What are you reading?

A weekly look over the shoulders of our scholar-reviewers

August 23, 2012

Susan C. Aldridge, past president of the University of Maryland University College, is reading Chris Payne's Encounters with a Fat Chemist: Teaching at a University in Northern Cyprus (AuthorHouse, 2012). "I laughed out loud when I read this book while sitting on a plane. The account is based on a year and a half Payne spent in Cyprus working as a professor, and he really catches the sense of disorganisation at a ramshackle university, instantly recognisable to anyone who has ever worked or lived in an emerging country."

Laurence Coupe, senior lecturer in English, Manchester Metropolitan University, is rereading Alan Watts' The Book: On the Taboo Against Knowing Who You Are (Souvenir Press, 2009). "I always go back to Watts with a sense of relief, and I always come away with a sense of wonder. Way ahead of his time (this book was first published in 1966), he moves with ease between Eastern religion and Western science in order to convey what it might be like to see through the 'hallucination' that one is 'a separate ego enclosed in a bag of skin'. Writing without jargon and wearing his learning very lightly, he is a joy to read."

Paul Greatrix, registrar, University of Nottingham, is reading Jeffrey Eugenides' The Marriage Plot (Fourth Estate, 2012). "An extremely well-written and engaging campus novel: although most of the action is extracurricular, there is a strong academic thread with the lead characters all pursuing truth in one form or another. Madeleine, the heroine, researches unfashionable themes in Jane Austen and George Eliot while bound up in a marriage plot of her own involving Leonard, a dazzling but difficult scientist, and Mitchell, the more romantic type. Happy ending unlikely. Highly recommended."

Stephen Halliday, tutor at the Institute of Continuing Education, University of Cambridge, is reading Robert Bucholz and Joseph Ward's London: A Social and Cultural History 1550-1750 (Cambridge University Press, 2012). "The authors take the city's history from its position as a moderately important trading centre on the edge of Europe to the point where it was about to become the world's principal metropolis. They examine many forgotten corners, including the intriguing fact that London's first daily newspaper, The Daily Courant, began in 1702 above a tavern in Fleet Street. Such insights abound."

Willy Maley, professor of Renaissance studies, University of Glasgow, is reading Sol T. Plaatje's Mhudi (Heinemann, 1978). "The earliest novel in English by a black South African, and originally published in 1930, this is a literary landmark that remains relevant and resonant. One of Plaatje's purposes in writing was to uncover 'the back of the Native mind', another was to raise money to teach vernacular folk tales in Bantu schools. But beyond its author's immediate aims stands Mhudi, an indefatigable female figure moving through a war-torn landscape, making her voice heard above the din of men fighting."

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