What are you reading? – 5 April 2018

A weekly look over the shoulders of our scholar-reviewers

April 5, 2018
What are you reading?
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Shahidha Bari, senior lecturer in Romanticism at Queen Mary University of London, is reading Darren McGarvey’s Poverty Safari: Understanding the Anger of Britain’s Underclass (Luath Press, 2017). “I got hold of this after listening to McGarvey’s passionate and eloquent interview on BBC Radio 4’s Start the Week. His book is a powerful polemic and details his own experiences of neglect and addiction growing up in a Glasgow ‘scheme’. It uses that element of memoir as bait, and then fearlessly critiques the received ways in which the ‘underclass’ has been characterised. Most arrestingly, McGarvey challenges the ways in which poverty has been tackled ineffectively by well-meaning liberals on the left, and neglected by the right. I strongly recommend it.”

Kalwant Bhopal, professor of education and social justice at the University of Birmingham, is reading John Updike’s Rabbit, Run (Penguin, 2006). “This is the story of Harry ‘Rabbit’ Angstrom who, at 26, feels trapped by his alcoholic wife and young son, as well as his dead end job. So he decides to run away from his family home in Philadelphia, taking him on a thousand-mile journey that he thinks will change his life and give him freedom. In his escape, ‘he accelerates. The growing complexity of lights threatens him. He is being drawn into Philadelphia. He hates Philadelphia. Dirtiest city in the world, they live in poisoned water, you can taste the chemicals’. Updike’s beautiful writing is mingled with mixed emotions of hope, fear and love. Throughout the book, there is a constant reminder of the advice given to Rabbit at the beginning of his journey: ‘The only way to get somewhere, you know, is to figure out where you’re going before you go there’.”

Martin Myers, lecturer in education at the University of Portsmouth, is reading B. S. Johnson’s Christie Malry’s Own Double-Entry (Picador, 2013). “The fear with ‘experimental’ literature is that the experimentalism overwhelms the literary. No such problems blight Johnson’s novel. The central conceit is that a wage slave, Christie Malry, deploys double-entry bookkeeping to redress social injustices. So, while the debit column details a ‘tongue-lashing’ from Malry’s boss, the credit side lists petty theft of office stationery. It is all good fun until the multiple oppressions of modernity turn a ‘simple man’ into ‘a cell of one’. Malry instigates a mass poisoning that is less revolutionary struggle, more an act of terror mirroring the government’s own ‘weapons of casualness, indifference, mass carelessness’. A more sentimental novel would no doubt balance the hidden injuries of class with small acts of personal kindness; but it is not that kind of book. Injustice remains a bad debt that never gets paid off.”

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