What are you reading? – 19 July 2018

A weekly look over the shoulders of our scholar-reviewers

July 19, 2018
A person reading in a hammock
Source: iStock

Bruce Macfarlane, professor of higher education, University of Bristol, is reading Abraham Flexner’s Universities: American, English, German (Routledge, 1994). “Originally published in 1930, this is ostensibly one of the first real comparative accounts of higher education systems. In truth, it is more of an entertaining, straight-from-the-hip critique of everything Flexner regarded as wrong with universities in the late 1920s. This includes college sports, pastoral care and schools of business administration, activities he regarded as distractions from universities’ serious mission: conserving and interpreting knowledge, searching for the truth and training students to ‘carry on’. Flexner helps to debunk the contemporary pretentions of universities that seek to tackle society’s ‘grand challenges’. Yet his nostalgia for the university of the late 19th century proves that concerns about the ‘decline’ of the so-called modern university have been around for a very long time indeed.”


Carina Buckley, instructional design manager, Solent University, is reading Patricia Cornwell’s Depraved Heart (HarperCollins, 2015). “Dr Kay Scarpetta has been called to a crime scene: a young woman fell to her death while changing a lightbulb. But being Scarpetta – and Cornwell – things are not what they seem. Unfortunately, what they seem to be is a little dull, bogged down in legal niceties and relayed, to an extent that suggests a paucity of ideas, via video clips on Scarpetta’s phone that only she can see. The story, such as it is, relies too much on exposition and has an awkward line in self-conscious status signalling. Scarpetta and her niece Lucy are rich and highly intelligent: we know. Bad things happen to them. Oh, do we know. But after 22 previous books, many of them truly tense, fast-paced and fully developed, Scarpetta has finally run out of energy.”


Karen McAulay, performing arts librarian and postdoctoral researcher, Royal Conservatoire of Scotland, is reading James Raven’s What is the History of the Book? (Polity Press, 2018). “My own research is into the history of Georgian legal deposit music, but I’ve often thought that not enough consideration is given to the points of similarity and difference between the history of the musical score and that of the book. Both exist to convey their creators’ message in conventional codes, whatever the printing format – one through musical notation and the other in text. Raven’s introduction to the history of the book starts with the earliest books, and embraces bibliographic description, economics, copyright and other controls, library curation, readers and reading practices. It’s exactly what I need to introduce me to what the discipline embraces, how it began and how it is developing. Ample notes and a generous bibliography will also prove very helpful.”

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