June 2021


Stephen Colclough Lecture

Dr Shafquat Towheed: Evaluating Negative responses to reading, in life and in fiction

Teams Live - Online
Wednesday 30 June 2021, 17:00–19:00

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Dr Shafquat Towheed - Senior Lecturer in English in the Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences (FASS), The Open University

We all love to talk about a good book, but what about the books we hate, or refuse to read? How do we register negative responses to books? How to we avoid confirmation bias in research gathering readers’ responses to their reading? In the first half of this talk, I will survey some examples of negative responses of actual readers, both contemporary (from the READ-IT project) and historical (from the UK Reading Experience Database). I will pick out some the common responses that occur, and consider whether we need to offer a greater recognition of negative reading responses than we have done so far.

In the second part of this talk, I will survey some of these negative representations of reading in fiction, and interrogate a central paradox: can a novel in all honesty, represent the act of reading (or refusal to read) a ‘bad’ book in a positive light? Can a work of fiction ever endorse an individual’s refusal to read another work of fiction, on moral, ethical or philosophical grounds? I will respond to these questions through a close examination of Turgenev’s novella, Faust, a fictional work which is centrally concerned with the reading of another fictional work, Goethe’s Faust Part 1.

Brief biography: Dr Shafquat Towheed is Senior Lecturer in English in the Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences (FASS), The Open University. He directs the UK Reading Experience Database, 1450-1945, and the History of Books and Reading (HOBAR) Research Collaboration. He is the UK Principal Investigator for the JPICH/AHRC funded consortium, ‘Reading Europe Advanced Data Investigation Tool’ (READ-IT, 2018-2021) which uses digital tools to investigate the cultural heritage of reading in Europe. He is the author, editor or co-editor of nine books and has researched and written extensively on the history of reading practices. With Professor Jonathan Rose, he is co-editor of Palgrave Macmillan’s ‘New Directions in Book History’ series. With Prof Corinna Norrick-Rühl, he is currently co-editing a collection, Bookshelves in the Age of the COVID-19 Pandemic (forthcoming, 2022).

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