Anna Maria Barry, Sir David Bell, Peter Paul Catterall, Paul Greatrix, Sir John Holman...

A weekly look over the shoulders of our scholar-reviewers

May 7, 2015

Anna Maria Barry, doctoral candidate in music, Oxford Brookes University, is reading Lady Sings the Blues (Harlem Moon Classics, 2006) by Billie Holiday with William Duffy. “This year marks 100 years since Holiday’s birth. Although her co-authored memoir is infamous for inaccuracies, its accounts of her struggles with poverty, addiction and racism are brutally honest. Her voice sings through every page, and is remarkable for its defiance and lack of self-pity. This book offers a fascinating insight into the cultivation of Holiday’s legend, which is one that has rightly endured.”

The Invisible Bridge: The Fall of Nixon and the Rise of Reagan by Rick Perlstein

Sir David Bell, vice-chancellor, University of Reading, is reading Rick Perlstein’s The Invisible Bridge: The Fall of Nixon and the Rise of Reagan (Simon & Schuster, 2014). “In 800 pages of breathless prose, Perlstein confirms his reputation as the most acerbic chronicler of the rise of modern American conservatism. Don’t look for nuanced analysis, as it’s partial and partisan. But by encompassing politics and popular culture, Perlstein offers an invaluable guide to the weirdness of the US in the 1970s. Oh, and there’s Jimmy Carter, too.”

Why Be Happy When You Can Be Normal? by Jeanette Winterson

Peter Paul Catterall, reader in history, University of Westminster, is reading Jeanette Winterson’s Why Be Happy When You Could Be Normal? (Vintage, 2012). “This title sums up Winterson’s account of her psychic journey of self-healing. It is normal to want to be happy, to belong, to love and to be loved. Neither she nor her adoptive mother, who posed that very question, was happy. Mrs Winterson, trapped by normality in a search for happiness – in part, one comes to suspect, from her own unacknowledged lesbianism – never finds it.”

Clothes, Clothes, Clothes, Music, Music, Music, Boys, Boys, Boys by Viv Albertine

Paul Greatrix, registrar, University of Nottingham, is reading Viv Albertine’s Clothes, Clothes, Clothes, Music, Music, Music, Boys, Boys, Boys (Faber & Faber, 2014). “Raw, uncompromising and honest are the adjectives most often used, and rightly so, to describe this powerful memoir by Slits guitarist Viv Albertine. A brutally direct account that stretches from her childhood through to her place at the heart of punk and subsequent roller-coaster existence, it is at times funny, often painful, but always a frank description of an extraordinary and ordinary life.”

The Blunders of Our Governments by Ivor Crewe

Sir John Holman, emeritus professor of chemistry, University of York, is reading Anthony King and Ivor Crewe’s The Blunders of Our Governments (Oneworld, 2013). “All the famous blunders (including the poll tax, the UK’s exit from the exchange rate mechanism, training credits) feature in this perceptive and entertaining book. On the eve of the general election, it’s chilling to learn how such blunders usually owe more to our system of government than to the particular party or parties in power.”

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