What are you reading? – 24 October 2019

A fortnightly look over the shoulders of our scholar-reviewers

October 24, 2019
Stack of books

Lincoln Allison, emeritus professor of politics at the University of Warwick, is reading Richard Grant’s Dispatches from Pluto: Lost and Found in the Mississippi Delta (Simon & Schuster, 2015). “The Mississippi Delta, between the eponymous river and the Yazoo, is fertile, teeming with wildlife and well inland – not to be confused with the Mississippi River Delta, which is just a swamp. It is the poorest and supposedly ‘most southern’ place in the US and bottom of every league table not concerned with music. In 2010, Richard Grant, an Englishman, and his girlfriend Mariah moved to a plantation house in a place called Pluto and began a process of assimilation. Their story and the story of the friends they made contain much eccentricity and the plots of a dozen novels. This is necessarily a book about race and racism, but in the deepest of the Deep South any account of those concepts has to be both complex and contradictory. This is a ‘travel’ book of the very best sort.”


Sharon Wheeler, senior lecturer in journalism and PR at the University of the West of England, Bristol, is reading Adrian Besley’s 50 Years of Shoot! (Carlton Books, 2019). “My childhood was ruled by football magazine Shoot!. I religiously kept the cardboard league ladders up to date – tiny tabs bearing each club’s name were moved up and down weekly. And I lapped up the ‘focus on’ interview where players’ favourite food was always steak, their favourite singer was Phil Collins, and they always wanted to meet Her Maj. This book, with the appearance of an equally retro annual, is a treasure trove of nostalgia, featuring Chris Waddle’s mullet, Spurs’ Argentinian stars Ossie Ardiles and Ricardo Villa and my childhood hero Joe Royle (no, I don’t know either why my favourite star was an Everton player when I supported Aston Villa).”


Nigel Rodenhurst, coordinator of English foundation programme, Fatima College of Health Sciences, Abu Dhabi, is reading Sir Walter Scott’s Rob Roy (Penguin, 1995). “Published in 1817, Scott’s novel set on the eve of the Jacobite rebellion (1715) is often taught as representing a ‘quintessential English-Scottish encounter’. For me, it is a book of two halves. In the first half, it is in essence a coming-of-age drama, depicting Francis Obsaldistone’s familial woes, infatuation and rivalry – all within his own family. After this, the novel’s switch to Scotland and subsequent revelations did not retain my interest in the same way. The highland characters never really come to life. Scott has switched from the universally recognisable machinations in a house divided to representing specific historical events through the characters. In making this switch the narrative loses its formerly relentless thrust and sense of compulsive storytelling.”

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