In January-February 2015, a group of faculty participated with their respective students in a cross-institutional reading of galley copies of Mark Z. Danielewski’s forthcoming novel, The Familiar. Danielewski similarly circulated advance copies of his two major works, House of Leaves and Only Revolutions, among a small group of readers, particularly those active in the author’s online discussion forum, but in this instance the publisher (Pantheon) made galleys available for classroom use. Seven institutional groups, both informal and formal, participated in the reading, with this WordPress site as the discussion platform. Discussion leaders taught separate courses on topics ranging from contemporary literature to methods of literary analysis and media studies, all of which featured The Familiar on the syllabus. To the extent that was possible–with allowances for differences in academic calendars–we taught the novel at the same point in our respective terms and attempted to coordinate our class conversations. The rationale for this pedagogic experiment was manifold:

(1) students would have a unique opportunity to help shape the critical reception of a novel, thus complicating the distinctions between “professional” and “amateur” readers;

(2) absent a set of critical authorities guiding their interpretations, students would be able to reflect on their reliance on search tools and secondary material in their own reading practices;

(3) students accustomed to the closed circuit of dialogue with a single professor would be able to learn the protocols of scholarly writing in and for a public;

(4) faculty participants, all of whom teach contemporary literature, would be able to explore ideas for potential future research projects; and,

(5) faculty participants would also be able to explore alternative and meaningful forms of remote rather than “distant” scholarly conversation, which remains pressing even though the euphoric discourse on MOOCs has quieted somewhat.

How to navigate this site

(1) Click on the various categories in the right column of this page. We used categories as one would an index and asked students to classify their posts with the terms we had outlined in advance. We also invited them to use tags for more exploratory and playful categorization.

(2) Use the search bar. If for example, you want to know if anyone has commented on the Jakob von Uexküll epigraph on p. 178, a search would turn up this exchange.

(3) Read chronologically. If you want to follow the discussion as it unfolded, start with the first archived posts in January and proceed from there.


Rita Raley, University of California, Santa Barbara [Methods of Literary Study]
Amy J. Elias, University of Tennessee, Knoxville [Contemporary Narrative/Fiction]
Alison Gibbons, De Montfort University [Creativity, Style, and Form]
Kate Marshall, University of Notre Dame [The Contemporary Serial]
Treena Balds / Colin Milburn, University of California, Davis [Digital Cultures]
Julia Panko, Weber State University [The Future of Fiction: From Print to Touch Screen]
Lindsay Thomas, Clemson University [Technology in the Popular Imagination: Digital Feelings]

Note: if courses are not linked, the instructor used a closed content management site for the syllabus.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s