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date: 23 March 2019

Summary and Keywords

A history of reading in Australia needs to go beyond the question of what Australians have read in the course of their history (though this question in itself is important) to tackle the more elusive question of how they have read. This question implies a recognition that reading is not a single, uniform activity but a congeries of “literate techniques” that are spread unevenly across the reading population at any given moment, and that are themselves subject to evolution and change as new cultural, political, and educational pressures exert their influence on how people read. The multiplicity and heterogeneity of reading practices are especially evident in the first half of the 20th century, particularly between World War I and World War II when reading itself came to be problematized as never before by the rise of advertising, cinema, popular culture, and political propaganda. It is important too to consider the ways in which reading as an institution in its own right, something above and beyond both the texts being read and the activity of reading them, has developed historically. Here the question is not so much what people have read, or how, but why. What values—positive and negative—have been attributed to reading, by whom, and in association with what social ideals, purposes, and anxieties? Also relevant here is the changing place of reading in Australian society more broadly. In particular, its changing relationship with writing as a valued component of Australian culture is of interest.

Keywords: Australian literature, Australian history, reading, reading circles, good reading, good books, wartime reading, Walter Murdoch, literary competitions

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