What are you reading?

A weekly look over the shoulders of our scholar-reviewers

July 21, 2011

Christoph Bode is chair of modern English literature, Ludwig-Maximilians-Universität, Munich. He is reading Wendy Lesser's Music for Silenced Voices: Shostakovich and His Fifteen Quartets (Yale University Press, 2011). "A captivating reading of his string quartets as a diary of the composer's soul and as a chronicle, or rather seismograph, of the Soviet regime between 1938 and 1974. Should be accompanied, I believe, by the recordings of the complete quartets by either the Beethoven Quartet or the Fitzwilliam String Quartets."

Biancamaria Fontana is professor of the history of political ideas, University of Lausanne, Switzerland. She is reading Raphaelle Bacqué's Le dernier mort de Mitterrand (Grasset, 2010). "In 1994, Francois de Grossouvre shot himself in his office at the Êlysée Palace. An old friend of Francois Mitterrand, privy to his most guarded secrets, he owed the vague position he occupied at the palace to their friendship. In reconstructing the events leading up to his death, political journalist Bacqué recreates the oppressive atmosphere of a declining presidential regime."

Ivor Gaber, professor of political journalism, City University London, and research professor in media and politics, University of Bedfordshire, is reading Alexander McCall Smith's The No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency (Little, Brown, 1998). "Just 13 years after it was first published, I finally dip my toe into the world of Precious Ramotswe, Botswana's first female private investigator. It's preparation for making a Radio 4 programme about the 'No 1 Forensic Science Service', also in Botswana. The novel is uncomfortable - a Scottish male academic adopts the guise of a Botswanan female private eye - and yet comforting: McCall Smith clearly loves Botswana and its people, and this shines through. Good bedtime reading."

George McKay is director, Communication, Cultural and Media Studies Research Centre, University of Salford. He is reading Richard Mabey's Weeds: How Vagabond Plants Gatecrashed Civilisation and Changed the Way We Think About Nature (Profile, 2010). "After the Great Fire of London and the Blitz, fresh weeds coloured the devastated city with a regenerative flourish. Mabey 'drops down' to ground level to tell the cultural history of weeds. He looks at the spread of weed seeds along train tracks and via botanists' trouser turn-ups; the plant-banning of the Weeds Act of 1959; cannabis ('weed'); alien 'Japweed'; and the bewildering of post-industrial Detroit."

Loredana Salis, lecturer in the faculty of arts, University of Sassari, is reading Mary Shelley's Frankenstein (Penguin, 2011). "As the Nike advert would have it, 'Impossible is nothing'. Or is it? Dr Frankenstein, the protagonist of Mary Shelley's 1818 novel, must certainly believe in the impossible. As he wins his battle against death, the scientist gives life to a creature that is at once a victim and a monster. Here, Shelley reflects on the nature and the limits of humanity. With piercing insight, she confronts her (and our) unspeakable others."

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