What are you reading? – 30 November 2017

A weekly look over the shoulders of our scholar-reviewers

November 30, 2017
Books on a bench
Source: iStock

Stephen Halliday, senior member, Pembroke College, Cambridge, is reading Hilary Spurling’s Anthony Powell: Dancing to the Music of Time (Hamish Hamilton, 2017). “Spurling’s admiration for Anthony Powell breathes from every page and she makes a strong case for the quality of his writing. But her appreciation of her subject does not extend to others. Auberon Waugh and Malcolm Muggeridge are fair game, but she is unduly critical of Powell’s father. Colonel Powell was certainly a difficult, irascible man, but from a modest military pension he supported his expensively educated son well into his forties and left him a fortune. And there are some howlers. Was the Suez Crisis really a subject of ‘violent argument at the nation’s dinner tables’ in the autumn of 1957, a year after the event? Moreover, our hero turns down an offer of a knighthood from the Thatcher government (in 1975!); and is appointed a Companion of Honour by the Heath government (in 1988!).”


Harriet Dunbar-Morris, associate pro vice-chancellor, University of Portsmouth, is reading Patrick O’Brian’s The Commodore (W. W. Norton, 1996). “I am continuing to go through the Aubrey-Maturin series, first published between 1969 and 1999 (with an unfinished sequel in 2004). Although I am not one to read a book if I have seen the film, I would recommend readers have a stab at one of these 20 books, of which three were adapted in the 2003 film Master and Commander, starring Russell Crowe. The Commodore is set during the Napoleonic Wars and the War of 1812, and we are taken from England (Portsmouth, rather appropriately for me) via Spain and West Africa to the west coast of Ireland, in a novel that describes both home and seafaring life. For a taste of naval history, and a good story, you can’t go wrong.”


R. C. Richardson, emeritus professor of history, University of Winchester, is reading Consuming Korean Tradition in Early and Late Modernity: Commodification, Tourism and Performance (edited by Laurel Kendall; University of Hawai’i Press, 2011). “This is an absorbing set of conference papers addressing different aspects of the coexistence of tradition and modernisation in Korea from the colonial period under Japanese rule to the present day. Lotte World in Seoul, which combines a huge shopping mall and amusement parks with internal pseudo-historical ‘islands’, is perhaps the prime example. The national staple, kimchi, made from fermented vegetables, and the kimchi wars (over cheap rival imports from Japan and China) receive a chapter to themselves. The growth of the heritage industry, however, occupies centre stage, with chapters on historic sites, staged events in lineage houses and the preservation of cultural icons both in situ and in museums, as well as the proliferation of miniature replicas as tourist souvenirs.”

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