Throughout the twentieth century, as literary texts circulated through high-school and college classrooms, reading became a specialized skill. Especially with the dominance of the “new criticism” in the 1930s, literature acquired an autonomous life as “text,” demanding intensive “close reading” of its verbal complexity and formal coherence as an aesthetic object. Beginning in the 1970s, with the proliferation of programs devoted to African-American culture, gender studies, sexuality studies, and ethnic studies programs, the literary canon became more diverse. In the mid-1980s new historicism helped push aesthetic formalism further from the agenda of literary education in the university, promoting new interest in historical contexts even as psychoanalytic, deconstructive, and reader-response approaches continued to fetishize “textuality” as their primary object of inquiry. Whatever the vagaries of theory, method, and subdisciplinary turf battles through which scholars have wandered over the last few decades, we have remained in our professional practices of reading and teaching committed to a hermeneutics of interpretation. Even as scholars developed arguments about history or culture, the teaching and criticism of literature has continued to rely on the institutional and psychological isolation of reading, as an individual exercise in mastery of the text fostered by silence and solitude.