What are you reading? – 3 November 2016

A weekly look over the shoulders of our scholar-reviewers

November 3, 2016
Person sitting and reading in sunlight
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Tim Hall, head of the department of applied social sciences, University of Winchester, is reading Tim Marshall’s Prisoners of Geography: Ten Maps That Tell You Everything You Need to Know about Global Politics (Elliot and Thompson, 2016). “This book is a reminder that world affairs are not played out across a flat, featureless plane, but are crucially shaped by geography of the physical and macro variety. Prisoners of Geography is a crisply written panorama of global geopolitical history that makes the case for the roles played by mountains, deserts, rivers, jungles and oceans, and the challenges they present to political and military leaders. It is this geography, as much as anything else, Tim Marshall argues, that accounts for American global hegemony and Russia’s continued intervention across its former Soviet hinterlands. Marshall is perhaps too deterministic – an underpowered sub-theme is the ways in which technology can at times overcome the restrictions of geography – but this book is, nonetheless, a timely call for greater emphasis on the ‘geo’ of ‘geopolitics’.”

Uwe Schütte, reader in German, Aston University, is reading Adrian Nathan West’s The Aesthetics of Degradation (Repeater Books, 2016). “Degradation, in various forms, is a major theme of our neoliberal present. Nowhere is this as evident as in commercial pornography. With The Aesthetics of Degradation, Adrian Nathan West has written a remarkable novel-cum-essay that boldly tackles this difficult field, fearlessly confronting the humiliation of women in hard-core porn as an extreme example of the commodification of cruelty. Rooted in the erotic obsessions of its nameless narrator, Aesthetics draws on the recollections of porn actresses, the comments of porn viewers and an array of writers and theoreticians ranging from Lukács to Jerome Bruner to analyse a modern strain of masculinity predicated on sexual coercion. The almost dreamlike fictional closing chapters culminate in a withering self-incrimination that will remain with readers long after the book ends.”

Paul Greatrix, registrar, University of Nottingham, is reading Adrian Jones Pearson’s Cow Country (Cow Eye Press, 2015). “An outstanding higher education satire, Cow Country follows an increasingly sleep-deprived educational administrator as he tries to help Cow Eye Community College (mission: to provide a nurturing and time-tested education grounded in American values and the proliferation of the American Way) through its critical accreditation process. Charlie is the new special projects coordinator and, beyond accreditation, he is tasked with reuniting a starkly divided campus community and organising the staff Christmas party. Featuring a series of absurd and comic scenarios from calf castration as team-building to maths-based orgies, this is a very entertaining and thoroughly strange campus novel that some thought was written by Thomas Pynchon. Extremely rude and offensive in places, scathing about higher education life and very funny too, it’s a highly recommended read.”

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