What are you reading? – 12 September 2019

Our fortnightly look over the shoulders of our scholar-reviewers

September 12, 2019
Books on a shelf
Source: iStock

Kalwant Bhopal, professorial research fellow and professor of education and social justice, University of Birmingham, is reading Alain de Botton’s Status Anxiety (Penguin, 2005). “This clever, witty and charming book explores how modern-day society has by its very nature inflicted a sense of status anxiety upon us. This has resulted in every one of us being in a constant state of angst. De Botton uses history, philosophy, art and politics to analyse how we can overcome our everyday worries. His message is clear: ‘The fear of failing at tasks would perhaps not be so great were it not for an awareness of how often failure tends to be harshly viewed and interpreted by others.’ His book is a must-read for anyone who feels they have to be good at everything…all the time.”  

Sir David Bell, vice-chancellor and chief executive of the University of Sunderland, is reading Sam Byers’ Perfidious Albion (Faber & Faber, 2018). “This is a darkly comic, dystopian novel about a depressed post-Brexit Britain. In the fictional east of England town of Edmundsbury, a technology company seeks to remove residents from a housing estate so that it can develop the site, establish its own data infrastructure and require the new inhabitants to use it. Not everyone is keen to leave and one man in particular becomes the focal point of discontent. However, he is manipulated by bloggers and right-wing politicians, seeking to exploit nativist anxieties about those who are different. Resistance follows as the hollow promises made to ‘the people’ are exposed. Byers captures brilliantly the self-referential, and increasingly detached, world of those who believe that the new reality is online. For the majority, though, their world never improves.”

R.C. Richardson, emeritus professor of history at the University of Winchester, is reading Sheila Stewart’s Lifting the Latch: A Life on the Land (Day Books, 2002). “Flora Thompson’s Lark Rise to Candleford (1945) occupies undisputed status as a classic. The autobiographical reminiscences of Mont Abbot (1901-89), also set in rural Oxfordshire and recorded by Sheila Stewart, deserve to be much better known. Here, in a text that attempts to preserve his dialect speech, Abbot offers a vivid and unsentimental picture, at times humorous, poignant and self-deprecating, of family and village life in the first decades of the 20th century and of his various employments as cowhand, carter and shepherd. Village schooling, village hierarchies, parish church and church choir, social horizons, gender, generational and employer/workman relations are all woven into his story.”

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