What are you reading? – 7 September 2017

A weekly look over the shoulders of our scholar-reviewers

September 7, 2017
Books on a shelf
Source: iStock

Sir David Eastwood, vice-chancellor, University of Birmingham, is reading Laura Kipnis’ Unwanted Advances: Sexual Paranoia Comes to Campus (Harper, 2017). “The central focus of this hugely readable book is the disputes at Northwestern University around Title IX sex discrimination regulations; and its principal purpose is to warn that ‘the traditional ideal of a university – as a refuge for complexity, a setting for the free exchange of ideas – is getting buried under an avalanche of platitudes and fear’. Laura Kipnis elaborates a compelling critique of the way in which Title IX had come to be deployed and thus reveals the extent to which its purpose and place in the academy have been undermined by misuse. Kipnis has herself been the subject of a Title IX suit, for an article she was commissioned to write for The Chronicle of Higher Education, which gives her analysis an authenticity that is as compelling as it is raw. A courageous, timely and necessary book.”

Karen McAulay, performing arts librarian and postdoctoral researcher, Royal Conservatoire of Scotland, is reading Min Kym’s Gone: A Girl, a Violin, a Life Unsprung (Viking, 2017). “Since I work in a conservatoire surrounded by musical talent, violinist Min Kym’s book was a natural choice. Growing up as a Korean child prodigy in England posed difficulties at home, school and college, not to mention with her wider family in Korea. There are valuable insights into a musician’s rather complex relationships with her teachers and advisers, and interesting commentary on her approach to the music itself and the challenges of forging a satisfying career, but of course Kym’s relationship with her beloved Stradivarius – and her devastation at its theft – forms the central theme. Its retrieval turns out less of a happy ending than one might expect. A poignant and relatable account.”

R. C. Richardson, emeritus professor of history, University of Winchester, is reading Jack Simmons’ St Pancras Station (Allen and Unwin, 1968). “Today this imposing station is enjoying a new lease of life as the Eurostar terminal, and the Gothic cathedral-like hotel at the front of it is once more luxuriously alive and well. But it is salutary to turn to this book, written when all these buildings faced a very uncertain future. Simmons expertly charts the stages in St Pancras’ planning and construction and their challenges – few railway routes into London posed more problems – and offers appreciative assessments of both W. H. Barlow’s engine shed and Sir Gilbert Scott’s hotel and station frontage. Few would now dispute his verdicts on this combined engineering and architectural Victorian masterpiece and his firm conviction that it had a working future.”

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