Janet Beer, vice-chancellor, University of Liverpool, has some seasonal advice for readers. “Unsure what to buy the Trollope devotee in your life for Christmas? Look no further than Catherine Fox’s Acts and Omissions (SPCK, 2014) and Unseen Things Above (Marylebone House, 2015) for a refresher course not only in cathedral politics, but also a set of profound, although lightly drawn, insights into the contemporary Anglican communion. This is not pastiche: Fox’s voice is not Trollope’s, it is her own – witty, meddling, compassionate – and in this last regard she most resembles her predecessor. The men and women of the church in Fox’s world go about their professional and personal lives much as the rest of us do. They are susceptible to temptation, and to the odd bit of inappropriate behaviour, but in the main their stories are compelling because the ethical dilemmas that afflict us all from time to time are their daily bread but exotic fare for most readers.
Sir David Bell, vice-chancellor, University of Reading, is reading Adam Mars-Jones’ Kid Gloves: A Voyage Round My Father (Particular Books, 2015). “From the 1960s onwards, William Mars-Jones was a prominent legal figure. So a descent into dementia was especially tragic for a man whose verbal felicity and sharpness of mind were legendary. Adam, his son, tells of caring for his father in a memoir that is powerful and, at times, amusing – particularly so when Adam’s honesty about his sexuality is met with bafflement and increasingly bizarre counterarguments from his father.”
John Brewer, professor of post-conflict studies, Queen’s University Belfast, is reading The Oxford Handbook of Religion, Conflict and Peacebuilding (Oxford University Press, 2015), edited by Atalia Omer, Scott Appleby and David Little. “Religious peacebuilding is a new field that has arisen out of the association between religion and conflict, and is largely US-led. Virtually all contributors to this volume are US-based, which gives it all the strengths and weaknesses of this particular cultural space, for it affects their whole approach to religious peacebuilding. It is a very large and expensive book but essential reading.”
Edward Chaney, professor of fine and decorative arts, Southampton Solent University, is reading David Hall’s Worktown: The Astonishing Story of the Project that Launched Mass-Observation (Weidenfeld & Nicolson, 2015). “One of Hall’s most intriguing Mass Observers, who inhabited a run-down terraced house in order to study the natives, is described as ‘a mysterious character called Gerald Edwards who was also employed as a drama organizer by Bolton Corporation’. My book Genius Friend, a biography of G. B. Edwards, author of The Book of Ebenezer Le Page, resolves this mystery.”