What are you reading? – 27 August 2015

A weekly look over the shoulders of our scholar-reviewers

August 27, 2015
Books on bookshelf

Sir David Bell, vice-chancellor, University of Reading, is reading David Park’s The Truth Commissioner (Bloomsbury, 2008). “In this bleak novel set in post-Good Friday Northern Ireland, the short and tragic life of Connor Walshe, one of the ‘disappeared’, is reviewed by the fictional Truth and Reconciliation Commission. A number of other lives fall apart as the ugly reality of the Troubles is exposed. In the process, neither truth nor reconciliation emerges.”


Carina Buckley, learning skills tutor, Southampton Solent University, is reading Virginia Woolf’s On Being Ill (Paris Press, 2002). “Full disclosure: I love everything I’ve read by Woolf, and this is no exception. In an essay ostensibly about illness, she ranges through human relationships, modern working society, the nature of sympathy and the consolations of literature, in a style that looks deceptively informal. Hermione Lee’s excellent introduction contextualises it perfectly with analysis of her life and work as it was composed.”


Laurence Coupe, visiting professor of English, Manchester Metropolitan University, is reading David Shields and Shane Salerno’s Salinger (Simon & Schuster, 2014). “Unconventional in format, this study consists of a vast variety of anecdotes and assessments of the work of J. D. Salinger, most famous for The Catcher in the Rye. About 200 interviews have been conducted, and together they paint a much more complex picture of the man than a conventional biography might manage. His traumatic wartime experiences, his absorption in the philosophy of Vedanta, his unwitting influence on Mark Chapman, the murderer of John Lennon: it’s all here, but with no forced coherence.”


A. W. Purdue, visiting professor of history, Northumbria University, is reading Natasha Pulley’s The Watchmaker of Filigree Street (Bloomsbury, 2015). “The setting is late Victorian London at the time of the Fenian outrages and of the Japanese Exhibition in Hyde Park. The main characters are a junior civil servant, a Japanese watchmaker who can see into the future, a female science student and a clockwork octopus called Katsu, who steals socks. Odd, but that’s the point of this brilliant novel in which fantasy punctuates history.”


Constantine Sandis, who becomes professor of philosophy at the University of Hertfordshire on 1 September, is rereading Nikos Dimou’s On the Unhappiness of Being Greek (Zero Books, 2013). “First published in 1975 following the fall of the military junta, Dimou’s bitter classic has recently been made available in an English translation, with a new postscript by the author. I highly recommend this painful aphoristic masterpiece on the Greek predicament to anybody wishing to understand the identity crises that modern Greeks continue to face.”

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