What are you reading? – 28 June 2018

A weekly look over the shoulders of our scholar-reviewers

June 28, 2018
Pile of books against red wall

Shahidha Bari, senior lecturer in Romanticism, Queen Mary University of London, is reading Simon Critchley’s What We Think About When We Think About Football (Profile, 2018). “I was looking at this just in time for the World Cup. Critchley says that, as a graduate student, he very nearly dedicated his PhD to Liverpool FC – so you can assume he takes football pretty seriously! Football is not just the beautiful game, he argues, but also the rational game. It’s a controlled space in which individuals adhere to certain rules, and also try to break them. On the football pitch, ideas of fate and destiny are put in tension with ideas of reason and logic. It’s a quick and agile book: a kind of metaphysics of the football match, done by the Messi of modern philosophy.”

Carina Buckley, instructional design manager, Solent University, is reading Peter Ackroyd’s Albion: The Origins of the English Imagination (Chatto and Windus, 2002). “What is it that makes the English English? Can there be such a thing as a national character in this patchwork of a nation? Peter Ackroyd thinks so, tracing the ‘music’ and the ‘line’ of the English imagination back to its Anglo-Saxon roots through literature, music, religion, language and art, among other areas. Yet his answer, alas, seems to be that the English/Anglo-Saxon imagination is inherently male, and to be found principally in London. It also relies heavily on the reader overlooking a contradiction at the heart of his claim for Englishness, in that it actively embraces other cultures. Florid and hyperactive in typical Ackroyd style, this is a good book to dip into as the research is incredible, but it’s not one to take as definitive.”

John Shand, honorary associate in philosophy, the Open University, is reading Ernest Dowson’s Collected Shorter Fiction (edited by Monica Borg and R. K. R. Thornton; Birmingham University Press, 2003). “This is a splendidly enterprising collection of Dowson’s prose fiction (there aren’t any long works) that brings out from neglect some beautifully written stories. The editors deserve great credit. Although well known for his marvellous evocative verse, as well as for dying very young at 32, Dowson (1867-1900) is hardly known for his prose – although strangely, as the editors point out, he himself put greater value on it than on his poetry. Well, you never can tell what posterity is going to do to you. The stories are very moving, often having a sense of yearning loss and missed chances, usually connected to love; Chekhov came to my mind. Some are set in France – Brittany, to be exact. But others are in London, and bring to life a lost world.”

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