What are you reading? – 7 June 2018

A weekly look over the shoulders of our scholar-reviewers

June 4, 2018
Books

R. C. Richardson, emeritus professor of history, University of Winchester, is reading An Englishwoman in California: The Letters of Catherine Hubback, 1871-76 (edited by Zoë Klippert; Bodleian Library, 2010). “The writer of these letters, Jane Austen’s niece and herself a novelist, settled in the San Francisco Bay area with her unmarried son Edward, employed in the grain trade. Her letters sent back to England were chiefly to another son and his wife who lived near Liverpool. She warmed instantly to the scenery and climate (for the most part) of her new surroundings, but was usually critical of the unrefined manners and morals of Americans. Insolent servants, uncouth children, the lack of decorum in church life, the inferiority of American art, the jaundiced unreliability of American newspapers and Californian ill-treatment of Chinese immigrants all aroused adverse comment.”


Lennard Davis, distinguished professor, the University of Illinois at Chicago, is reading Stephen Kuusisto’s Have Dog, Will Travel: A Poet’s Journey (Simon and Schuster, 2018). “If you’ve ever wondered what goes on between a blind person and guide dog, Stephen Kuusisto – a blind poet, memoirist and disability studies scholar – has a lot to tell you. He walks us through his own experience of being a limited-sight person who tried for a long time to pass as seeing. Tormented by a mother who was ashamed of his disability, he describes stumbling through a world as seen through Vaseline-smeared eyes. Until he meets Corky…a loving and very well-trained Labrador retriever. It’s more a carefully orchestrated encounter over a month in which owner and dog are put through their rounds during a live-in mini-course at Guiding Eyes For the Blind in Westchester, NY. All the myths about blindness and guide dogs are laid bare. It’s a fascinating read.”


Richard J. Larschan, English professor emeritus, University of Massachusetts Dartmouth, is reading Jean-Michel Olivier’s The Secret Child (translated by Laurence Moscato; Skomlin, 2018). “Much like pre-Darwinian evolutionary biologist Jean-Baptiste Lamarck, Jean-Michel Olivier’s nascent ‘secret child’ narrator attributes his becoming an artist to life experiences inherited from his grandparents. Set in Trieste during its transition from Austrian to Italian rule after the First World War, the narrative includes cameo appearances by James and Nora Joyce, Ezra Pound and Vladimir Nabokov. But the central episodes of this memoir-novella concern Olivier’s maternal grandfather, né Anton Buchacher, who transforms himself into Antonio Campofaggi, and whose artful photographic images help metamorphose Benito Mussolini into Il Duce. Olivier’s own impressionistic ‘images’ are a self-conscious metaphor for ‘magic’, which equally epitomises the translator’s feat of legerdemain in rendering the author’s lyrical style in English – a challenge that Laurence Moscato (full disclosure: she is my life partner) meets with remarkable success.”

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