24 Jan What is Tim Kendall Reading?
In the latest in our series What Are You Reading?, we are chatting to Professor Tim Kendall, from the English Department at the University of Exeter.
What are you reading at the moment? Why would our readers enjoy it?
I’m currently reading Oliver Rackham’s masterpiece, The History of the Countryside. It’s one of those rare books that has changed the way we perceive the world. Rackham is, in effect, the founding father of the rewilding movement, but he never hectors. The style is as funny and entertaining as it’s authoritative.
The most memorable book you read in 2020; and why?
I probably read more fiction in 2020 than I had done since I was a teenager. It’s not hard to guess why. I hope that grants me leeway to mention two books—one new, and one forty years old. The new one is The Mirror and the Light by Hilary Mantel, which is every bit as good as everyone says. It’s an extraordinary achievement to have kept up those levels of precision and excellence across the entire trilogy. The other is Russell Hoban’s Riddley Walker, a post-apocalyptic novel (very post- in this case) written in a shattered demotic English that has a poetry all of its own.
A book you return to and reread; and why?
Charlotte Mew was an early twentieth-century poet who wrote very little: only one volume appeared in her lifetime. I know much of it by heart. She has a long dramatic monologue called Madeleine in Church which seems to me to survive comparison with the very best of Robert Browning. Everyone should be reading her. There’s no excuse now that Faber has recently published a Selected Poetry and Prose, edited by Julia Copus.
Your favourite book of all time; and why?
Let’s take Shakespeare as, well, read. The modern book that has meant the most to me is The Spire by William Golding. I read it when I was still at school, and for the first time I understood why people bother with books. The experience was as fundamental as that. I’ve now read it over a dozen times, and every time I feel grateful. It’s as close to perfection as any novel I’ve ever read.
Professor Tim Kendall
Tim Kendall was born in Plymouth in 1970. He read English at Christ Church, Oxford, and completed his D. Phil on Northern Irish poetry in 1994. After holding several short-term teaching posts in Oxford, he became the Sir James Knott Research Fellow at the University of Newcastle. In 1997 he was appointed to his first permanent post, at the University of Bristol. He joined Exeter as Professor of English Literature in 2006, and served as Head of Department from 2007 to 2013. He was Director of Research in 2014, after which he held a three-year Major Research Fellowship funded by Leverhulme. From January until July 2019, he was the university’s Academic Director of Arts & Culture, and he has now taken a new role as Academic Director of Special Collections.