Wat is a reading community? Is it the same thing as a literary community, the term preferred by Peter Kirkpatrick and Robert Dixon in their 2012 Republics of Letters? Fitzpatrick and Dixon define this as 'various forms of community that facilitate and sustain writing and reading' and 'the kinds of communal identities that are formed in the practices of writing and reading' (v). This essay focuses on the second of these, but in broad terms the question I want to ask is: what does it mean?
In the introduction to her 2011 collection of essays Reading Communities, DeNel Rehberg Sedo writes that the common thread binding the essays is the assumption that 'shared reading is both a social process and a social formation'. While I deeply agree with this remark I think it can also be applied to an idea of a reading community that is not, as the book clubs, reading groups and literary societies discussed in Reading Communities are, bound by proximity. In my study of the reading history of Brancepeth, a New Zealand sheep station in the nineteenth century (Reading on the Farm), the idea of a reading 'community' seemed easy to establish, since all the people who lived within the physical bounds of the station and who paid the subscription could access the station library, and they mostly knew each other. The question of whether they evidenced literary community, or the kind of thingJoan Rubin describes as literary sociability, is a more difficult one to answer.