What are you reading? – 21 February 2019

A weekly look over the shoulders of our scholar-reviewers

February 21, 2019
Open books

Carina Buckley, instructional design manager at Solent University, is reading Diana Athill’s Somewhere towards the End (Granta, 2008). “Having reached the age of 89, it might be supposed a person had something to say about life. If they can say it as well as Diana Athill (who died last month at the age of 101), it could be a shopping list and it would still be an absorbing, warm and refreshing read. The trick, it seems, is not to talk about life at all, but rather about sex, relationships, health, books, work, ageing, death and family, which in Athill’s hands provide small insights into the release that honesty with oneself can bring. In part a meditation on nearing the end of a life well lived, in part a memoir of those people and events who spring out as being of greatest importance, this is essentially what wisdom looks like. May we all reach old age with as much self-knowledge and gratitude.”

Peter Goodhew, honorary professor of engineering at the New Model in Technology and Engineering, Hereford, is reading E. F. Schumacher’s Small Is Beautiful: A Study of Economics as if People Mattered (Vintage, 1993). “Of the 2,000 lectures I have endured, I clearly remember just two – one of which was by Fritz Schumacher in the early 1970s. Schumacher popularised the phrases ‘small is beautiful’ and ‘intermediate technology’, and this book is in essence a collection of his essays. It was a revelation to me to realise – 45 years later – that this is where I first imbibed key ideas about the finiteness of fossil fuels, the impossibility of continual growth, the importance of full employment, the ownership of land and the resources beneath it and the key distinction between ‘planning’ and ‘prediction’ (‘to apply the word planning to events outside the planner’s control is absurd’). Schumacher’s attitudes to women, religion and politics do not resonate so well today, but his core messages are timeless.”

Annmarie Adams, professor of architecture and social studies of medicine at McGill University, is reading Louise Penny’s Kingdom of the Blind (Sphere, 2018). “Louise Penny is something of a vedette in the small town where we live, so it’s especially delightful to read about familiar places, characters and even our winter weather. Kingdom of the Blind is the 14th book in the series featuring the semi-fictitious village of Three Pines and the indomitable Chief Superintendent Armand Gamache, of the Sûreté du Québec. Three interwoven plots revolve around a recently deceased stranger naming Gamache and two others as executors of her will, a historic family feud and the cop’s alleged role in the spread of opioids in Montreal. ‘In the kingdom of the blind, the one-eyed man is king,’ iterates ever-clever Gamache, citing a Renaissance proverb, as he and a handful of sharply drawn characters disentangle a murder investigation with panache.”

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