What are you reading? – 11 February 2016

A weekly look over the shoulders of our scholar-reviewers

February 11, 2016
Books open on table

David Barnes, stipendiary lecturer in English, Trinity College, Oxford, is reading The Poems of T. S. Eliot Volume I (Faber & Faber, 2015), edited by Christopher Ricks and Jim McCue. “I’ve been dipping in and out of this collection and its excellent commentaries. It’s fascinating to trace the development of Eliot’s writing. Those typically strange juxtapositions and sardonic asides emerge from poems he wrote at Harvard in 1908-09 – verses featuring parrots, ‘street-pianos’ and ‘tattered sparrows’. There’ll be no end to our exploring Eliot, but this is a fantastic starting point.”

Clare Debenham, tutor in the department of politics, University of Manchester, is reading Anita Anand’s Sophia: Princess, Suffragette, Revolutionary (Bloomsbury, 2015). “This is a readable book, and Anand uncovers archival material as well as interviewing confidantes. However, although the cover promises an analysis of Sophia as Indian princess, suffragette and revolutionary, these themes are not fully explored. Not until halfway through the book is Sophia’s involvement with the Women’s Society for Social and Political Union raised, by which time we know of her being Queen Victoria’s god-daughter, and how she lived in a royal residence and was a champion dog breeder.”

E. Stina Lyon, professor emeritus of educational developments in sociology, London South Bank University, is reading Edmund de Waal’s The White Road: A Pilgrimage of Sorts (Chatto & Windus, 2015). “De Waal, a scholar and potter, sees the world in a shard of white porcelain, thoughtfully and poetically tracing its invention and material production from imperial China through medieval Europe, and Cherokee creeks to the satanic factories of Nazi Germany. Global cultural history, structural and individual: this should be a humanising core text on the now sadly abandoned liberal arts curriculum.”

R. C. Richardson, emeritus professor of history, University of Winchester, has been reading Ronald Taylor’s Franz Liszt: The Man and the Musician (Grafton Books, 1986). “Lionised as one of the great virtuoso pianists of his generation and as a dazzlingly innovative, wide-ranging composer, Liszt comes to life in this insightful, balanced biography. The paradoxes and discords of his personal and musical lives are vividly depicted, as are his relations with composers such as Chopin and Wagner and the wider context of the patron-dominated, slowly professionalising musical world he inhabited.”

Sharon Ruston, professor of English literature, Lancaster University, read Hanya Yanagihara’s A Little Life (Picador, 2015) over Christmas. “I became fascinated by the four main characters whose friendships were tested by some of the worst things that people can do to each other. While their situations are – admittedly – unique and their career successes increasingly ridiculous, there is still something very real about their relationships.”

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