Books for Idle Hours: Nineteenth-Century Publishing and the Rise of Summer Reading



The publishing phenomenon of summer reading, often focused on novels set in vacation destinations, started in the nineteenth century, as both print culture and tourist culture expanded in the United States. As an emerging middle class increasingly embraced summer leisure as a marker of social status, book publishers sought new market opportunities, authors discovered a growing readership, and more readers indulged in lighter fare. Drawing on publishing records, book reviews, readers' diaries, and popular novels of the period, Donna Harrington-Lueker explores the beginning of summer reading and the backlash against it. Countering fears about the dangers of leisurely reading--especially for young women--publishers framed summer reading not as a disreputable habit but as a respectable pastime and welcome respite. Books for Idle Hours sheds new light on an ongoing seasonal publishing tradition.

Product Details

University of Massachusetts Press
Publish Date
December 12, 2018
6.2 X 1.0 X 9.1 inches | 1.0 pounds

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About the Author

Donna Harrington-Lueker is professor of English at Salve Regina University.


Books for Idle Hours is especially interesting on the emergence of a new type of textual diversion: the American summer novel... it takes these books -- and the culture that shaped them, and the culture they shaped -- seriously, even while acknowledging how transitory they were.

--The New Yorker

Harrington-Lueker traces the interplay between the growing ability and need of a (predominantly white) middle class to engage in leisure activities, the development of a veritable national tourism industry and a restructuring of the literary market.

--Journal of Tourism History

Through painstaking research and with a keen eye for interesting and thought-provoking detail, Harrington-Lueker has assembled a scholarly study of summer reading in the late nineteenth-century United States that historians of reading and print culture would do well to consult for its incisive commentary on the relationship between market forces and readers' tastes... [A]s enjoyable as it is informative.


A summer read about summer reads.

--The Public's Radio

Books for Idle Hours is a fascinating study of a distinct but largely overlooked body of nineteenth-century American fiction and the authors, readers, publishers, and economic and social conditions that gave rise to it.

--New England Quarterly