What are you reading? – 18 January 2018

A weekly look over the shoulders of our scholar-reviewers

January 18, 2018
Big books
Source: Alamy

Islam Issa, senior lecturer in English literature, Birmingham City University, is reading Andrew O’Hagan’s The Secret Life: Three True Stories (Faber & Faber, 2017). “In a world of accessible information in which social media allow (and encourage) the construction of self-fashioned personalities, The Secret Life questions the ever-blurring lines between the real and the fake. In the first and third essays, O’Hagan reflects on two pitifully insecure men whose stories he was asked to ghost-write: Wikileaks founder Julian Assange and possible bitcoin inventor Craig Wright. Both inhabit a dangerous, self-created reality. The middle essay is about Ronald Pinn, a deceased child whom O’Hagan brings back to life with the help of social media. It proves eerily easy. With limitless people manipulating their online personas, carefully selecting their mannerisms and filtering their images to develop an alternative reality, the most haunting revelation is that Pinn is in some ways just as real (and fake) as many of us.”

Marilynn Richtarik, professor of English, Georgia State University, is reading Bernard MacLaverty’s Midwinter Break (Jonathan Cape, 2017). “Other critics have taken the novel at face value, as a story about an older couple in the throes of a marital crisis. It is that, but Midwinter Break also has a political dimension that has been overlooked. I read the novel as a reaction to the prospect of Brexit by a Northern Irish writer old enough to remember vividly both the Troubles and the process leading to the Good Friday Agreement, made possible in large part by the UK and Ireland’s joint membership in the European Union. The book was written against the backdrop of the referendum campaign, which helps to explain why this narrative about elderly people on holiday in Amsterdam circa 2016 contains some of the most vivid depictions of Troubles-related violence in MacLaverty’s oeuvre.”

Sharon Wheeler, senior lecturer in journalism and PR, University of the West of England, is reading The Highlights: Frank Keating (edited by Matthew Engel; Faber and Faber, 2014). “I met Guardian sports journalist Frank Keating just once, despite subbing his weekly column for some years, when I sat in on a workshop he was running. He was unwaveringly enthusiastic and encouraging to everyone there, and happily agreed to come and talk to my students. Sadly, he died before I could take him up on the offer. The Highlights is like wallowing in a warm bath and reflects a man who loved language. And it has one of my favourites in there: Keating’s affectionate and idiosyncratic preview of his beloved Glorse’s – Gloucestershire’s – ultimately successful appearance in the 1977 Benson & Hedges cricket cup final.”

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