What are you reading? – 9 February 2017

A weekly look over the shoulders of our scholar-reviewers

February 9, 2017
Reading books
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Ursula King, emeritus professor of theology and religious studies, University of Bristol, is reading Navid Kermani’s God is Beautiful: The Aesthetic Experience of the Quran (Polity Press, 2014). “This extraordinary book by a feted German-Iranian writer is simply dazzling. Steeped in Western and Islamic literature, Kermani is primarily concerned with the aesthetic experience and response of the audience when hearing the Koran. For practising Muslims, the Koran is not so much a text as a performance to be recited, memorised and experienced. The puzzling title God is Beautiful, derived from one of the most frequent hadiths in Sufi literature, leads to discussions of poetry and prophecy, art and religion, the power of listening, the Platonic legacy in the understanding of beauty and the reception of the Koran in Islamic mysticism. A truly experiential understanding of beauty can never be achieved by intellectual reflection alone, but requires the powers of heart, mind and soul.”

Paul Greatrix, registrar, University of Nottingham, is reading Brix Smith Start’s The Rise, The Fall, and The Rise (Faber & Faber, 2016). “I’m a sucker for a rock autobiography and couldn’t resist this extra-ordinary combination of the girl from a rich, troubled Californian background and the wonderful and frightening world of Mark E. Smith (the leader of the band The Fall, not the vice-chancellor of Lancaster University). From her messy but celebrity-peppered childhood (Cher was almost her babysitter) to her marriage to Smith and subsequent stint with Nigel Kennedy before she found further fame, fortune and happiness in the fashion world, this really is a roller coaster of a memoir. It’s genuine and heartfelt, and despite her privileged background, the author is someone who has been through a lot of pain but has still come through successfully. It’s a really good read, therefore, with much to enjoy across the span of an eventful life in music.”

R. C. Richardson, emeritus professor of history, University of Winchester, is reading Richard Rutt’s James Scarth Gale and His History of the Korean People (Royal Asiatic Society, Korea Branch, 1972). “Here, prefaced to a reprint of the text of Gale’s major work first published in 1924-26, is a fascinating and balanced biography of the Canadian Presbyterian who devoted himself to a lifetime of missionary and educational work in Korea. Notable as the compiler of one of the earliest Korean-English dictionaries, the indefatigable Gale also translated the entire Bible into Korean and brought some classic Korean texts and folk tales before Western audiences. Always an upholder of Western Christian values, Gale (1863-1937) nonetheless developed deep-rooted sympathies with the Korean people and was a keen and informed observer of the country’s partial modernisation and sufferings at the hands of its neighbours’ aggression.”

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