Union, book clubs have allowed institutions to dictate the “right” books to read. And in more recent celebrity-based book clubs – most famously Oprah’s Book Club – they have proved hugely commercially successful.
In this episode I talk to Rick O’Shea about the success of his bookclub, how a self-declared misanthrope with a love of fiction, set up a book club with 17,000 members, and how he sees his role as an influence on what people read in Ireland
I also discuss the role of the literary salon with Dr Amy Prendergast, and the history of the book club with Prof DeNel Rehberg Sedo.
There’s much more to the book club than wine and cheese…
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Rick O’Shea is, as he describes it himself, a “radio presenter, book pusher, and event host” from Ireland. His website, with lots more information, can be found here
The Rick O’Shea Book Club is on Facebook here
Prof DeNel Rehberg Sedo
Dr. DeNel Rehberg Sedo is a Professor in the Dept of Communications Studies at Mount Saint Vincent University in Nova Scotia, Canada. She is a lecturer in the Faculty of Education and and is the co-director of Beyond the Book Project.
Her full academic bio can be found here
Her book, Reading Communities from Salons to Cyberspace, can be found here
Dr Amy Prendergast
Dr Amy Prendergast is a Teaching Fellow in Eighteenth-Century Writing at Trinity College Dublin. Her research focuses particularly on literary history of the long eighteenth century, women’s writing in Ireland at this time, life writing, and Franco-Irish connections. Her monograph, Literary Salons Across Britain and Ireland in the Long Eighteenth Century is available here
Her academic bio can be found here
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Looking for more contemporary literature?
This episode is on crime writing and domestic noir
Or, for something completely different, how about episode 21 on time in the Victorian era
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