What are you reading?

A weekly look over the shoulders of our scholar-reviewers

August 11, 2011

Nathan Emmerich, a doctoral student in bioethics at Queen's University Belfast, is reading Ted Chiang's The Lifecycle of Software Objects (Subterranean Press, 2010). "The best science fiction is never just about the science. Rather it presents philosophical questions, more often than not of ethics but also metaphysical questions regarding our natures. Balancing the presentation and development of a near-future idea while leaving it up to the reader to formulate explicit questions, this is sci-fi asking such questions at its best. Simple but precise illustrations complete the effect of this brief work, whose depths are hidden in plain sight."

Faye Hammill, professor of English, University of Strathclyde, is reading Brian Busby's A Gentleman of Pleasure: One Life of John Glassco, Poet, Memoirist, Translator, and Pornographer (McGill-Queen's University Press, 2011). "The respected Montreal poet and translator John Glassco was also a rubber fetishist, bisexual adventurer and literary hoaxer. Best known for an engaging yet highly unreliable memoir of 1920s Paris, Glassco 'revelled in playing the gracious, dirty sophisticate'. Both entertaining and scholarly, this is, surprisingly, the first biography of this eccentric writer."

Dennis Hayes, professor of education, University of Derby, is rereading Michael Oakeshott's The Voice of Liberal Learning (Liberty Fund, 2001). "This contains the prescient essay he wrote for The Listener in 1950, 'The Idea of a University'. He concludes by saying that a university will have ceased to exist when its learning has degenerated into what is now called research, when its teaching has become mere instruction and occupies the whole of an undergraduate's time and students come not in search of their 'intellectual fortune' but a serviceable 'moral and intellectual outfit' and desire only 'a qualification for earning a living'. Oakeshott's four criteria seem to describe the trajectory of the contemporary university, that is, to cease to be a university."

Henkjan Honing, professor of music cognition at the University of Amsterdam, is rereading Darwin's Dreampond: Drama in Lake Victoria (MIT Press, 1996) by Tijs Goldschmidt. "A scientific journey written in an engaging first-person narrative, this story unfolds like a thriller and is full of detailed observations as well as original insights in evolutionary biology. For me, it still is an outstanding example of how to write about science for a larger audience."

Nigel Rodenhurst, doctoral candidate and tutor in 20th-century British and American literature at Aberystwyth University, is rereading Jonathan Schell's The Fate of the Earth (Jonathan Cape, 1982). "Schell was initially lauded for his work on nuclear weapons, which contributed to (understandable) widespread fear in the 1980s. Reading this again, I feel that I am back in 'that moment' and wonder if a similarly confrontational book is needed 30 years later."

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