Whilst helping students get sorted for their studies, I had the good fortune to stumble upon a great resource called UK RED, that will interest anybody who has a curiosity in reading, it’s history and the myriad contexts that make up the rich fabric of our cultural experience.
From the about page:
UK RED is an open-access database housed at The Open University containing over 30,000 easily searchable records documenting the history of reading in Britain from 1450 to 1945. Evidence of reading presented in UK RED is drawn from published and unpublished sources as diverse as diaries, commonplace books, memoirs, sociological surveys, and criminal court and prison records.
UK Red captures the literary experience as told by everyday readers. The search options are comprehensive, covering century, socio-economic group, whether the source is from a reader, listener, or reading group. It even goes so far as to check through translations, publishers, etc. The choices allow the reader to go deep into history for study, or just for curiosity. The room for context of a particular book to a specific group of people at a specific time (and also the changing opinions of society over time) can be fascinating.
Poet Letitia Elizabeth Landon spoke of her experiences reading Robinson Crusoe:
For weeks after reading that book, I lived as if in a dream; indeed I scarcely dreamt of anything else at night. I went to sleep with the cave, its parrots and goats, floating before my closed eyes. I awakened in some rapid flight from the savages landing in their canoes. The elms in our hedges were not more familiar than the prickly shrubs which formed his palisades, and the grapes whose drooping branches made fertile the wide savannahs. (UK RED: 32079)
Another gem I came across was from Mark Twain, who not being a fan of Jane Austen’s novels wrote, ‘Every time I read Pride and Prejudice I want to dig her up and hit her over the skull with her own shin-bone’ (UK RED: 803146).
I manage to spend a bit of time browsing each day and the opportunities for insight are immense, and also an inspiration to not only see literature through the eyes of others, but also to record our thoughts for future readers and researchers.