What are you reading?

A weekly look over the shoulders of our scholar-reviewers

February 10, 2011

Woody Caan, professor of public health at Anglia Ruskin University, is reading Psychosis: Stories of Recovery and Hope (Quay Books, 2011), edited by Hannah Cordle, Jane Fradgley, Jerome Carson, Frank Holloway and Paul Richards. "Inside its thin introductory 'shell' about severe mental illness, the pearls inside this book are first-hand accounts of recovery from the disease most likely to evoke fear and stigma in the UK. Each recovery is unique, but all inspired me with hope. These stories make good reading for patients and clinicians alike."

Sally Feldman is dean, School of Media, Arts and Design, University of Westminster. "Two recent novels illuminate environmental disaster as a counterpoint to disintegrating personal relationships. Betrayals in love are matched by betrayals of ideals. Ian McEwan's fine satire Solar (Jonathan Cape, 2010) features the irrepressible womanising physicist Michael Beard, caught up in planet-saving politics while secretly loathing even the term 'the planet'. Jonathan Franzen, in Freedom (Fourth Estate, 2010), forensically analyses the collapse of a seemingly liberal family. Patty founders on her quest for perfection while environmentalist Walter despises his capitalist son until his own green credentials are compromised. Both novels kept me absorbed, thinking and worrying."

Rumy Hasan, senior lecturer in the Science and Technology Policy Research Unit, University of Sussex, is reading Paul Cliteur's The Secular Outlook: In Defense of Moral and Political Secularism (Wiley-Blackwell, 2010). "A robust defence of the Enlightenment tradition and a must-read for those concerned by the corrosive aspects of religion on society. Especially valuable are two chapters on 'freethought' (criticism of religion and freedom of expression), and the final chapter on moral and political secularism provides much food for thought."

Peter J. Smith, reader in Renaissance literature, Nottingham Trent University, is reading David Sedaris' Santaland Diaries (Victor Gollancz, 1999). "These essays are a wry mixture of autobiography, reportage and cultural critique. Sedaris' account of being employed as one of Santa's helpers at Macy's is an acerbic, frequently hilarious condemnation of the melancholy induced by voracious American materialism. 'I'm afraid I won't be able to provide the grinding enthusiasm Santa is asking for. I think I'll be a low-key sort of an elf.'"

Gary Thomas, professor of education, University of Birmingham, is reading Martin Gardner's The Night Is Large: Collected Essays, 1938-1995 (St Martin's Press, 1996). "The word 'polymath' might have been invented for Gardner: mathematician, economist, literary critic, physicist. And he wrote beautifully. He died last year and this is a tribute to his genius. He lets you draw a line between pseudoscience and scientism, reminding you - ever so gently - about the danger of seeing pattern where there is none."

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