What are you reading? – 4 May 2017

A weekly look over the shoulders of our scholar-reviewers

May 4, 2017
Four people sitting in a row reading books
Source: iStock

Sir David Eastwood, vice-chancellor, University of Birmingham, is reading Ian Sansom’s The Norfolk Mystery (Fourth Estate, 2013). “This is the first in a series of diverting detective novels, four of which have so far been published. The conceit is a polymathic autodidact, Swanton Morley, ‘the People’s Professor’, who is writing a series of county guides. Travelling to each county, he encounters a murder, then solves it, at once deploying and parodying the classic idioms of interwar detective fiction. This gently ironic homage to the golden age of crime fiction is Sansom’s special charm. Morley’s chronicler, Stephen Sefton, has a detached wit that eluded Dr Watson, and Morley’s breathless encyclopedism, shorn of Sherlockian arrogance, delights as it teases. Here the denouement is a glorious pastiche of Agatha Christie, as the implausible gently and effortlessly unfolds. Plot and characters develop in the later novels, but readers should start here.”

Maria Delgado, professor and director of research, Royal Central School of Speech and Drama, University of London, is reading Mischa Twitchin’s The Theatre of Death – The Uncanny in Mimesis: Tadeusz Kantor, Aby Warburg, and an Iconography of the Actor (Palgrave, 2016). “Cultural memory is at the heart of Mischa Twitchin’s elegant exploration of an aesthetic practice that he defines as ‘a theatre of death’, where shock emerges from the uncanny that manifests itself in mimesis. Focusing on the Polish artist-director Tadeusz Kantor (1915-90), one of the most influential 20th-century stage directors, Twitchin unsettles ideas of the ‘live’ in performance, looking at precedents – from Edward Gordon Craig to Antonin Artaud – that similarly probe the ways in which the human body is transformed into representation. The philosophy of theatre articulated in this book involves looking backwards to see ahead, envisioning the future in the past as a way of making sense of a historical context of deportations, occupation and exile.”

Duncan Wu, Raymond Wagner professor in literary studies, Georgetown University, is reading Barbara Feinman Todd’s Pretend I’m Not Here: How I Worked with Three Newspaper Icons, One Powerful First Lady, and Still Managed to Dig Myself Out of the Washington Swamp (HarperCollins, 2017). “Why haven’t the people who run Washington DC had my colleague at Georgetown, Barbara Feinman Todd, buried in a pair of concrete stilettos in the murky depths of the Potomac? She knows too much – and now her memoir has enshrined it in print. The quality and quantity of the beans spilled is high: Todd worked with Bob Woodward on The Washington Post and became Hillary Clinton’s ghostwriter. Her Sin City is crammed with hit men, gangsters and back-stabbers. It works not just because it’s written like a novel, but because it isn’t a bid for revenge; Todd is too self-effacing for that. It climaxes with the ‘shitstorm’ that led to her embroilment in the Whitewater hearings conducted by the ‘old farts’ on the Hill (her term): a morbidly compulsive belch from the distended gut of Washington’s corrupt, jaded elite.”

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