What are you reading? – 1 June 2017

A weekly look over the shoulders of our scholar-reviewers

June 1, 2017
Books on bookshelf

Philip Kemp, visiting lecturer on film journalism, University of Leicester, is reading Flannery O’Connor’s Collected Works (edited by Sally Fitzgerald, Library of America, 1988). “Georgia-born Flannery O’Connor died in 1964 at age 39, so her complete works don’t take up too much space. This volume, one of the superbly produced and scrupulously edited hardbacks produced by the Library of America, runs to 1,280 pages and includes two novels, two short-story collections, a batch of essays and a generous selection of her letters (plus notes). I’ve just finished Wise Blood, her first and best-known novel (impressively filmed in 1979 by John Huston). As a piece of full-blooded Southern Gothic it surpasses (at least in my view) William Faulkner – and the prose is a lot less tortured. None of the characters is in the least likeable, but they’re unforgettably bizarre, brought to vivid life by O’Connor’s dark, subversive humour.”

Annmarie Adams, Stevenson chair in the history and philosophy of science, McGill University, is reading Lucas Crawford’s Transgender Architectonics: The Shape of Change in Modernist Space (Routledge, 2015). “This is no ordinary book. A revised version of an award-winning University of Alberta PhD thesis, it takes us from the ladies’ loo to New York’s High Line Park, via Virginia Woolf and Samuel Beckett. The celebrated architectural firm diller scofidio + renfro (DS+R), which designed the High Line, plays a large role in this interdisciplinary study, as its Blur Building from the Swiss Expo of 2002 inspired Crawford’s theory of transgender space. Plus the firm’s Brasserie restaurant of 2000, in New York’s 1958 Seagram Building, illustrates Crawford’s point that the washroom is our defining structure for transgender, as the closet was for gay oppression. Unlike most architecture books, Transgender Architectonics is densely written with zero images. It’s worth getting through, however, because you’ll look at our gendered world in a whole new way.”

James Gow, professor of international peace and security, King’s College London, is reading Audrey Wells’ The Rule of Reverse Results: The Effects of Unethical Policies? (Routledge, 2016). “This short volume is not so much a book as a provocative series of discussion points, around episodes from 20th- and 21st-century international history, where the author deems policies to have been deeply unethical and the outcomes not those intended. It is more impressionistic than research-based. The devil is in the detail with such complex issues – and the detail is not always as full and as precise as might be desired. This makes assertions that prompt discussion easier, even if developed ethical discussion might reach different conclusions, for example about Churchill, bombing Berlin and ‘the Blitz’. Some of this is a by-product of the brevity of the books in the engaging Routledge Focus strand. The merit is the pithy challenge provided. Wells’ most interesting point concerns the value of forgiveness – a topic for the next ‘focus’, perhaps?”

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