Thursday, 18 August 2011

My recent reading

Having just expounded at length on academic understanding of reading, I should say what I've been reading recently.

I have a lot of books - my flat is bursting with them, and I've colonised my shared office with the overflow. This, naturally, leads to book anxiety, the horrible feeling you get when someone else scrutinises your shelves, like they're looking into your soul. If a colleague comes round, I find myself muttering excuses ('the lit theory's mostly at work', or 'the rest of the Shelley must be in the bedroom') for my collection. Books do, as someone said, furnish a room, but they also give the viewer a history of the reader. My books are a mix of work, of childhood sentiment and of pleasure: the fact that I have a work/pleasure divide means I'm not really an academic compared with some of my friends. I've internalised the Leavisite division between Literature and books. Not completely, and the academy is more open to the stuff I read for fun than 50 years ago, but the division's still there, in my head at least.

So I'll confess: here's what I read for pleasure on holiday:
Butterworth's A World That Never Was, a history of 19th-century anarchism (which revealed that pretty much every terrorist outrage was a covert police provocation).
Robert Bennett's The Company Man: a union/industrial/alternative history/SF thriller.
Iain Sinclair's Lights Out for the Territory
Ian McGuire's Incredible Bodies, a satirical campus novel.

No doubt I'll be quoting all four of these at length over the next few days - so much of what they had to say resonated with the riots, my job and other things. But that aside, they do indicate that I have different reading 'modes'. With The Company Man, I chose it for its promised political element, and the purpose was entertainment and sensation (and because my friends The Nightingales have a song of the same name). The anarchism volume was entertaining, but I read it primarily to deepen my understanding of the context. Lights Out… was chosen because its reputation was so high, and because I've become interested in the same things as Sinclair to some extent. It felt like Literature, and it stretched me intellectually, while giving me ideas for lectures. Finally, Incredible Bodies was entertaining but also bore some relevance to my situation - insecurely employed as a lit/cult studies lecturer, trying to cope with the tides of theoretical moves, not keeping up with the multivalent demands on the modern, commoditised academic. Reading what's essentially a farce about my own life added a kind of perspective: you could say I read it as a form of self-help.

Your turn: what are you reading and why?

7 comments:

The Red Witch said...

@like they're looking into your soul

What does that say about me? I go through my shelves from time to time and clear out the stuff I am sure I won't reread and pass them on to someone likely to enjoy them. Nobody can tell from my shelves what I have read, just what my favorites are. Although that says something about me, I guess: I am just not going to die buried under collapsed piles of books.

Still struggling to get through Boethius. I can see why nobody reads him much anymore.

Emma said...

I'm reading 'Skippy Dies' because you lent it to me months and months ago and I'm began to feel guilty.
Also, David Cameron took it on holidays as his Summer read.

oldgirlatuni said...

What am I reading? Foucault, mainly. Because I have to for my theoretical framework.

But for fun - ah, that's a whole other world. On the Kindle, I'm reading CJ Sansom's 'Winter in Madrid' - I love his writing.

And, on paper, Ron Rosenbaum's 'Explaining Hitler - the search for the origins of his evil'. A fascinating study of the ways that people have approached the question of Hitler and evil. Very thought provoking.

And Plashing Vole. Of course.

The Plashing Vole said...

Flattery gets you everywhere. I like the Sansom - I've an interest in the Spanish Civil War.
Ahh, Foucault. Wonderful.

Red Witch - wish I had your discipline. But I always think I might want to reread, or refer to something.

Emma: glad you finally started it. And now I picked up another copy, you can take your time.

Ewarwoowar said...

Boethius? Foucault? Oh dear, that feeling of inadequacy returns.

I've just finished reading two books. Firstly, 'Paranormality' by Professor Richard Wiseman, which was splendid. I'm interested in the same things as he is, albeit on a slightly less intellectual level. His book is a really good "idiots guide" for thickos like me, and I must get round to ordering his other stuff.

I've also just finished reading Danny Wallace's 'Awkward Situations For Men', although that's not really a book, just his columns for Shortlist magazine collated together. S'alright.

You'll be pleased to know that since the ol' thesis I can't even bear to look at a book on baseball :(

Tracy said...

All of my reading is for fun!
I'm 200+ pages into A Suitable Boy by Vikram Seth - only 1200 pages to go. Why? It's a bookclub book (well, we read Anna Karenina last year - I think we've inadvertently started a competition to see who can suggest the longest book we'll dare tackle)
I'm just about to start reading In Siberia by Colin Thubron - I enjoyed reading Shadow of the Silk Road by the same author several years ago and it's got an irresistible introduction.

As for the books on my shelves - eclectic definitely sums it up.

Red Witch - clearing out your bookshelves is good for your soul! (Though I have to grit my teeth to part with a book - but I'm getting better - I send them to you! :))

Skippy Dies - I keep seeing that book and thinking - 'wonderful title!' When I'm back to reading new books I'll take a look at it.

Sue's Blog said...

I had to give up reading for pleasure to plod through the mammoth reading list for the MA.