What are you reading? – 5 July 2018

A weekly look over the shoulders of our scholar-reviewers

July 5, 2018
A woman lying on her back reading
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R. C. Richardson, emeritus professor of history, University of Winchester, is reading Joanna de Groot’s Empire and History Writing in Britain, c. 1750-2012 (Manchester University Press, 2013). “This boldly wide-ranging book examines the historiography engendered by successive phases of empire and imperialism and decolonisation and post-imperialism, and the changing notions of ‘civilisation’, ‘progress’, ‘race’, ‘nation’ and ‘people’ that came in their wake. Differing understandings of ‘us’ and ‘them’, the indulgence of superiority and, later, guilt complexes come under review as the author surveys academic, popular, children’s and biographical writing on the subject of empire. Political cartoons, fiction, television and film are drawn into the discussion as well. Predictably, the subject becomes simply too big to handle, and the density of detail often makes it difficult to sustain a clear line of argument. Overlong chapters and a hopelessly inadequate index compound the problems.”


Caroline Magennis, lecturer in 20th- and 21st-century literature, University of Salford, is reading Autonomy (edited by Kathy D’Arcy; New Binary Press, 2018). “This collection features Irish women writing in a variety of genres about reproductive choice and bodily autonomy, and all profits go towards groups working for women’s healthcare rights. After the landslide referendum result on abortion legislation in the Republic of Ireland in May and the current parliamentary debates around the women of the North, it is well worth revisiting. Featuring well-known writers such as Nuala Ní Dhomhnaill, Claire Hennessy, Sinead Gleeson, Angela Carr, Elaine Feeney and Sarah Clancy but also newer voices, this ambitious anthology is a powerful evocation of decades of experience, activism and forbearance. Read alongside Una Mullaly’s witty, star-studded Repeal the 8th collection, a fuller picture of Irishwomen’s lives behind the headlines emerges.”


Paul Greatrix, registrar, University of Nottingham, is reading Magnus Mills’ The Forensic Records Society (Bloomsbury, 2017). “A wonderful novel in which two vinyl-loving musical purists launch a distinctive society, which meets in a local pub and is dedicated to listening to records (mainly singles) in forensic detail. Others soon join in, each with their own musical preferences, but then there are ideological splits, the forensic records society fractures and different groups form, with alternative musical criteria, causing quiet mayhem. Nothing is ever quite as it seems in Mills’ novels, though. Despite the plain, matter-of-fact style, odd things happen in the Half Moon pub, time seems to pass unevenly, the musical selections are eclectic to say the least and the undercurrents at play between the main characters are difficult to fathom. Ultimately, the forensics are very much left to the reader, but it is nevertheless a highly entertaining and delightfully strange story.”

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