What are you reading? – 17 August 2017

A weekly look over the shoulders of our scholar-reviewers

August 17, 2017
Books in a pile
Source: iStock

Peter J. Smith, reader in Renaissance literature, Nottingham Trent University, is reading Don DeLillo’s Cosmopolis (Picador, 2003). “This exhilarating story takes place, for the most part, in the back of a stretch limo. Multibillionaire Eric Packer traverses New York City contemplating his reckless currency dealings. This postmodern picaresque sees him rubbing alongside the funeral procession of a rapper, having his prostate examined, stopping off at a hotel for perfunctory sex with a bodyguard, witlessly becoming the focal point of an anti-capitalist protest, having a haircut and lunching with his wife (whom he has barely met). The novel is both a withering condemnation of the solipsisms of late capitalism and a humanist howl of anxiety about the insulating effects of technology, which, in Packer’s mercenary ignorance, is ‘the master thrust of cyber-capital, to extend the human experience toward infinity as a medium for corporate growth and investment’. It’s both sobering and beautifully written.”

Carina Buckley, instructional design manager, Southampton Solent University, is reading Isabel Losada’s For Tibet, with Love: A Beginner’s Guide to Changing the World (Bloomsbury, 2004). “What can one person do? What difference can one person make, and can that difference have global impact? After all, not even the Dalai Lama has been able to change Tibet’s political status. Yet these questions nagged at Losada, enough to drive her to action to find out – action including a skydive, a stunt involving Nelson’s Column, an awkward meeting with the Chinese ambassador and a trip to Lhasa to meet the Dalai Lama himself. Structured around the Serenity Prayer, in an open and chatty yet always thoughtful style, Losada effortlessly carries the reader along on her journey of understanding (if not quite enlightenment). Sometimes annoying, occasionally naive but always motivated by care and concern, she makes for good company along the way.”

Sir David Bell, vice-chancellor, University of Reading, is reading George Saunders’ Lincoln in the Bardo (Bloomsbury, 2017). “This left me uncertain whether it is profoundly innovative or deeply pretentious. After the death of his son, Willie, Abraham Lincoln visited the crypt on a number of occasions to hold his boy’s body. As Saunders conceives it, a cacophony of voices is heard in the bardo, a transitional place inhabited by souls according to Tibetan tradition. Mixing fact and fiction, the book consists of staccato statements and extracts as a battle rages over Willie’s soul. The nature of the text defies any kind of rhythm and is clearly experimental. But Lincoln 
in the Bardo is ultimately unsatisfying as I was left not really caring about the outcome of the ‘story’, even if I understood it.”

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