What are you reading?

A weekly look over the shoulders of our scholar-reviewers

August 26, 2010

Daniel Binney is an administrator in the department of history, classics and archaeology, Birkbeck, University of London. He is reading Michael Parenti's God and His Demons (Prometheus Books, 2010). "In a relatively short book, Parenti has compiled a substantial list of appalling behaviour directly caused, or greatly facilitated, by organised religious structures. Direct, widespread and unavoidable evidence of what religiously inclined people do when put in positions of authority, or when systems exist to offer them protection and anonymity, is compelling if distressing reading."

Gareth Dale, senior lecturer in politics, Brunel University, is reading Barbara Ehrenreich's Dancing in the Streets: A History of Collective Joy (Granta, 2007). "A sparkling history of mass festivity, from Dionysian cults through ecstatic slave rites to rock'n'roll, it also, in sober vein, records its suppression and containment by disquieted elites and concludes with meditations on some deep-seated troubles of our own age."

Graeme Harper is professor of creative writing, Bangor University, and from September a visiting research Fellow at Emory University. He is currently reading Vladimir Nabokov's The Original of Laura (Knopf, 2009). "Would anyone not want to read this book? This unfinished novel, left behind after Nabokov's death, is certainly a construction from index cards, from his draft materials. Thus, some might say, it is not a Nabokov novel in the true sense. But this 'fragmented narrative' is revealing, exciting, perhaps even indicatory. Edited for publication by his son, The Original of Laura fascinates.

Peter Taylor-Gooby, professor of social policy, University of Kent, is reading Sylvia Plath's The Bell Jar (William Heinemann, 1963). "A chilling, evocative and brilliantly written book. It brings home powerfully how destructive, isolating and inexplicable mental health problems can be for those who suffer them. The image of slow suffocation trapped under the bell jar is not easily forgotten. Required reading for all psychiatric nursing courses?"

Frank Webster, professor of sociology, City University London, is re-reading Saul Bellow's Humboldt's Gift (Penguin, 1975). "To read this novel is to be reminded that there are far finer ways of understanding life than social science (although Bellow did study sociology). Humboldt lived the life of the mind, soared high but ended destitute and raving. Bellow's alter ego, and the novel's central character, is Charlie Citrine, one-time devotee of Humboldt, who has worldly success and critical acclamation as a writer despite himself. This beautifully crafted novel has it all: relationships and reputation, spirituality and sleaze ... the muddle and mess of life in our 'moronic inferno'."

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