What are you reading? – 23 February 2017

A weekly look over the shoulders of our scholar-reviewers

February 23, 2017
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Nick Bevan, pro vice-chancellor and director of library and student support, Middlesex University, is reading Marlon James’ A Brief History of Seven Killings (Oneworld, 2014) and Paul Beatty’s The Sellout (Oneworld, 2015). “Compare and contrast these last two Man Booker prizewinners! Two novels by black authors centred on the ghetto experience. James’ fictional reconstruction of the attempted assassination of Bob Marley (‘The Singer’) is heavy in every sense, requiring sustained effort to follow the Jamaican patois, reconcile competing narratives and comprehend the random violence. It is in equal parts disturbing and absorbing. Beatty’s satire, about a black American on trial for instituting slavery and segregation, seems lightweight in comparison. Some jokes strike home, but for this reader it ran out of steam, the writing seemed forced in places and the characterisation shallow. But it is a fair question whether my perceptions were influenced by the order in which the books were read!”

Liz Gloyn, lecturer in Classics, Royal Holloway, University of London, is reading Catherynne M. Valente’s Radiance (Corsair, 2016). “A mix of space-opera and homage to the early years of cinema, this novel asks what is at stake in the way we tell stories and understand ourselves. Severin Unck was adopted by a famous film director who could only live through documenting his life on camera, and becomes a film-maker herself. After she disappears on a filming expedition to a destroyed village, her father tries to understand what happened to her. The novel is told in fragments of multiple genres, including film script, newspaper column, diaries, detective noir, radio drama and advertisement. I thoroughly enjoyed the homage to cinematic history, and the voices weaving together fragments to tell the possible stories behind Severin’s disappearance.”

Joseph Lo Bianco, professor of language and literacy education, University of Melbourne, is reading Ingrid Piller’s Linguistic Diversity and Social Justice: An Introduction to Applied Sociolinguistics (Oxford University Press, 2016). “Typically Western pluralist nations, despite current acrimonious debates about migration and population mobility, proclaim themselves to be open, democratic and participatory, committed to egalitarian citizenship. Piller subjects such claims to trenchant analysis, zeroing in on language. As she runs her sharp sociolinguistically analytical eye on employment practices, educational performance and community participation, she exposes much of our policy in these areas in relation to minorities to be celebratory and shallow. It turns out that language issues are a reliable predictor of inequality. Unless public policy expressly includes a focus on language and literacy, there can be no genuine amelioration of entrenched inequalities and no prospect that the skills and knowledge of all citizens can contribute to economic, educational and political life.”

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