What Five Sociologists Told Us Their Holiday Reading Will Be

Inspired by those glossy magazines and periodicals that at this time of year ask celebrities to recommend their friends’ books, we thought we’d ask some people who work as academic sociologists what they will be reading on their holidays

Mark Monaghan: The Whereabouts of Eneas McNulty by Sebastian Barry

On holiday this year I am hoping to read The Whereabouts of Eneas McNulty by Sebastian Barry. I’ve been meaning to read it for ages and simply haven’t got round to it, but this year will be the year. It was recommended to me some years ago by an erstwhile colleague from Leeds, Kirk Mann. Kirk has impeccable tastes in wine and literature so I’m really looking forward to getting stuck into this – the book not the wine.

The book, sociologically speaking, concentrates on the unintended consequences of actions as the politically naïve McNulty, in search of work, takes employment with the Royal Irish Constabulary at precisely the time when Southern Ireland was on the verge of independence. This decision means that McNulty finds himself the subject of IRA death threats, which he must negotiate for the rest of his life. The story ultimately centres on the tension between the personal and the political against a backdrop of revolution. I have a long-standing interest in 20th century Irish history, which at times feeds into my work, but this dates back to my time as an undergraduate at the University of Liverpool when I studied a couple of Irish studies modules during my Sociology undergraduate degree. All being well, I will be reading this on the beach in Nerja, Spain in breaks between building sandcastles and digging holes in the sand.

Vanessa May: In Other Words by Jhumpa Lahiri

This is a book recommended to me by a friend whose recommendations are always spot on. The book details what it is like to be a ‘linsguistic exile’, twice over. Lahiri, whose parents were from India and who was brought up in the US, began her career as a novelist writing in English rather than her mother tongue Bengali. As an adult and already an acclaimed novelist, Lahiri moved to Italy and exiled herself, as she herself puts it, from the English language, in an effort to free herself from all that it represented in her biography. In Other Words first appeared in Italian but a new edition has since been published with an accompanying English translation. I am fascinated by language and the different worlds that the words of different languages allow us to see, experience and describe. Unlike my friend, however, I am not able to read the book in Italian and will, rather perversely perhaps, be reading the English version. For the nth year in a row, I will be enjoying my annual leave in the form of a staycation, and look forward to sitting in my garden (Manchester weather permitting) in the company of Lahiri’s words.

Edmund Coleman-Fountain: Logical Family: A Memoir by Armistead Maupin

Years ago, after I came out, my mother had packed me off to university with the two omnibus editions of Tales of the City that had been on the bookshelves at home. I loved those books and their queer, colourful characters. Maupin is a gifted storyteller, so I’m looking forward to reading Logical Family to find out about his conservative upbringing and what inspired the Tales stories. These are the books I like – ones that make the everyday strange, but which have lots of truth in them. I will see Maupin speak later this year too. I did that before in 2007 after he published Michael Tolliver Lives. Ian McKellen had been playing in Chekhov’s The Seagull in Newcastle’s Theatre Royal next door. He popped into the Watersones to see his friend and tripped at the bottom of the stairs, nearly falling next to where I was sitting. It’s nice when friends drop in.

Narzanin Massoumi: The Golden Notebook by Doris Lessing

This a classic Marxist feminist text that I have wanted to read for years but have never got around to it. The book is centred around discussions between two women – both single parents — with connections to the Communist party. It is set in late fifties, in the aftermath of the Hungarian Revolution, when left intellectuals are coming to terms with the reality of Stalinism. The appeal of the novel was that it reminded me of my favourite ever novel – Simone de Beauvoir’s The Mandarins. Like the Mandarins, the book seems to deal with both the personal and emotional turmoil of trying to live by and organise for an alternative society. I am hoping to read it in France on holiday but it’s 550 pages long and with three kids I think it may be a little ambitious! Wish me luck.

Angélica Thumala: The Door by Magda Szabó

One of the books I will bring with me on holiday is the novel The Door (1987) by Magda Szabó. Other than her nationality, she is Hungarian, I don’t know anything about her or her work. It was not directly recommended but I picked it up from the section of fiction in translation at the Strand bookstore in New York city. The description at the back was intriguing enough. The relationship between two women, one educated, the other illiterate. The communist regime is in the background. I hope it is not too disturbing (the blurb says ‘frightening’). I will be reading this in the Greek island of Samos.

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