What are you reading? – 5 January 2017

A weekly look over the shoulders of our scholar-reviewers

January 5, 2017
A stack of book beside a blue wall
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John Shand, associate lecturer in philosophy at the Open University, is reading Martin Amis’ Success (Jonathan Cape, 1978). “I am literally rereading, but it is as good as reading, as I don’t think I took it in first time. What a masterpiece it is. A superb tragedy, but one that is never solemn – and, as always with Martin Amis, funny too. Some may find its visceral and expletive tone and language uncomfortable (and what ‘terrible’ characters too!). This might be justified if it were gratuitous – but it never is. What writing! And what emotional honesty and moral purpose, flowing naturally from an unflinching facing up to reality about the world and yourself – and we all know what happens when you don’t: it always catches up with you. A great work of literature comparable to any.”

Carina Buckley, instructional design manager, Southampton Solent University, is reading Frieda Hughes’ Alternative Values: Poems & Paintings (Bloodaxe Books, 2015). “Deceptively simple and straight-talking, this collection of 52 poems and accompanying oil paintings beguiles the reader into seeing them as somewhat light-hearted reflections on life, only to be suddenly skewered by a razor-sharp truth. From the heart-breaking fragility of Eggs to the Love Poem for a Motorbike, each one explores and dissects perhaps an aspect of Hughes’ life, or a memory, or a relationship, with the aim of understanding her present-day self much better. Born of a project to document each year of her life in painting, each poem is a response to or the impetus behind its accompanying image. Even if abstract art (or poetry for that matter) is not a comfortable environment, this is nevertheless a book to plunge into, again and again.”

Sharon Wheeler, visiting lecturer in media and communications, Coventry University, is reading Rowland Manthorpe and Kirstin Smith’s Confidence (Bloomsbury, 2016). “Ellie’s in her final year at university and it’s all happening so fast. Why can’t she be happy with her perfect boyfriend – and, more urgently, why on earth can’t she nail her dissertation? Charlie, meanwhile, has it all planned – he’ll do just enough work to get his degree, and then unveil his great business plan. If only he had one, that is. The philosophy crew may well nod sagely over Nietzsche lurking in the background and extract more in-jokes than the rest of us from a book that’s witty but perhaps a touch too clever for its own good.”

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