What are you reading? – 6 September 2018

A weekly look over the shoulders of our scholar-reviewers

September 6, 2018

A. W. Purdue, visiting professor in history at Northumbria University, is reading Robert Tombs’ The English and Their History (Penguin, 2015). “Perhaps it takes an Englishman who has spent his distinguished career studying French history to bring a fresh eye to English history over the longue durée. Tombs argues that English identity has endured over the centuries and that ‘England has never been confined within a British shell’. The English, he contends, tend to be fiercely divided about their past, in part because, unlike in many European nations, political divisions were not between a religious party of the right and a secular party, but were inherited by Whigs and Tories and their successors from rival religious parties, so that political differences became moral shibboleths. He concludes that ‘England, over the centuries has been among the richest, safest and best governed places on earth’, but the book is no panegyric and, decrying politically motivated historical accounts, he is even-handed.”

Sharon Wheeler, senior lecturer in journalism and PR, University of the West of England, is reading Alan Plater’s The Beiderbecke Trilogy (Mandarin, 1993). “Plater’s three 1980s TV dramas – The Beiderbecke Affair, The Beiderbecke Tapes and The Beiderbecke Connection – featured a couple of accidental sleuths in the shape of two Yorkshire schoolteachers, played by James Bolam and Barbara Flynn, who found themselves caught up in fraud, local government corruption and nuclear waste dumping. They were supported by an eccentric cast, including Sargent Hobson (BA), Big Al, Little Norm and Helen of Tadcaster. I can still quote chunks of it: ‘I’ve got a black belt. It keeps my trousers up.’ ‘Did the earth move, darling?’ ‘No, but the dressing table twitched a few times.’ The only downside of re-reading the print version is not being able to hear the Bix Beiderbecke soundtrack.”

Carina Buckley, instructional design manager, Solent University, is reading Doris Lessing’s The Cleft (Fourth Estate, 2007). “The Clefts are a population of women living alone – possibly all alone in the world – producing baby after female baby without need or knowledge of men. When the unthinkable happens and a boy is born, the two communities that eventually emerge must find a way to live with each other. Framed as the last academic endeavour of a Roman senator, The Cleft is more a fable than a novel, a retelling of our deepest, furthest history and how human society came to be. Lessing uses the Clefts and the Monsters to explore sexual politics, and the origin and nature of differences between men and women, but stripped back here of humanity and possibilities for empathy, it can at times be hard to relate to.” 

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