What are you reading? – 23 August 2018

A weekly look over the shoulders of our scholar-reviewers

August 23, 2018
Books in a library
Source: iStock

Sir David Bell, vice-chancellor, University of Reading, is reading Graham McColl’s ’78: How a Nation Lost the World Cup (Headline, 2006). “It is 40 years since Scotland’s pursued hopes of World Cup football glory in Argentina. McColl’s book entertain­ingly describes how absurdly unrealistic hopes of success were raised under irrepressible manager Ally MacLeod. After a first-game defeat by Peru and a dreadful draw with Iran, Scotland looked down and out. Yet there was one more twist as Scotland almost qualified after defeating Holland in a game that included a jaw-dropping goal by Archie Gemmell, later immortalised by Ewan McGregor’s character Renton in the movie Trainspotting. The whole episode was best described by a journalist at the time who said, ‘It was like a collective insanity that gripped the nation.’ Quite. But as someone who lived through it as a football-mad teenager, it was unforgettable.”


Lisa Hopkins, professor of English, Sheffield Hallam University, is reading R. S. White’s Ambivalent Macbeth (Sydney University Press, 2018). “Having seen two Macbeths already this year and with two more on the horizon, I was glad to have this exploration of why it is so perennially reinterpretable. White published a much slimmer version 20 years ago, but has expanded, rewritten and updated it in terms of both criticism and performance, as well as relating it to the Iraq war. It is informed, too, by his work for the Centre for the History of Emotions, resulting in a fine discussion of the characters’ emotional worlds. Other highlights are the accounts of the problematics of blending pro-Scots and pro-English sources and of the play’s insistence on the numbers two and three; the performance history; and a revisiting of the almost lost art of the study of Shakespeare’s imagery (in this case particularly birds).”


Andrea Macrae, principal lecturer in stylistics, Oxford Brookes University, is reading Chloe Harrison’s Cognitive Grammar in Contemporary Fiction (John Benjamins, 2017). “For anyone interested in how we read and interpret literature, this book is a mind-blowing delight. Harrison deftly summarises, and then richly exploits, key concepts from cognitive grammar – a theory of the relationships between wording and conceptualisation, based on the idea that grammar reflects how we perceive and interact in the world. Harrison uses these concepts to open up the language of recent popular books, such as Ian McEwan’s Enduring Love and Neil Gaiman’s Coraline, and to explore and explain readers’ interpretations (drawn from academic criticism, Amazon and GoodReads). She also innovatively scales up the theory to consider characters and genre as functioning like parts of grammar. Readers’ experiences of empathy, perspective and narrative urgency are cast in a startling new light. It’s a persuasive, powerful addition to an exciting new field.”

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