What are you reading? – 17 March 2016

A weekly look over the shoulders of our scholar-reviewers

March 17, 2016
Books open on table

Sir David Bell, vice-chancellor, University of Reading, is reading Andrew O’Hagan’s The Illuminations (Faber, 2015). “O’Hagan has to be one of Britain’s most underrated novelists. His books unmask human frailties in sensitive and insightful ways. That is certainly the case in this novel, which weaves together a grandmother’s failing memories of a doomed 1960s love affair with her grandson’s searing experience of combat in Afghanistan. Brilliant writing combined with heartfelt emotion.”

Emily Brand, managing editor at Bodleian Library Publishing, is reading Charlotte Gordon’s Romantic Outlaws: The Extraordinary Lives of Mary Wollstonecraft and Mary Shelley (Hutchinson, 2015). “From heartbreak in revolutionary France to literary sparks at Lake Geneva, this compelling double biography does justice to both the passions and the pioneering minds of two of history’s most brilliant women. A mother and daughter who never met, but who both left a remarkable legacy in the worlds of literature and women’s studies, their entangled lives are here presented in elegant and accessible prose.”

Carina Buckley, instructional design manager, Southampton Solent University, is reading Simone de Beauvoir’s The Blood of Others (Penguin, 1986). “Blomart, middle-class bourgeois turned Resistance fighter, waits through the night in occupied Paris for his beloved Hélène to die, turning over his past, their relationship, and the part he has played in other people’s lives. Switching fluidly between first and third person, de Beauvoir examines how impossible it is to be truly free, and how that can be good.”

R. C. Richardson, emeritus professor of history, University of Winchester, is reading David Olusoga’s The World’s War (Head of Zeus, 2014). “A vivid account of how the imperial powers fighting the 1914‑18 war drew greedily on men from their colonies – and from China and America, too – for their military campaigns in Europe and in Africa. No less vividly presented is the associated damning record of racism and deliberate amnesia, witnessed for example in the case of a black American war hero who, on his return to the US, was stripped of his military uniform and died a pauper.”

Sharon Wheeler, visiting lecturer in journalism, Birmingham City University, is reading Tim Lane and Elliot Cartledge’s Chasing Shadows: The Life and Death of Peter Roebuck (Hardie Grant Books, 2015). “Peter Roebuck was a very unconventional cricketer – but one of the best-ever writers and commentators on the game. He was found dead in highly unusual circumstances amid equally highly controversial allegations of sexual abuse. The authors have spoken to a range of friends and family, but perhaps inevitably can’t provide closure for this desperately sad story about a complex man.”

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