What are you reading?

A weekly look over the shoulders of our scholar-reviewers

May 9, 2013

Christoph Bode, chair of modern English literature at Ludwig-Maximilians Universität München, is reading Stig Dagerman’s German Autumn (University of Minnesota Press, 2011). “These essays by the Swedish writer about occupied Germany, first published in 1947, can be unbearable in their intensity: bleak, acerbic, critical of Germans and Allies alike. For obvious reasons, no German could have written them at the time. Mark Kurlansky’s superb new foreword to this edition alone is worth the purchase, spelling out the implications of what followed victory. Recommended by Graham Greene and Henning Mankell. And me.”

Mein Kampf by Adolf Hitler

Sandra Leaton Gray, senior lecturer in education, Institute of Education, is reading Adolf Hitler’s Mein Kampf (Hurst & Blackett, 1939), translated by James Murphy. “I have inherited a copy of this from a relative, and felt I should attempt to read it. I can only report failure. I felt rather dirty even handling something with a swastika on the front. It is appallingly written, self-serving and tedious. I have made it to page 39 but I see racism ahead and just can’t bring myself to read on. It is back on the shelf next to Churchill’s six-volume The Second World War. Thank goodness we weren’t invaded, or this would be a GCSE set work (shudder).”

The Cambridge Companion to the Literature of Los Angeles, edited by Kevin R. McNamara

Tim Hall, principal lecturer in geography and social sciences, University of Gloucestershire, is reading The Cambridge Companion to the Literature of Los Angeles (Cambridge University Press, 2010), edited by Kevin R. McNamara. “I took this on a recent trip to Los Angeles instead of a conventional guidebook. Its 15 tightly written essays take us well beyond hard-boiled crime noir, dystopian futures and Beverly Hills fantasies to reveal ‘a city made of words’ by its diverse populations. Rooted in the texts, rather than abstract theory, it maps a rich and complex literature.”

Communes Britannica by Chris Coates

George McKay, AHRC leadership fellow for the Connected Communities programme, University of Salford, is reading Chris Coates’ Communes Britannica: A History of Communal Living in Britain, 1939-2000 (Diggers and Dreamers, 2012). “An entertaining, informative directory of social experiments in alternative living. Packed with images and anecdotes, it captures the excitement of the cranks, religious visionaries, dropouts and utopian pragmatists up to and beyond the 1960s and 1970s. I even found out there was a pacifist commune on my street in 1940: Utopia isn’t nowhere, it’s down the road.”

In Cold Blood by Truman Capote

Peter J. Smith, reader in Renaissance literature at Nottingham Trent University, has just read Truman Capote’s In Cold Blood (Random House, 1966). “Pioneering part documentary/part fiction on the murder of the Clutter family in Holcomb, Kansas. In November 1959, Perry Smith and Dick Hickock burgled the Clutters’ house. They got away with $40 and some binoculars, leaving behind two adults and two children, shot at point- blank range. Capote’s account is brilliantly suspenseful and chillingly detached. Not a book to take to bed; I finished it, in a single sitting, at eight o’clock the next morning.”

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