What are you reading?

A weekly look over the shoulders of our scholar-reviewers

February 4, 2010

Sally Feldman is dean of media, arts and design, University of Westminster. "In The Wisdom of Whores (Granta, 2009), Elizabeth Pisani, an epidemiologist and Aids researcher who has worked with prostitutes and drug users in Asia and Africa, offers a humane, often funny account of her discoveries. Challenging common prejudices about sex work and morality, she argues passionately that policy must be separated from the forces of religious fundamentalism whose diktats are 'the route to murder'."

Felipe Fernandez-Armesto is William P. Reynolds professor of history, University of Notre Dame in the US. "Cardboard characters, shallow plot, predictable atmospherics. But A.C. Baantjer's De Cock en de Wortel van het Kwaad (De Fontein, 2007) is ideal for learning Dutch. Formulaic prose carves vocabulary into one's brain. A grizzled, decorously kind detective guides his computer-savvy sidekick through Amsterdam's red-light zone, among affected philanthropy, pearl-toothed villainy, and curiously contrived murders."

Alex Haslam is professor of psychology, University of Exeter. "I currently have a few books on the go (failing to finish them is lamentably common). Don Watson's Bendable Learnings (Knopf, 2009) is an expose of the vacuousness of contemporary management-speak; but the Selected Poems of Edward Thomas (Faber and Faber, 1974) is a reminder of the beautiful language to which this does violence. 'The Winter's cheek flushed as if he had drained/Spring, Summer, Autumn at a draught/And smiled quietly' - lines peculiarly relevant to both the current meteorological and academic climate."

Paul Sutton is principal lecturer in film, Roehampton University. "I have just finished reading Polly Toynbee and David Walker's Unjust Rewards (Granta, 2008), just as cuts to higher education funding of almost £1 billion are announced and bankers' bonuses are expected to total £40 billion. Lord Griffiths, vice-chairman of Goldman Sachs, argued in early January that 'the public must learn to tolerate the inequality of bonuses'. This compelling and instructive book details clearly why such a grotesque position is indefensible and intolerable."

Paul A. Taylor is senior lecturer in communications theory, University of Leeds. "I'm re-reading Jean Baudrillard's The System of Objects (Verso, 1996). He is frequently and lazily mislabelled a postmodern relativist, but I have been reminded of how brilliantly and unequivocally he wrote. For 'light' relief, Philippe Claudel's Les Ames Grises - in translation 'Grey Souls' (Weidenfeld and Nicolson, 2005) - a stunningly miserable, haunting novel set in France during the First World War."

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