Reading groups provide a fruitful site for examining women's uses of literature in life, since discussing books with other women gives rise to insights that come with sharing perspectives on both literature and participants' lives. This research focuses on white women's reading groups in both nineteenth- and twentieth-century Houston, Texas. Nineteenth-century groups found in their literary and associational practices the warrant to embark on a broad program of collective action; twentieth-century groups, by and large, severed this link yet still met important needs for women, such as providing the occasion for reflective normative discussions. Comparing the continuities and disjunctures between women's reading groups over time demonstrates that broad social and cultural “frames” (to use Erving Goffman's [1974] term) strongly influence how literature enters our individual and collective lives.

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