What are you reading? – 13 October 2016

A weekly look over the shoulders of our scholar-reviewers

October 13, 2016
Pile of books against blue background
Source: iStock

Sharon Wheeler, visiting lecturer in media studies, Birmingham City University, is reading Antony Sher’s Year of the Fat Knight: The Falstaff Diaries (Nick Hern Books, 2016). “Antony Sher is one of our finest character actors, but might not be everyone’s first pick as Falstaff, given that he’s not a large, rotund chap. But when he undertakes a part, he inhabits it. The book, illustrated by Sher’s own artwork (is there anything the bloke can’t do?), offers an unrivalled view of how a play and a leading performance take shape, from early read-throughs in London to the four-star reviews on opening night in Stratford-upon-Avon. Theatre groupies like me will love the peek behind the scenes and an actor’s often insecure thoughts on nailing a big role.”

Peter J. Smith, reader in Renaissance literature, Nottingham Trent University, is reading Leona J. Skelton’s Sanitation in Urban Britain, 1560-1700 (Routledge, 2016). “Skelton remarks on her first page that modern ‘sewerage systems are maintained largely behind the scenes, and their effective functioning requires minimal effort from householders’. But this has not always been the case. Her starting point is that contemporary historians have shied away from a topic with ‘explicitly unsavoury connotations and perceived repulsive details’. She asserts, contrary to popular stereotypes of the early modern city as knee-deep in faeces, that its population was determined to suppress noxious practices in an effort to combat miasma. Unfortunately, most of the cases she cites illustrate the breach rather than the observance of legislation promoting decontamination and one wonders if her sense of the lived experience of early modern citizenry isn’t a little rose-tinted.”

Ella-Mae Hubbard, lecturer in systems engineering, Loughborough University, is reading Kevin Hearne’s Trapped (Orbit, 2012). “This is the fifth book in a series of Iron Druid Chronicles that I have thoroughly enjoyed and recommend. It you haven’t tried the urban fantasy genre, you should; it’s great for escapism. The novel starts with a pronunciation guide, which helps, and this sets the tone for what follows and gives you some insight into the author. Trapped doesn’t take itself too seriously and one of the highlights is getting to hear what Oberon (a dog who is one of the novel’s main characters) is thinking – it’s usually about bacon! Hearne’s attention to detail, drawing on numerous legends and myths, works to create a very rich world. There is some strong language. It’s not there for the sake of it, and I think it works, but I know it’s not for everyone, so don’t say I didn’t warn you!”

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