What are you reading?

A weekly look over the shoulders of our scholar-reviewers

October 21, 2010

Gary Day is principal lecturer in English, De Montfort University. "Written in the present tense and using the free and indirect style, Hilary Mantel's Wolf Hall (HarperCollins, 2009) charts Thomas Cromwell's rise from humble beginnings to become Henry VIII's chief minister. Technique seems more important than story, whose progress is also clogged by detail. But if literature is an adventure in language, then this wonderfully worked novel with clear parallels to our time deserves the name."

Felipe Fernández-Armesto is William P. Reynolds professor of history, University of Notre Dame in the US. "My loot from Mantua's inspiring literary festival includes Fabio Picchi's Senza vizi e senza sprechi (Mondadori, 2010). After "five minutes in arts and three hours in political science" he is, like most Italians, a visceral intellectual, who shows up his British tele-chef peers as idiots. His meals are moral medicine - recipes for equilibrium after seven deadly sins, wittingly, intimately, trenchantly expressed. Top imperatives: marinate fat chops in lemon juice; grill steaks over olive twigs."

Paula Humfrey is a history lecturer in the online distance-learning programmes of Laurentian University, Canada, and Eastern Oregon University, US. She is reading Tracy Kidder's House (Houghton Mifflin, 1985). "This is the social history of a single family residence built in Amherst, Massachusetts in the early 1980s. Kidder examines the interrelationships between the architect (his first commission), the owners (their first build) and the crew of four craftsmen creating the physical structure. This study of class consciousness and craftsmanship is a riveting view of the last moments before the trades went digital."

Terence Kealey, vice-chancellor, University of Buckingham, is reading Thaddeus Russell's A Renegade History of the United States (Simon and Schuster, 2010). "The Good American has long been a puritan fearful of racial integration, intoxication or sexual licence. But the slaves, saloon-keepers and prostitutes of America have been more tolerant of race, alcohol and sex. This entertaining if slightly laboured piece of revisionism argues that it is the Bad American who has forged the United States of today."

Deborah Rogers, professor of English, University of Maine, is reading Josephine Donovan's European Local-Color Literature: National Tales, Dorfgeschichten, Romans Champêtres (Continuum, 2010). "As far as I'm concerned, Donovan owns local-colour scholarship. Thirty years ago she pioneered research in the US tradition, but, until now, its European iteration has been ignored. I am fascinated by Donovan's discussion of overlooked 19th-century Irish, Scottish, German and French local-colour literature as attempts not only to preserve traditions, but also to resist the colonising discipline of the Enlightenment. If the tea leaves are correct, Donovan's book will launch research in this area. A powerful, original analysis."

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