Laurence Coupe, Sandra Leaton Gray, June Purvis, Sara Read and Peter J. Smith...

A weekly look over the shoulders of our scholar-reviewers

May 16, 2013

Laurence Coupe, senior lecturer in English, Manchester Metropolitan University, is reading Jeffrey Wainwright’s The Reasoner (Carcanet, 2012). “I’m not one for self-consciously intellectual verse but this isn’t that. Rooted in the everyday stuff of existence, these poems are meditations on the discrepancy between words and world that revitalise our most common clichés and offer a sustained defamiliarisation of experience. Like King Lear, Wainwright’s ‘reasoner’ is driven to take upon himself the mystery of things. This is a deeply affecting volume I’d recommend to the very people who might be put off by its title.”

Vikings: A History by Neil Oliver

Sandra Leaton Gray, senior lecturer in education, Institute of Education, is reading Neil Oliver’s Vikings: A History (Orion, 2012). “If you want to feel like a knowledgeable archaeologist, linguist, historian and geographer all at once, this book will take you to that place. It has a flowing narrative, terrific photographs that are carefully explained, and brings the ‘North Men’ to life as though they were living next door. I can barely put it down to get on with the day job.”

West's World by Lorna Gibb

June Purvis, professor of women’s and gender history, University of Portsmouth, is reading Lorna Gibb’s West’s World: The Extraordinary Life of Dame Rebecca West (Macmillan, 2013). “The vibrant West - suffragette, socialist, critic of communism, Thatcherite, journalist and successful writer - is a major figure in British literature, yet she remains better known for her long affair with the married H.G. Wells. This book, while neglecting her writings, captures vividly her contradictions. A wonderful read about a feminist life lived in the full glare of the 20th century.”

A Street Cat Named Bob by James Bowen

Sara Read, Renaissance Society postdoctoral fellow, department of English and drama, Loughborough University, is reading James Bowen’s A Street Cat Named Bob (Hodder & Stoughton, 2012). “I’ve just finished this tale of the serendipitous meeting between a London busker and recovering drug addict, and the ginger tomcat he named Bob. The pair soon became inseparable. Bowen credits this remarkable, intuitive, lavatory-using cat with turning his life around. Deservedly, Bob is now a YouTube sensation, and this story is uplifting reading.”

The Pastures of Heaven by John Steinbeck

Peter J. Smith, reader in Renaissance literature at Nottingham Trent University, has just finished John Steinbeck’s The Pastures of Heaven (Ballou, 1932). “These 12 short stories are united by their shared location: Southern California’s Monterey County. Familiar Steinbeck features appear - rural poverty, thwarted aspiration, the struggle for survival amid an unyielding natural landscape, disappointed love, familial collapse - but there is also an uncanny fatalism. In the final story, a young priest muses on his religious weakness: ‘I can’t run from the tragedies of God…Maybe I’ll come to a place like this when I am dead.’ Steinbeck’s take on the American Dream is full of longing but always, finally, despondent.”

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