What are you reading?

A weekly look over the shoulders of our scholar-reviewers

March 29, 2012

Mary Evans, centennial professor at the Gender Institute, London School of Economics, is reading Jeanette Winterson's Why Be Happy When You Could Be Normal? (Jonathan Cape, 2011). "Winterson may not be able to thank her adoptive mother for a normal - let alone happy - childhood, but she has her to thank for her facility with words. In that way, this memoir gets close to an endorsement of the value of the bizarre and the dramatic in child-rearing: a validation of the 'bad enough' rather than 'good enough' mother."

David Kennedy, senior lecturer in English and creative writing, University of Hull, is reading David Antin's Radical Coherency: Selected Essays on Art and Literature, 1966 to 2005 (University of Chicago Press, 2011). "Antin is well known for his 'talk poems', but in the UK he is less well known for his provocative and sometimes hilarious criticism. Whether he's calling T.S. Eliot 'a moral social climber', meditating on the Rothko chapel or re-evaluating John Cage as a poet, Antin wants us to share his belief that we must be continually vigilant about the relationship between art and truth."

Willy Maley, professor of Renaissance studies, University of Glasgow, is re-reading Tom Nairn's The Enchanted Glass: Britain and Its Monarchy (Verso, 1989). "This brilliant dissection of a peculiarly British institution (with prisons named after it), reissued amid debates on Scottish independence, reminds us that our parliamentary democracy is actually an imperial monarchy. With old news like the Falklands back on the agenda, Nairn's fresh foreword fittingly observes: 'Mrs Thatcher may have been concerned to restore "Greatness" to things British, but the real question remains of removing Grandeur for good'. Great stuff."

Roger Morgan, former lecturer in history, University of Sussex, is reading Asa Briggs' Secret Days: Codebreaking in Bletchley Park (Frontline, 2011). "A revealing picture of life at the top-secret intelligence agency where Briggs spent the latter half of the Second World War as a codebreaker. He was at the centre of Bletchley Park's work, and this lively account is a valuable addition to our understanding of its contribution to the Allied victory. His detailed portrayals of his fellow workers (several were either teachers he had known as a student at Cambridge or colleagues from Oxford) give an illuminating picture of the sociology of British higher education at mid-century."

Robert A. Segal, sixth-century chair in religious studies, University of Aberdeen, is reading Karl Popper's The World of Parmenides: Essays on the Presocratic Enlightenment (Routledge, 1998). "Far from pitting myth against science, as still remains fashionable, Popper, the hard-nosed philosopher of science, harmonises the two. Myths, by which he means the creation stories of the Presocratics and others, provide the speculative explanations of the physical world that science, rather than dismissing as unscientific, makes scientific by turning them into testable, which means falsifiable, claims."

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