John Armitage, head of the department of media, Northumbria University, is reading Enda Duffy's The Speed Handbook: Velocity, Pleasure, Modernism (Duke University Press, 2009). "A 'post-contemporary intervention' into the culture and study of modernism, this is a voyage into speed or the sensation of acceleration, into the delights of modernity, and the cultural politics of the mass production of mobility. Deliberating on the experience of speed, Duffy considers how acceleration became the archetypal technique for people seeking to enjoy modernity. An extraordinary breakthrough."
Mary Evans, visiting fellow at the Gender Institute, London School of Economics, spent the holidays reading So I Have Thought of You: The Letters of Penelope Fitzgerald, edited by Terence Dooley (HarperCollins, 2009). "Perfect reading for the Christmas (or indeed any) holidays because the letters are so vivid, lively and affectionate. At the same time there is a great deal to consider here: the making of judgment, taste and the English capacity for avoidance. Read them as real material about class and its meaning."
Ivor Gaber, professor of media and politics, University of Bedfordshire, and professor of political reporting, City University London, is reading Michael Foot: A Life by Kenneth O. Morgan (HarperPress, 2007). "The current 'image' of the nonagenarian Foot is of a shambling leader who makes Gordon Brown look like Barack Obama. But this image, as Morgan elegantly reveals in this very readable account, is far from reality. Sympathetic to Foot almost to a fault, this biography brings out the man's great qualities of political courage, literary erudition and sheer bursting humanity. An uplifting and timely read."
Tim Hall, lecturer in human geography, University of Gloucester, is reading William Boyd's Ordinary Thunderstorms (Bloomsbury, 2009). "Undoubtedly a case of a fine novelist slumming it in the thriller genre, but an interesting mapping of the faultlines of social geography and identity in contemporary London nonetheless. And a climate scientist as a protagonist! There's a sign of the times. You'd never find that in an Alistair MacLean."
Alan Ryan is visiting fellow in politics, Princeton University. "Having returned to the US after 13 years, I am re-educating myself. I'd always meant to read Jack London's dystopian novel The Iron Heel (Bastian Books, 2008) but had never got round to it. It was published in 1907, and takes the form of an autobiographical fragment written by the wife of a revolutionary labour leader, which allows the supposed editor from seven centuries hence to describe in footnotes the triumph of the international capitalist oligarchy whose name gives the book its title. It's no surprise that Orwell greatly admired it; it is quite as grim as Nineteen Eighty-Four."