RepositoryUniversity of Roehampton: Archives and Special Collections
Creator NameTrower, Shelley
TitleMemories of Fiction: An Oral History of Readers' Life Stories
Extent44 interviews; 44.4 GB
DescriptionThis collection consists of forty-four oral history interviews conducted between 2014 and 2015 with twenty-nine members of reading groups (a.k.a., book clubs, book groups) in the Greater London area. The interviews were conducted as part of a project titled "Memories of Fiction: An Oral History of Readers' Life Stories," funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC). The project sought to answer the question, "What do we remember about the books we have read - from childhood onwards - and why?" and was led by Dr. Shelley Trower, Senior Lecturer at Roehampton University in the Department of English and Creative Writing, with Graham Smith, Amy Tooth Murphy, and Sarah Pyke, and assistance from Wandsworth Heritage Service. Interviews were loosely structured. First interviews focussed on personal backgrounds and reading habits with questions about birthplace, occupation, family-life, education, hobbies, reading habits of family members, group reading, the role of reading during different phases of life, influential books, types of readers and how they became involved with their respective reading groups. Second interviews expanded on reading habits with questions about learning to read, memorable books read as a child, how reading made them feel as a child, sharing books, identification with characters, reading to one’s children, favourite and least-favourite genres, favourite and least-favourite books, bibliotherapy, rereading, electronic books and writing habits. Interviewees were born between 1936 and 1971 with one interviewee born in 1988, and came from the United Kingdom (U.K.), Australia, Canada, Ireland, Kenya, Sierra Leone, Spain, Sudan and the United States of America (USA). They worked in variety of industries, including advertising, banking, business, catering, civil service, education, graphic design, healthcare, home care, horticulture, housewifery, information technology (IT), libraries, music, office administration, psychotherapy, publishing and retail. The reading groups that they belonged to were based in libraries in the Wandsworth borough. Pseudonyms have been used to protect the privacy of some interviewees. Almost six-hundred books are discussed, including classics, crime-fiction, science-fiction, children’s literature, biography, poetry, plays, philosophy and Victorian literature. Almost two-hundred authors are discussed, from Wolfgang Borchert to Terry Pratchett. Of note, interview descriptions include information about which books and authors were discussed for more than twenty seconds. Main themes (i.e., themes that were discussed in more than five interviews) include book clubs, books, careers (i.e., occupations), childhood, education, family, holidays, illness, libraries, reading, religion, social class, television adaptations, travel and work (i.e., employment). The collection includes four two-person interviews (i.e., interviews conducted with two interviewees and one interviewer). Interviews vary in length from fifty-six to 153 minutes with an average length of 104 minutes.
Physical DescriptionWAV format; interviews were recorded on a Marantz recorder
Administrative HistoryThis AHRC-funded project aims to find out how reading shapes our lives. What do we remember about the books we have read (as a child, on public transport, on holiday), and why? Reading is often experienced as a private activity, which takes place in silence, on one’s own. Yet reading groups have grown immensely in popularity over the past two decades, bringing reading experiences into the public domain. In what ways do we share our memories of fiction? Memories of Fiction is interested in both individual and collective memories of reading fiction. It will firstly set up an oral history archive of interviews with members of local reading groups, to explore memories as described in individual life stories. In doing so, the project will provide a new kind of resource – differing from the numerous interviews carried out with authors, from oral history interviews (for the ‘Authors’ Lives’ archive at the British Library) to radio and other interviews by journalists, literary critics, fans and other readers. By turning to readers themselves, the project will make available new material enabling insights into memories of fiction and life stories. How are memories of books associated with particular experiences and emotions? How do readers make use of fiction in their life stories? One thing that is interesting about reading groups is that they turn written text into group talk, turning back the clock from literacy to orality, from the act of the individual reading to talking, from the solitary experience to the social. Scholars of book history often note how reading became an increasingly private activity over the course of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, due in part to the rise in literacy, but book groups interestingly highlight the social potential of reading. Thus the project is concerned not only with individual memories but also with how memories of fiction are exchanged with others. After working with individual interviewees, the project researchers will thus work in the reading groups. We are interested in how shared memories compare to individual recollections. In what ways can group talk change how we remember fiction? The project’s findings will themselves be of interest not only to individual academics but to reading groups themselves. We will disseminate the research through academic publications and also through public talks and a website. For more information see and Information contained here was obtained from the project website (Trower, Shelley. "About." Memories of Fiction: An Oral History; This AHRC-Funded Project Aims to Find out How Reading Shapes Our Lives. Accessed March 30, 2017.
Access StatusOpen
Access ConditionsOpen for research at University of Roehampton Archives and Special Collections for 25 years beginning in 2017; electronic media requires ability to read WAV or MP3 files; some interviews are publicly available online via and
CopyrightCopyright Wandsworth Heritage Service, 2015. Requests to reproduce or publish material from this collection should be directed to
URL DescriptionProject websites; also,


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