What are you reading?

A weekly look over the shoulders of our scholar-reviewers

June 23, 2011

Tony Chafer, professor of contemporary French area studies, University of Portsmouth, is reading Dervla Murphy's The Island That Dared (Eland, 2008). "Based on three visits to the country between 2005 and 2007, this meticulously researched, beautifully written book describes a Cuba in transition. Travelling off the tourist trails, Murphy strikes up relationships with an extraordinary range of people who talk about their feelings for their country and what it has achieved, and their fears and hopes for its future. Both travel guide and contemporary history, it is the closest an outsider is likely to get to understanding what the Cuban revolution means to contemporary Cubans."

Timothy Mowl, professor of the history of architecture and designed landscapes, University of Bristol, is reading Jane Brown's The Omnipotent Magician: Lancelot 'Capability' Brown, 1716-1783 (Chatto & Windus, 2011). "Where this book excels is in the writer's impressive untangling of the web of family interconnections between Brown's patrons. She rides with the landscaper to visit his clients and to enjoy their company. But in all this social and biographical history, his landscape aesthetic remains obscure. This reads more like a whimsical historical novel than a knowledgeable, confident biography."

June Purvis, professor of women's and gender history, University of Portsmouth, is reading Ryland Wallace's The Women's Suffrage Movement in Wales 1866-1928 (University of Wales Press, 2009). "This lucidly written book offers the first comprehensive coverage of the women's suffrage agitation in Victorian Wales until the granting of equal voting rights in 1928. Drawing on extensive primary sources, it has chapters on the Women's Social and Political Union, the National Union of Women's Suffrage Societies, the Women's Freedom League, the impact of the Great War and the campaign for equal suffrage. An invaluable read for all suffrage scholars."

Corin Throsby is an academic supervisor in English, University of Cambridge. She is reading Laura Coulman's Lady Gaga: Strange and Beautiful: The Fabulous Style of Lady Gaga (Plexus, 2011). "Lady Gaga's outfits - like her infamous dress made from cuts of meat - are unique pieces of performance art. One of the only twentysomething starlets ever to make herself look deliberately and consistently grotesque, she subverts contemporary ideals of feminine beauty. This may not afford deep insight into her art, but there are lots of pictures."

David Toop is a senior research Fellow, London College of Communication. "I am absorbing, rather than reading, Anne Umland's Picasso Guitars 1912-1914 (Museum of Modern Art, 2011), not least for its implication that auditory space was central to modernist breakthroughs in visual arts and literature. I just finished Luke Williams' The Echo Chamber (Hamish Hamilton, 2011), a flawed but fascinating neo-modernist novel that dwells on a bigger issue, the centrality of listening to memory and identity."

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