What are you reading?

A weekly look over the shoulders of our scholar-reviewers

October 18, 2012

Laurence Coupe, senior lecturer in English, Manchester Metropolitan University, is reading Peter Barry's Literature in Contexts (Manchester University Press, 2007). "The author challenges a prevailing tendency in recent literary theory: to reduce the 'text' to a 'context' of historical associations that takes one further and further away from the imaginative challenge of the work itself. This 'contextualism', by subordinating the intrinsic merit of the text to endlessly extrinsic speculation, ends up missing the point of what is being studied. Barry demonstrates his alternative: to focus on the text while bringing in contexts that are genuinely literary. A bracing argument, well sustained."

Nathan Emmerich, honorary research fellow in the School of Politics, International Studies and Philosophy, Queen's University Belfast, is reading Gina Perry's Behind the Shock Machine (Scribe, 2012). "Over the past few years, more and more of the Stanley Milgram archive at Yale University has been opened up to researchers. Perry has mined what is available and spoken to some of those involved, experimenters and subjects alike. Her book is at times a little personal, a little sensational and pretty down on Milgram. Nevertheless it adds to our understanding of the world's most famous psychology experiment."

Sandra Leaton Gray, lecturer in education, University of East Anglia, is reading S.J. Watson's Before I Go to Sleep (Doubleday, 2011). "A debut novel and gripping psychological thriller about a woman who loses her memory and must begin afresh every day to try to come to terms with what has happened to her. I am just at the point where she is starting to make progress, but this is progress into a darker and more confusing reality. I recently had the opportunity of meeting the author at an event and discussing this book with him, which made it all the more compelling."

Peter Messent, emeritus professor of modern American literature, University of Nottingham, is reading Paul Hendrickson's Hemingway's Boat (Alfred A. Knopf, 2012). "A wonderful book. Not exactly a biography, more 'an interpretation, an evocation, with other lives streaming in'. The book is based around Pilar, the boat Hemingway bought in 1934, and the author's life from that point on. But really it charts Hemingway's contradictions, his charm and talent, sensitivities and awfulnesses. A moving story of a life, and relationships, gone awry."

Sharon Ruston, professor of 19th-century literature and culture at the University of Salford, is reading Dave Eggers' A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius (Picador, 2007). "This is an uncompromising look at the author's MTV generation-self, the illness and loss of his parents and his decision to bring up his brother; it's funny, thought-provoking and, yes, a little heartbreaking too. The title reflects the book's ironic and wry tone."

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