What are you reading? – 25 October 2018

A weekly look over the shoulders of our scholar-reviewers

October 25, 2018

Lincoln Allison, emeritus reader in politics at the University of Warwick, is reading T. C. Boyle’s The Tortilla Curtain (Bloomsbury, 1995). “This is a holiday read, randomly pulled off a friend’s shelf, that’s turned out to be far more interesting and prescient than expected. The story concerns two couples in southern California, one a hapless and hopeless pair of Mexican ‘illegals’ and the other a naturalist-writer and his realtor wife. Their paths cross, and they are afflicted by the same natural disasters. The growth of their hatred for each other is convincingly analysed: the sticking point of the liberal naturalist is what homeless Mexicans are doing to the natural environment. In a book written 25 years ago, the ‘white’ community demands a wall around their estate and strong national leadership that will acknowledge their problems. Boyle’s narrative is constructed around issues of migration, ecology, identity and the appeal of authoritarianism, none of which has diminished since he wrote this book.”

Harriet Dunbar-Morris, dean of learning and teaching, University of Portsmouth, is reading John Williams’ Stoner (Vintage, 2012). “Recommended to me by the salesperson in Waterstones, this reissued classic is delightful. It was described as the classic no one has read. What a shame if people, and especially readers of Times Higher Education, miss out on this ‘academic novel’, the beautifully written and wry life story of an academic! For teachers, it will be a joy to read about the liminal moment in the eponymous Stoner’s literature education. It is also a love story, but I recommend it for its setting on an American campus in the early 20th century, and as the story of a student of agriculture who falls for literature and a scholar’s life.”

Stephen Halliday, senior member, Pembroke College, Cambridge, is reading James Pope-Hennessy’s The Quest for Queen Mary (Zuleika/Hodder and Stoughton, 2018). “James Pope-Hennessy’s official biography of Queen Mary (1867‑1953), grandmother of our present Queen, was published in 1959, the product not only of meticulous research but of intricate diplomatic negotiations. The result was not a hagiography, but it did exclude some observations that would have raised eyebrows then. The present volume consists of offcuts from Pope-Hennessy’s notes, edited by Hugo Vickers, an experienced observer of our Royal Family. The wartime occupation of Badminton House, the home of the Duke and Duchess of Beaufort, by the Queen and her entourage, and Her Majesty’s ruthless extermination (despite the protests of her hosts) of shrubs and ivy of which she disapproved, is alone worth the price of the book. So is the long chapter devoted to the late Duke of Gloucester, perhaps the least well known of the present Queen’s uncles, who comes across as a thoroughly good egg.”

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