What are you reading? – 5 May 2016

A weekly look over the shoulders of our scholar-reviewers

May 5, 2016
Book open on table

Geoff Black, principal lecturer in business, Harper Adams University, is reading Reginald F. Johnston’s Twilight in the Forbidden City (Cambridge University Press, 2011). “Academics involved with Chinese partnerships may have visited the Imperial Palace, Beijing, now a vast and rather soulless tourist attraction. As this 1934 memoir details, Johnston, later professor of Chinese at the University of London, served as tutor and adviser to Pu Yi, the last emperor, between 1919 and 1924. He was uniquely placed to reflect on the co-existence of the republic (formed in 1912) with a 6-year-old emperor allowed to retain palace and retinue (including 1,000 eunuchs).”

Gary Day, formerly principal lecturer in English, De Montfort University, is reading Alexandra Harris’ Weatherland: Writers and Artists under English Skies (Thames & Hudson, 2015). “The British love talking about the weather. This book should be their bible. Harris’ paean to the power and elusiveness of the climate is as sparkling and refreshing as an April shower. Gawain is a calendar poem, Turner was inspired by Milton’s evocation of sacred mists, and summer made Larkin gloomy. Every page a delight and beautifully illustrated throughout.”

Hugh Kennedy, professor of Arabic, Soas, University of London, is reading M. E. McMillan’s From the First World War to the Arab Spring: What’s Really Going On in the Middle East? (Palgrave Macmillan, 2016). “There are so many books about the modern Middle East, not many of them very good, that it is hard to know where to begin, but I have just finished Margaret McMillan’s study and I would certainly recommend it. It is clear, well written and accurate, but above all balanced and sympathetic, and a great place to start.”

Nigel Rodenhurst, part-time lecturer in English, Aberystwyth University, is reading Joanna Rakoff’s My Salinger Year (Bloomsbury, 2015). “This book enticed Salinger fans by offering a glimmer of more information about the reclusive author. It also drew accusations of literary freeloading. It offers nothing new on Salinger and is in essence the author’s autobiography. Nevertheless, it is engaging, and I think criticising Rakoff’s decision to relate her experiences to a dead novelist’s work would be excessively prudish.”

Sharon Wheeler, visiting lecturer in media studies, Birmingham City University, is reading Janet McLean’s Lines of Vision: Irish Writers on Art (Thames & Hudson, 2014). “I’ve frequently whiled away happy hours in Dublin’s National Gallery of Ireland. This gorgeous book has more than 50 Irish writers – including big hitters Seamus Heaney, Colm Tóibín and John Banville, crime writers Alan Glynn and Declan Hughes and daring young guns including Kevin Barry – riffing off paintings in the gallery. And look, it has one of my favourites (William Leech’s A Convent Garden, Brittany) on the cover!”

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