What are you reading? – 21 June 2018

A weekly look over the shoulders of our scholar-reviewers

June 21, 2018
Books in a pile
Source: iStock

Peter J. Smith, reader in Renaissance literature, Nottingham Trent University, is reading A. J. Hartley’s Cold Bath Street (UCLan Publishing, 2018). “Young adult ghost fiction is not my usual cup of tea, except – full disclosure – Andy is an old friend of mine and his book launch involved several very good bottles of red! That said, this is a grimly atmospheric story set in the chilly, empty and dark limbo between life and ‘sincere death’. Preston (which doubles as the setting and name of the protagonist) is a town populated by ghostly Roman centurions, a pack of hellhounds, the Dickensian Brakeman, whose failure to stop his freight train resulted in multiple child fatalities, the Bannister Doll and the Roarer (Hartley’s version of the Artful Dodger). Part of the novel’s charm is a nostalgia for Kate Bush, the Police, Roxy Music and Elvis Costello. Jane Pickering’s pencil sketches capture both the menace and the juvenile angst of the story. Go on, frighten your kids!”

Martin Cohen, editor of The Philosopher, is reading David Friedman’s Food Sanity: How to Eat in a World of Fads and Fiction (Turner, 2018). “I’ve been interested for years in questions not so much about what we eat but why we eat it. One of the evergreen theories at the moment focuses on the Palaeo Diet and claims that the human body needs plenty of lean meat, and to steer clear of grains, because that is how Stone Age man dined out. It’s incredibly hard to find this view challenged, but here is a devastating takedown of the whole myth of ‘man the hunter’, from our mismatched teeth to our livers and, crucially, the pH of our tummies, which is ideal for digesting plants but can’t cope with meat at all – unless it’s cooked, and thoroughly too. It seems humans are more ‘gatherers’ than we ever were hunters.”

Stephen Halliday, senior member, Pembroke College, Cambridge, is reading The Times Great Letters: A Century of Notable Correspondence (edited by James Owen; Times Books, 2017). “This selection of letters to the newspaper runs from 1914 to 2016 and includes some notable names: Mussolini, Graham Greene, Agatha Christie, Margaret Thatcher (before she became prime minister) and Yehudi Menuhin. Theresa May, while in opposition, wrote a very well-informed letter about the climbing of the Matterhorn by Edward Whymper. After following the endless correspondence about the preparation of porridge, I felt that I knew far more about the subject than I needed to. The volume concludes with a debate about the best way to end a letter in these days of email: ‘Yours sincerely’, ‘faithfully’, ‘cheerfully’, ‘affectionately’, ‘eventually’, ‘expectantly’ and ‘simply’ are all suggested, yet the matter remains unresolved. But where are the letters about hearing the first cuckoo, which were such a feature in the 1950s?”

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