What are you reading?

A weekly look over the shoulders of our scholar-reviewers

October 15, 2009

Deborah Bowman is senior lecturer in medical ethics and law and associate dean (widening participation), St George's, University of London. She is reading Something is Going to Fall Like Rain (Reportage Press, 2009) by Ros Wynne-Jones. "A book that could have been an uneasy compromise between reportage and novel; instead, Wynne-Jones achieves something remarkable in her account of southern Sudan. The narrative is harrowing, raw and evocative. Good intentions, mixed motives, paradoxical emotions and uncompromising questions abound."

Jeremy Keenan is professorial research associate, department of anthropology and sociology, School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London. "I am reading a downloaded Hawker Beechcraft manual to try and ascertain the configuration of two US spy planes being used to pin down supposed al-Qaeda terrorists in the Algerian-Mali border areas of the Sahara - without much success (probably because they are not there). Otherwise, I am reading Simon Sebag Montefiore's Prince of Princes: The Life of Potemkin (Weidenfeld & Nicolson, 2000), a work of overwhelming scholarship and a story that makes the mind boggle."

Stephen Halliday, lecturer at the Institute of Continuing Education, University of Cambridge, is reading Mad World: Evelyn Waugh and the Secrets of Brideshead (Harper Press, 2009) by Paula Byrne. "Byrne has related the life and work of Evelyn Waugh to that of the Lygon family of Madresfield Court whose house and family life are reflected in Brideshead Revisited. The author's occasionally obsessive pursuit of real-life models for characters in Waugh's novels (a common trait among literary biographers) does not detract from the new light that the book sheds on his work or from the spectacle of a family whose great wealth and privilege were a poor preparation for life's misfortunes."

Willy Maley is professor of Renaissance studies, University of Glasgow. "Watching events unfold in France while reading Houseboy (Heinemann, 1991, first published 1960), by Cameroonian novelist Ferdinand Oyono, is a lesson in imperialist amnesia. France remembers revolution, not empire. Oyono is a great sleeve-tugger in the context of racist attacks on refugees. This book reminds us of the violent colonial histories behind today's intolerance."

Duncan Wu, professor in the English department, Georgetown University, is re-reading Ian MacDonald's Revolution in the Head (HarperCollins, 1994). "A song-by-song account of the Beatles' recordings by a trained musicologist and musician, which I first encountered shortly after MacDonald committed suicide several years ago. It remains one of the best books about the Fab Four, and its introduction is a cogent, insightful social history of the turbulent times out of which their music came."

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