What are you reading? – 22 June 2017

A weekly look over the shoulders of our scholar-reviewers

June 22, 2017
Books on a bench
Source: iStock

Lincoln Allison, emeritus reader in politics at the University of Warwick, is reading Mick Channon Jnr’s How’s Your Dad? Embracing Failure in the Shadow of Success (Racing Post, 2016). “I once included Mick Channon Snr, the main character of this book, in an article on alternative heroes because I admired his bloody-mindedness and determination and his success in two great sports, football and horse racing. Junior has failed, on his own account, at football and at journalism and works for his ‘grumpy old bastard’ of a dad at the stables. I was given this book with the message ‘Hey, Dad, you’ll like this’ – and I do like it because it’s honest, vigorous and unusual. It’s about how bloody professional sport is and about how a father-son relationship can work despite a massive incapacity on both sides to express emotion. It is the antidote to most sports books and strangely uplifting.”

Jonathan Mirsky, formerly associate professor of Chinese, history and comparative literature at Dartmouth College, is reading Anthony Trollope’s The Way We Live Now. “This was first published in 1875 and, like many novels of the period, is a melange of themes that few modern writers can manage: love, jealousy, class, money, crime and anti-Semitism, despite the last not always being seen in a negative light. All this is handled with relaxed skill, although it is actually hard to manage. Even the awful Melmotte, perhaps a Jew, certainly a thief, a bully and a liar, is somehow somewhat sympathetic because of his courage. The other, actual Jew is described as typically Jewish but is also honourable. All the women, even when weak, greedy or selfish, are understandably so, considering the world in which they live. Fascinatingly, the end is impossible to predict, and even on second or third reading Trollope’s mastery is gripping.”

Martin Cohen, editor of The Philosopher, is reading Aaron James’ Surfing with Sartre: An Aquatic Inquiry into a Life of Meaning (Doubleday, 2017). “This is definitely a beach read, packed with enthusiastic descriptions of freedom obtained out on the waves, with little titbits of theoretical philosophy tucked in between. The links between the two are, shall we say, strained…Certainly, I like the idea that surfers have a profound, philosophical relationship with the ocean, but jokey passages about ‘scoring’ with a ‘big barrel’ make me wonder if the philosophy is merely a fig leaf justifying an expensive and privileged hobby. The core argument, that surfers have sublimated everyday concerns, fits well with the ‘dropout’ culture of Volkswagen camper van hobos, but not at all with the frantic and fawning accounts of expert ‘barrellers’. Nonetheless, James’ book does weave together many otherwise rather neglected ideas from aesthetics with some ripping tales from surfer mythology.”

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