Assignment 4: Reception History

Sample Entries:

Here are some entries you might want to look at as examples of successfully completed fourth assignments:

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by Tom Kane and John Unsworth


For this assignment, you need to thoroughly research published reaction to the book you have chosen (bear in mind that not all influential reviews will have appeared in print media). On the basis of that research, you need to provide:

  • a summary of reviewers' reactions to the book
  • excerpts from important reviews (early, influential, or unusual)
  • a representative passage or two from a typical review
  • full citation information for the reviews summarized and/or quoted

If there are indirect responses to the work (such as parodies), you should describe those as well.

Your reception history will be divided into two sections: contemporary and subsequent. "Contemporary" means within five years of the book's publication; subsequent means more than five years after the publication of the book.

  • Contemporary Reception: this will mostly consist of reviews in newspapers, magazines, and other media.
  • Subsequent Reception: this is going to be trickier to find. Look in the MLA bibliography (in case the book had a scholarly afterlife), look for biographies or studies of the author's work (where the book's subsequent assessment relative to other works by the author may be made clear), look for obituaries (where the book's importance may be summed up), and look for reviews of subsequent novels, which may compare the new work to your book.

Responses to the movie version of your book (if one exists) do not count as subsequent reception, though reviews of the film may contain retrospective or comparative assessments of the novel.

Important Caveats:

  1. You yourself are not supposed to be reviewing the book in this section. Our interest here is not in whether you think the book is good or bad, but in what people said about it when it was published, and what it's fate has been since then. Resist the impulse to become a reviewer.
  2. Remember to keep a list of all sources consulted, with an indication of their usefulness for your assignment. Useful sources should be listed at the end of your entry; the entire list (useful and useless) needs to be submitted to the instructor when the assignment is turned in.
  3. Document each of the works cited in your entry, as part of your entry itself. The reception history may be the sigle most useful assignment in your entry, as far as your future readers are concerned, but it will be useless if those readers cannot find the sources you are summarizing and quoting.

Format for citations:

Use the form of citation described in the MLA Handbook, available at Alderman Reference, or on Amazon.

Reference Tools:

From the LibGuide for 20th-Century American Bestsellers for a list of sources that you can use in research for this assignment. As always, keep careful track of what you have consulted and what information each source has produced.

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