Melanie Jordan, doctoral student in medical sociology, University of Nottingham, is reading Miguel de Cervantes' Don Quixote, translated by John Rutherford (Penguin, 2003). "Celebrated as the first modern novel, this humorous exploration of reality and fantasy - via the convoluted relationship and entertaining chivalrous exploits of knight and squire - considers the nature of insanity and illogical conceptions of the world. This exquisite tale represents a fictional revolution that is also pertinent for social scientists, especially those with a bent for the sociology of mental health."
Geoffrey K. Pullum, professor of general linguistics, University of Edinburgh, is reading Nicholas Ostler's The Last Lingua Franca: English Until the Return of Babel (Allen Lane, 2010). "Ostler reviews the history of the world's great trade languages in the context of arguing that English has had its day and is fading as a global lingua franca. This seems implausible to me; but reading implausible things is in my job description: I'm an academic. Why, sometimes I've read as many as six implausible things before breakfast."
Peter J. Smith, reader in Renaissance studies, Nottingham Trent University, has just finished reading Laurence Sterne's A Sentimental Journey through France and Italy (Penguin, 1967). "Rambling and impressionistic, this 1768 work is, by turns, Carry On-style comedy, travelogue, memoir, existential pondering and ironic take on the novel of sentiment. It has the same faux naif and innocuous outlook as its more famous sibling, Tristram Shandy, but the fact that Sterne was dying as he was writing it lends Journey's generous humanity a special poignancy."
Cedric Watts, research professor of English at the University of Sussex, is re-reading Joseph Conrad's Heart of Darkness (Oxford University Press, 2002). "This predominantly anti-racist and anti-imperialist novella of 1899, written so eloquently in his third language by the son of Polish convicts, remains cinematically vivid, proleptically subtle and inexhaustibly complex. Although it has been condemned by Nazis, communists and even President Obama, Conrad's voice will surely outlive its foes."
Tom F. Wright, lecturer in American literature, University of Oxford, is reading William Cook and James Tatum's African American Writers and Classical Tradition (University of Chicago Press, 2010). "I've been immersed in the field of 'black Classicism', to which I've come unforgivably late. The study of African-American engagement with the Classics is an iconoclastic area that was new to me. This book piqued my interest, and put me on to Patrice Rankine's Ulysses in Black (University of Wisconsin Press, 2008), which covers the burgeoning area with impressive sharpness and charm."