What are you reading? – 20 February 2020

A look over the shoulders of our scholar-reviewers

February 20, 2020
Woman reading a book
Source: iStock

A. W. Purdue, visiting reader at the Open University, is reading Tan Twan Eng’s The Gift of Rain (Myrmidon, 2008). “Philip Hutton is a solitary Anglo-Chinese boy growing up in Penang. He becomes involved with a Japanese diplomat, Hayato Endo, who trains him in aikido. Together, they explore the coastline, hills and forests of thick bamboo, which seem impenetrable, though Philip points out the secret paths known to the locals. When the Japanese invade Malaya, bicycling down the peninsula to Singapore along the very paths he has pointed out, Philip remembers Endo’s careful note-taking. He is forced to choose between using his friendship to obtain a prominent place in the Japanese administration, to protect his family and friends, and joining the anti-Japanese guerrillas. Although he ostensibly becomes a collaborator, he does his best to soften the brutality of the regime. The complex relationship with Endo continues until, with the defeat of the Japanese, Philip is obliged to do his duty by the code of honour he has been taught…A major literary achievement.”

Carina Buckley, instructional design manager at Solent University, is reading Katharine Hepburn’s Me: Stories of My Life (Knopf, 1991). “Katharine Hepburn’s long life and career brought her into contact with some of the greatest actors and directors Hollywood has managed to produce, yet despite commercial success and critical acclaim she remained a largely private person, retreating as often as possible to her family home in Connecticut and eschewing the Hollywood trappings. Her writing style is as idiosyncratic as her character, both presumably designed to stop anyone from getting too close. Open, chatty and candid without ever really giving too much away, she plays down talent and emphasises luck, brushes off heartbreak and tragedy with the same no-nonsense attitude with which she relays her achievements. Overall, Miss Hepburn comes across as the kind of person it’s probably preferable to admire from afar but remains good company throughout.”

Mark O’Thomas, pro vice-chancellor at the University of Greenwich, is reading Ibram X. Kendi’s How To Be an Antiracist (Bodley Head, 2019). “Kendi is the founding director of the Antiracist Research and Policy Centre at American University in Washington, DC. His account of growing up as a bright black man in the US is woven into this polemic about public policy that challenges us to move beyond ticking boxes around diversity and address the issue of racism head-on. What emerges is a powerful critique of the US education system from primary school right the way through to the university sector. Certainly, there is no room for complacency here in the UK, and Kendi’s analysis and critique of the so-called BAME attainment gap is a must-read for anyone working in education who is motivated to move beyond short-term initiatives in order to take prolonged and substantial positive action.”

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