What are you reading?

A weekly look over the shoulders of our scholar-reviewers

May 24, 2012

Megan Crawford, reader in the Faculty of Education, University of Cambridge, is reading Wilkie Collins' The Woman in White (Penguin Classics, 2003). "I reread this after a very long gap, and was surprised at how exciting it was. When the woman in white first appears, I actually felt a shiver when she touched Walter on the shoulder. I love Dickens, but I find Collins more readable, with his different narrative voices, page-turning plot and marvellous characters. Marian is a feisty heroine. Our current government seems keen to bring back Victorian values; I would recommend this book as an antidote to that view."

Paul Greatrix is registrar, University of Nottingham. He is reading Jon McGregor's This Isn't the Sort of Thing That Happens to Someone Like You (Bloomsbury, 2012). "My favourite writer at the moment. After three outstanding novels, he has now delivered a wonderful collection of short stories. The writing is lyrical, poetic and haunting, with many of the pieces containing an underlying menace. Set in the bleak, flat fens (with echoes of Graham Swift's Waterland), these are remarkable stories of strange and different lives and events...and things that shouldn't happen to someone like you. But they do."

Robert Harbison is professor of architectural history and theory, London Metropolitan University. "I'm reading Fred Scott's On Altering Architecture (Routledge, 2007), a book about later intervention in existing buildings. That may sound like a confined topic, but this is one of the most open-ended and imaginative books on architecture I've come across. The range of examples is startlingly wide; his responses are invariably fresh. The illustrations are just as provocative as the text."

Tim Hall, lecturer in geography and social sciences, University of Gloucestershire, is reading Shehan Karunatilaka's Chinaman: The Legend of Pradeep Mathew (Vintage, 2012). "A roller coaster of a novel about death, cricket, Sri Lankan politics, alcohol and the nature of fiction itself. All of which is woven around the tale of a vanished Sri Lanka spin bowler and a dying journalist's quest to find him. Perhaps the only post-colonial novel to regularly namecheck Shakin' Stevens and Boney M."

A.W. Purdue, visiting professor in history at the University of Northumbria, is reading E.L. James' Fifty Shades of Grey (Arrow, 2012). "With it and its sequels dominating the best-seller list, the popularity of this novel raises the question of why (what is said to be) a largely female readership finds an account of sexual submission so fascinating. Very much Mills & Boon meets the Marquis de Sade, in this, instead of a clean-cut 'Mr Right', the ingénue heroine meets the dominant Christian Grey, equipped with handcuffs, whips and a 'red room of pain'. That after decades of feminism a book that portrays sadomasochism cosily is so popular is an interesting but disturbing question."

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