What are you reading? – 19 November 2015

A weekly look over the shoulders of our scholar-reviewers

November 19, 2015
Books open on table

Paul Greatrix, registrar, University of Nottingham, is reading Michel Houellebecq’s Submission (William Heinemann, 2015). “Houellebecq, known as the bad boy of French literature, doesn’t disappoint in his latest, set in 2022, in which François, a middle-aged academic with an increasingly empty life, comes to terms with Islamic law under a new political regime in France. A clever and at times extremely disturbing novel. Handle with care.”

Jane O’Grady, lecturer at the London School of Philosophy, is reading Natasha and Anthony O’Hear’s Picturing the Apocalypse: The Book of Revelation in the Arts over Two Millennia (Oxford University Press, 2015). “The Apocalypse, last book of the Bible, has inspired a cornucopia of paintings, tapestries, altarpieces, cartoons and films. Many are discussed in this extraordinary book, which shows how variously, but perennially, these lurid imaginings of divinely ordained war, plague, famine and destruction have appealed to our feelings of doom and revenge, while asking how they can be reconciled with a God of love.”

June Purvis, professor of women’s and gender history, University of Portsmouth, is rereading Emmeline Pankhurst’s My Own Story (Vintage, 2015). “Pankhurst’s 1914 autobiography has been reissued by Vintage with the film star Carey Mulligan on the front cover against a background of purple, white and green, the colours of the women’s suffrage movement, to coincide with the release of the inspirational feature film Suffragette. I hope the film draws the attention of a younger generation reared on soundbites and Twitter, and that the book’s plea for the necessity of democratic citizenship for women encourages them to vote.”

R. C. Richardson, emeritus professor of history at the University of Winchester, has been rereading Jonathan Swift’s Directions to Servants (Oneworld Classics, 2011). “First published in 1745, Swift’s biting satire on the ‘servant problem’ was chiefly addressed to masters and pilloried them for their laxity in allowing servants to abuse the trust confided in them, cut corners, help themselves to endless perks and, at times, to rule the roost. It combined hard-hitting generalisations with specific recitals of the failings of each category of servants to be found in the large households of the day.”

Ruth Richardson, senior research fellow at the Centre for Life-Writing Research, King’s College London, is indulging herself with the luxury of rereading James Stevens Curl’s new e-book of his classic text, The Victorian Celebration of Death (Heritage Ebooks, 2015). “Curl is author of an extraordinarily rich array of first-rate books on the history of architecture. A path-breaker in 1972, this text has remained the finest, wisest book in the field ever since. The e‑edition features fresh material, including an eloquent and poignant new introduction. Opinionated, informative, full of data, generously illustrated, and now searchable!”

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