New literary cultures: Mapping the digital networks of Toni Morrison

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter

3 Scopus citations


As the publishing industry scrambles to adapt to the shifting realities of electronic texts and the decline of traditional models of authorship and criticism, reading practices are expanding to include new kinds of social exchange. Although readers have always been involved in literary conversations and forms of distinction that differ profoundly from those of professional critics, millions of cultural consumers are now empowered to participate in previously closed literary conversations among authors, critics, and publishers, and to express forms of mass distinction through their purchases and evaluations of books. The twenty-first century has brought significant changes to the social lives of books, as a text can engage thousands of people in a vast, asynchronous conversation without operating through the mass-mediated forms of professional reviewing publications or indeed print of any kind. Cultural processes of distinction have increasingly moved online, from bookselling itself to reviewing, recommendations, and other expressions of individual literary taste. In this chapter I argue for a new consideration of the reader as an increasingly active contributor and collaborator in literary conversations and the act of literary distinction. Taking the career of Toni Morrison as a case study in contemporary authorial fame, I use methodologies from the digital humanities to describe these collective literary exchanges in aggregate as they have emerged in book reviews and purchase decisions. These tools allow us to extend our conceptions of literary review and reception to include reading communities and processes of elevation and canon-building not usually considered in studies of taste formation.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Title of host publicationFrom Codex to Hypertext
Subtitle of host publicationReading at the Turn of the Twenty-First Century
PublisherUniversity of Massachusetts Press
Number of pages26
ISBN (Print)9781558499522
StatePublished - Dec 1 2012

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Arts and Humanities


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