Whatcha reading, Muncie?
November 17, 2011 5:03 PM   Subscribe

What Middletown Read.
Robert and Helen Lynd's immersive studies of early 20th century Muncie, Indiana, published as Middletown (1929) and Middletown in Transition (1937), are classics of American sociology. Ball State's Center for Middletown Studies has created a database of the circulation records from the Muncie Public Library from 1891-1902, providing a rare glimpse of the reading habits of turn-of-the-century middle America. Slate examines the project and what it reveals.
posted by Horace Rumpole (7 comments total) 19 users marked this as a favorite
Thanks, Horace Rumpole. That's the best thing I've read at Slate in a long, long time.
posted by cgc373 at 5:26 PM on November 17, 2011

Romance (fiction of unknown, as understood). It's possible reading habits haven't changed a wit.
posted by Mblue at 5:41 PM on November 17, 2011

Muncie, Indiana. Always a trend setter.
posted by joelf at 6:38 PM on November 17, 2011

Literally just today I was looking at a list my grandfather had made in response to the question of which books he loved/was influenced by as a young person. He wrote that the first book that really set his mind on fire for reading was Studs Lonigan, about a young man growing up in Depression-era Chicago, much like my grandfather. I had read all the other books on his list (Gone with the Wind, Les Miz) but I'd only vaguely heard of Studs Lonigan, and I was just thinking, "I should read that, since it was so important to him; I wonder if I'll understand him better?" Like the author of the Slate piece wonders.

The trilogy is $18.99 for Kindle, I think I gotta do it!

And I know I cannot be the only mefite who looks forward to the day my children ask for their first library cards. I felt excited on the Louis Bloom's behalf getting his first library card. :)

(And if the book you read the most obsessively as a child foretells what you will grow up to be, I am going to grow up to be a Whangdoodle. Seriously if I ever met Julie Andrews I'd be like, "You sing really pretty and all, BUT OMG THANK YOU FOR THE WHANGDOODLE.")
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 7:06 PM on November 17, 2011

It's really encouraging to see an excellent project like What Middletown Read getting some of the attention it deserves. The history of reading is really a discipline in its infancy, and there's still so much more scope for research and basic, well, discovery.There's something intensely personal and intimate about knowing what someone read. It's a way of overcoming time and space and, for a second, encountering the psychology of that experience, no matter how far in the past it was. It would be great to see someone in the US starting a project like the Reading Experience Database [full disclosure: I work on the RED project]; the opportunities are huge.
posted by Sonny Jim at 12:37 AM on November 18, 2011

A friend who is a professor at Ball State shared this with me yesterday. Several generations of my mother's family are from Muncie/Yorktown. I searched the database for all the relatives I could think of who would have lived there at the time and was disappointed not to turn up any results, but I'm hoping my mom's generation will think of some people I'm forgetting. And because of the database, I'm now reading a book that was checked out by a woman who shared the same name as one of my great-grandmothers (my mom's dad's mother).
posted by jocelmeow at 10:43 AM on November 18, 2011

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