What are you reading? – 27 July 2017

A weekly look over the shoulders of our scholar-reviewers

July 27, 2017
Books in a library
Source: iStock

Martin Myers, lecturer in education, University of Portsmouth, is reading Aristophanes’ The Birds and Other Plays (translated by David Barrett and Alan Sommerstein, Penguin Books, 2003). “Aristophanes’ satirical play was originally produced 2,500 years ago and is full of vain, dissatisfied and politically misdirected Athenian citizens and birds. Unhappy with their worldly status, they conspire to build a city in the sky encircled by a great and unsurpassable wall. At the heart of this enterprise is the promotion of trade interests; the gods will be taxed into submission. Unfortunately, the great wall turns out to be a great disappointment, easily breached by humans and gods alike (themselves, incidentally, a mix of chancers, the feckless and moody malcontents). The city in the sky is named Cloud Cuckoo Land. We should not read too much into an ancient play, but something about the inevitable porosity of borders, foolishness cloaked in arrogance and the mad, vain vision of great walls rings a few alarm bells.”

Ella-Mae Hubbard, senior lecturer in systems engineering, Loughborough University, is reading Diagnostic Expertise in Organizational Environments (edited by Mark Wiggins and Thomas Loveday, CRC Press, 2015). “I started reading this because the title sounded interesting, but it became clear that some concepts would be useful for students, for research and to further develop teaching practice. The book aims to outline ‘a comprehensive approach in which diagnosis is conceptualised as both a cognitive and social construct’, with links to decision-making. It draws on many topics familiar to ergonomists (situational awareness, heuristics and so on), providing a framework on which to develop new ideas, and supplies good pointers for considering a formal process for diagnosis. There are some really useful concepts, although it becomes hard to keep track of them all (interesting when the topic is short-term memory retention!), and they will take some interpretation and translation to apply in different contexts.”

Maria Delgado, professor and director of research, Royal Central School of Speech and Drama, University of London, is reading María Irene Fornés’ Fefu and Her Friends (PAJ Books, 2017). “Fornés is one of the most influential and underrated American dramatists of the second half of the 20th century. Her playful, avant-garde writing and formal inventiveness have long been admired by figures as diverse as Caryl Churchill, Tony Kushner and Susan Sontag. Her emblematic 1977 feminist play Fefu and Her Friends is here presented alongside a revised version of the second act that offers producers the opportunity to stage it in a single location rather than the four rotational settings specified in the original. I revelled in her economy of style, bittersweet Chekhovian humour and ambitious refashioning of period drama. Accompanied by a brilliant interview with Fornés conducted by the publisher and critic Bonnie Marranca, this is an iconic play about the gendering of space that feels as fresh and urgent as when I first read it more than 30 years ago.”

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