What are you reading? – 16 June 2016

A weekly look over the shoulders of our scholar-reviewers

June 16, 2016
A man reading a book
Source: iStock

Janet Beer, vice-chancellor, University of Liverpool, is reading Jane Smiley’s Last Hundred Years trilogy, Some Luck, Early Warning and Golden Age (Picador, 2015 and 2016). “On completing the last of these novels, Jane Smiley says she wept. I felt something of the same sense of bereavement myself at the end of this epic family saga. Smiley has always been able to express the sweep of human history through individual suffering. She took King Lear to rural Iowa in her 1991 novel, A Thousand Acres; here, the Langdon family takes Iowa to the world in an account that is at once private and public, local and global.”

Sean Creaney, PhD candidate in criminology, Liverpool John Moores University, is reading Peter Beresford’s All Our Welfare: Towards Participatory Social Policy (Policy Press, 2016). “Beresford details how the current welfare system has been subject to ‘sustained ideological and political attack’. The present direction of travel, he argues, is especially disconcerting and here he challenges conventional wisdom and in turn subjects the dominant narrative to critical inquiry. He puts forward a very convincing alternative, based on democracy and service-user participation.”

R. C. Richardson, emeritus professor of history, University of Winchester, has been reading Richard Chenevix Trench’s On the Study of Words and English Past and Present (Dent, 1936). “Revisiting this text for me is almost an act of piety, since its contents were first delivered as lectures in the 1850s at what is now the University of Winchester. More broadly, Trench’s writings were landmarks in the popularisation in England of philology and lexicography and formed the inspiration and foundation stone of what eventually became the Oxford English Dictionary.”

Jeremy Singer, lecturer in computing science, University of Glasgow, is reading Sydney Padua’s Thrilling Adventures of Lovelace and Babbage (Particular Books, 2015). “Ada Lovelace is portrayed as a hybrid of Wonder Woman and Minnie the Minx. These enchanting comic strips record her (mostly imaginary) adventures with Charles Babbage in the era of mechanical computing. The (largely factual) quirky footnotes offer an outstanding commentary on the history and philosophy of computation. Nominated for several awards, and an excellent distraction from my exam marking.”

Peter J. Smith, reader in Renaissance literature, Nottingham Trent University, is reading Ian McEwan’s Solar (Vintage, 2011). “Set in the forbidding Arctic Circle, the bland Home Counties and the deserts of New Mexico, McEwan’s comic novel follows the rake’s progress of Michael Beard, a brilliant physicist turned gluttonous narcissist and philanderer. No longer interested in research, Beard lives off the inventive enthusiasm of his postdocs and the inertia of his reputation. That such a self-interested and indolent protagonist is a champion of green energy is the novel’s most mischievous irony.”

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