What are you reading?

A weekly look over the shoulders of our scholar-reviewers

January 6, 2011

Mary Evans is centennial professor in the Gender Institute, London School of Economics. She is reading Philip Larkin's Letters to Monica, edited by Anthony Thwaite (Faber and Faber with the Bodleian Library, 2010). "At first, these letters might appear to be an account of a miserable life, in which intimacy and change were threats. A second reading shows a person of immense erudition and care, both for the technicalities of the written word and the emotions and aspirations that lie behind them. Not many people will envy Larkin's persona, but these letters show the value (and possibilities) of stasis."

Greg Garrard is senior lecturer in English literature, Bath Spa University. He is reading Catriona Mortimer-Sandilands and Bruce Erickson's Queer Ecologies (Indiana University Press, 2010). "The sexual and gender diversity of animals is a profound challenge to prevalent assumptions about nature and supposedly human culture. This is a fascinating and formidable collection of essays that aims to shake up both the biophobia that mars cultural studies and the heteronormative bias of biology. Brilliant stuff."

Kerstin Hoge, lecturer in German linguistics, University of Oxford, is reading Ruth H. Sanders' German: Biography of a Language (Oxford University Press, 2010). "As the subtitle suggests, Sanders conceives of language history as a branch of collective life writing, focusing on the socio-historical developments that shaped the Germanic peoples. For all its laudable ambition and readability, Sanders' narrative is too sketchy and repetitive to satisfy fully, but like a good biography, it provides a tantalising taste of its subject."

Willy Maley, professor of Renaissance studies, University of Glasgow, is reading Ayi Kwei Armah's The Beautyful Ones Are Not Yet Born (Heinemann, 1968). "Published a decade down the line from Ghanaian independence, Armah's novel ranks among the most brilliant, brittle and bitter accounts of neocolonial betrayal of national aspirations, the 'leftover British craziness' of an empire built on brutality and inequality handed down to former African socialists and revolutionaries, 'fat, perfumed, soft, with the ancestral softness of chiefs who had sold their people and are celestially happy with the fruits of the trade'."

Jon Nixon is honorary professor in the department of education, University of Sheffield. He is reading Albert Camus' The Fall (Penguin, 2006). 'Written at a time of personal and professional crisis, The Fall was the last novel Camus completed before his death in 1960. It explores the relation between judgement and penitence: the penitent, suggests Camus, holds a mirror up to the iniquities of society. The book reads as a self-lacerating satire of the Parisian post-war intelligentsia from which he was painfully and courageously distancing himself."

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