"Reading Nation": German Book History in the Long Nineteenth Century

By Tucker, Brian | Goethe Yearbook, January 1, 2012 | Go to article overview

"Reading Nation": German Book History in the Long Nineteenth Century


Tucker, Brian, Goethe Yearbook


Lynne Tatlock, ed., Publishing Culture and the "Reading Nation": German Book History in the Long Nineteenth Century. Rochester, NY: Camden House, 2010. 345 pp.

In her brisk, synoptic introduction to this collection, Lynne Tatlock surveys the enormous changes that German publishing underwent in the years between the "reading revolution" of the Enlightenment and the Weimar Republic. The publishing industry expanded rapidly, as did literacy and the demand for reading material; advances in printing technology lowered the cost of books and made periodicals available to ever larger markets, while the number of bookstores, lending libraries, and reading groups increased. All of which is to say that, from the perspective of publishing and reading, the long nineteenth century in Germany was a time of upheaval, advancement, and exponential growth. The period clearly offers rich material for investigations into the history of books and print media, material that the anthology's eleven essays all take advantage of in various ways.

Tatlock summarizes the volume's approach, writing that the contributors present "multiple ways of contextualizing literary production, of examining the pressures on publishing, writing, and reading and their consequences" (17). The focus falls less on literature per se than on the production (and consumption) of literature, particularly in its social and historical context. A "book "here means not only a novel or repository of ideas but also a material commodity, and "reading" frequently describes the exercise of purchasing power. The volume's perspective is informed by cultural studies, historicizing interpretations, and sociological approaches to literature; its contributors aim more often to contextualize than to generate close readings of texts. Matt Erlin, for example, does not "interpret," in a narrow sense, Wieland 's Musarion, but his article on luxury editions does something else and does it well: it has much to say about Musarion's material appearance, how market forces shaped that appearance, and how such luxury editions served as signifiers of conspicuous consumption.

In general, "book history" in this lucid and wide-ranging collection refers not only to the history qfbooks, but also to the study of history via books, that is, to an exploration of the ways in which books and publishing both reflect and participate in cultural history. By this token, the individual case studies best fulfill the anthology's promise when they connect the details of their cases to broader issues or scholarly debates in book history. Jeffrey Sammons does this successfully, by using Heine's relationship with his publisher to challenge widely held views of Heine's politics, as do Katrin Völkner, by casting the popular "Blaue Bücher" as a window onto the overlapping realms of Bildung and mass consumer culture, and Theodore Rippey, by reading Tucholsky's Schloss Gripsholm as a commentary on the commodification of reading.

By far, though, the book's two most important angles for contextualizing literary production are the solidification of national identity and gender. The focus on the "reading nation" is particularly prominent in the book's first section. Erlin, for instance, examines the notion of the publisher as patriot, whose luxurious editions set German book production on par with that of other European countries.

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