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University Of Virginia Library Exhibit To Explore Bestselling Fiction And Its Impact On Society And Culture

February 28, 2002--

WHO: Albert and Shirley Small Special Collections Library at the University of Virginia

WHAT: Exhibition "Rave Reviews: Bestselling Fiction in America"

WHEN: Feb. 28 - June 10

WHERE: McGregor Room, Special Collections, Alderman Library

Popular novels often mirror American culture, showcasing society’s longings, values and morals. In addition to reflecting current views, bestsellers can also bring about change in thought, social practices and ideals. Popular fiction and its impact on society is the focus of the University of Virginia Library exhibition "Rave Reviews: Bestselling Fiction in America."

"Rave Reviews" explores American reading habits and chronicles the development of the bestseller from the first list of sales figures published in the Bookman in 1895 to today’s fiction blockbuster, which often is marketed as a bestseller before it is published. Through bestsellers such as The Jungle by Upton Sinclair, Marjorie Morningstar by Herman Wouk, Peyton Place by Grace Metalious, and To Kill A Mockingbird by Harper Lee, the exhibition looks at how fiction can experiment with new ideas and influence values about society, race, sexuality, religion, ethnicity and government.

"Bestsellers are an index of American culture. They reveal a lot about our tastes, our daily lives, our fears and pleasures," said Rave Reviews co-curator John Unsworth, director of the Institute for Advanced Technology in the Humanities. "Popular fiction charts the evolution of morals and mores. What's scandalous in one generation is commonplace in the next (and sometimes, vice versa). And for readers, these novels always bring back personal memories as well."

The items in the exhibition are drawn mostly from the library’s Lillian Gary Taylor Collection of Popular American Fiction. Lillian Gary Taylor (1865-1961) was an avid book collector who attempted to secure first editions of the most popular works of American fiction from 1752 through 1950. In 18 small, leather-bound notebooks, Taylor meticulously recorded each book in her collection, faithfully reproduced the title page (including illustrations) by hand, and noted facts about where the book was purchased and the cost. Having read most of the books in her collection, she often included critiques, thus providing a unique picture of how bestsellers were received in society at her time.

Highlights of books collected and treasured by Taylor range from The Last of the Mohicans by James Fenimore Cooper to John Steinbeck’s East of Eden. Works by familiar 19th century authors such as Herman Melville and Stephen Crane join the works of 20th century authors Ernest Hemingway, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Sinclair Lewis, Herman Wouk and Philip Roth.

Among the exhibition highlights is the first book to sell over one million copies in a short amount of time, Margaret Mitchell’s Gone With the Wind (1936), displayed with the first American bestseller, Harriet Beecher Stowe’s Uncle Tom’s Cabin (1852). Works from contemporary authors Jan Karon, Stephen King and John Grisham represent current bestsellers.

"Popular fiction is one way Americans experiment with social change. The popularity of some books fades quickly, while others such as J.D. Salinger’s Catcher in the Rye (1951) pervade the national culture," said Lynda Fuller Clendenning, "Rave Reviews" co-curator and interim director of the Mary and David Harrison Institute for American History, Literature, and Culture.

The exhibition uses more than just books to illustrate the impact bestsellers have on society and culture. Visitors to the exhibition will hear music from the soundtrack of the 1939 movie Gone With the Wind and can view film clips of other movies made from bestsellers, such as Rebecca, Birth of a Nation, and The Magnificent Ambersons. The online exhibition, located at, encourages readers to post their memories and thoughts on popular fiction and its impact on them.

"Rave Reviews: Bestselling Fiction in America" is on display Feb. 28 through June 10 in the McGregor Room of Alderman Library. The McGregor Room is open Monday through Thursday, 9 a.m. to 9 p. m., and Friday and Saturday, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. For more information, call (434) 243-8969. The exhibition is sponsored by a gift from Mr. and Mrs. George B. Bolton of San Francisco.

Contact: Melissa Cox Norris, (434) 924-4254

FOR ADDITIONAL INFORMATION: Contact the Office of University Relations at (434) 924-7116. Television reporters should contact the TV News Office at (434) 924-7550.

SOURCE: U.Va. News Services


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