Fifteen Eighty Four

Academic perspectives from Cambridge University Press


Academic Book Week 2019

Rebecca E. Lyons, Samantha J. Rayner

Courtesy of Vancouver Public Central Library | Flickr

Question 1: ”What’s the academic book that you think more people should read?”

Melissa M. Terras: It’s always the next one on the shelf, isn’t it? The one that looks enticing that you haven’t yet had the time to read… That, or Marie Hicks’ “Programmed Inequality” which is a phenomenal reframing of the history of computing from a feminist perspective.

Jaki Hawker: Hannah Arendt’s clear sighted and powerful The Origins of Totalitarianism.

Leah Tether: The latest one in your area of interest. Having the time to stay up-to-date with the latest findings is always tricky, but doing so can really invigorate and motivate you to get going on your own research.

Eugene Giddens: I’ll cheat here and say The Cambridge History of the Book in Britain. These 7 volumes are a great place to learn about the most important technology that humans have developed.

Kim Wilkins: Pascale Cassanova’s World Republic of Letters, a brilliant book about globalisation and literature.

Madhu Krishnan: This is a really hard question to answer, but at the moment the three that I think are most important and timely are Lester K. Spence’s Knocking the Hustle (I recommend this to everyone),  Linda Tuhiwai Smith’s Decolonizing Methodologies and Zygmunt Bauman’s Liquid Modernity.

Rebecca Lyle Skains: Hmm. I don’t know. Mine? Seriously, though, work by Marie-Laure Ryan and Alice Bell on possible worlds – the concept is an amazing collision of physics and narrative theory that I wish I’d thought of.

Lucia Cedeira Serantes: Any of the books by Janice Radway, especially Reading the Romance. It strikes a delicate balance between looking at the macro of publishing and the personal meaning that reading as an act and experience brings to the reader.


Question 2: ”Why do you write academic books? What do you get out of the process?”

Melissa M Terras: The process of writing itself helps me think through my knowledge, understanding, opinions, and beliefs. Its a medium of exchange of information but also in structuring arguments and making things more concrete. I’ve always loved this type of factual project, from a young age, and having the privilege and space in being able to write is something I appreciate and respect.

Jaki Hawker: The thoughtful distillation and presentation of evidence-backed ideas, made available for open discussion. Personally, I love the moment when I can lay down my keyboard, look at a text, and know it’s finished.

Leah Tether: The latest one in your area of interest. Having the time to stay up-to-date with the latest findings is always tricky, but doing so can really invigorate and motivate you to get going on your own research.

Marianne Martens: Besides the fact that I am a glutton for punishment, the experience of being part of a scholarly community around book history / publishing / literature for young people is really exciting, and so worth it.

Eugene Giddens: I write books because of simple curiosity, and because of ideas that come out of the classroom. For instance my How to Read a Shakespearean Play Text (CUP, 2011) is structured around MA classes that I had been giving about the manuscripts, early printed books, and subsequent editions of Renaissance drama.

Kim Wilkins: I enjoy academic writing as a way of figuring out what I think about something. It becomes like solving a puzzle, trying to let the light in.

Madhu Krishnan: The obvious answer here is that I write academic books because it is part of my job! The less pithy answer is that I think that academic books play an important role in the production of knowledge. Historically, the right to produce knowledge has been held by far too small a group of people, whose own interests have variously dovetailed with different hegemonies of power. I think it is important for academic discourse to take a more expansive reach and to embrace a multiplicity of epistemologies as part of the work of decolonising knowledge production more broadly. More personally, I find writing academic books and entering into large-scale and enduing dialogue with a varied community of scholars (both inside and outside of the university and including students and other publics) hugely rewarding.

Rebecca Lyle Skains: Well, there’s the standard: it’s my job. But also, I do my job (writing academic books) because I really enjoy the research: asking questions about how the world works, puzzling together answers, and telling people what I think.


Question 3: ”What do you think is the most important academic book in your field?”

Jaki Hawker: Alison Baverstock’s How To Market Books (1990). It was a revelation to me how little has changed in the last 29 years.

Leah Tether: Keith Busby’s Codex and Context is a book I find myself returning to time and again, not just for its content on medieval vernacular manuscripts, but also for the lucidity of its style. It’s a real model for how to communicate complex topics clearly.

Marianne Martens: Since I consider myself as an interdisciplinary scholar, it is difficult to say what is the most important book, but I consider sociologist Robin DiAngelo’s book a must read.

  1. DiAngelo, R. (2018). White Fragility: Why It’s So Hard for White People to Talk About Racism. Boston: Beacon Press

In terms of what people should read, there are so many that have influenced my own work, from fields such as sociology, book history, cultural studies, media studies, and library and information science. But here are two new books and three classics that I recommend.

Recommended New books:

  1. Murray, S. (2018). The Digital Literary Sphere: Reading, Writing, and Selling Books in the Internet Era. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press
  2. Weber, M. (2018). Literary Festivals and Contemporary Book Culture. New Directions in Book History.

Recommended Classics:

  1. Barthes, R. (1977). Image, Music, Text. Translated by Stephen Heath. New York, NY: Hill and Wang.
  2. Bourdieu, P. (1993). The Field of Cultural Production. New York: Columbia University Press.
  3. Radway, J. (1984). Reading the romance: Women, patriarchy, and popular literature. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press

Eugene Giddens: I work in two areas (Renaissance and children’s literature) united by an interest in the history of the book. The books in these fields that I admire most are Peter Blayney’s The Texts of King Lear and their Origins and Zoe Jaques’s Children’s Literature and the Posthuman (another cheat, as Zoe is my partner, but even through the romantic bias, it’s astonishingly good).

Kim Wilkins: My field is genre fiction and creative writing, and I have been very influenced by Howard Becker’s Art Worlds, which is a sociology of art. I am very persuaded by his idea that all art (including writing) takes place within cooperative networks.

Rebecca Lyle Skains: I come back to Marie-Laure Ryan’s Avatars of Story again and again and again. It’s so apt for modern narrative, regardless of medium, though it is focused on the digital.


Question 4: ”How do you read and access academic books?”

Melissa M. Terras: I generally still buy or borrow physical books and read them while travelling. I like to put sticky notes all over them. In general, I’m reading academic books with a particular question in mind, related to my own research, or upcoming paper I need to write up.

Jaki Hawker: To read, learn, and understand longform text, paper. To find additional resources, scan, check definitions, or summarise, and to read shortform text, digital.

Leah Tether: A mixture of online, print and PDF – for book length studies, I almost always use a hard copy.

Marianne Martens: Since I teach mostly online, I still prefer to read print whenever possible– just to escape screens for a bit.

Eugene Giddens: Mostly I read academic books in hard copy, as I’m lucky to be surrounded by amazing libraries in Cambridge and have fantastic subject librarians at Anglia Ruskin. If I’m reading just a chapter of a book, I sometimes do that digitally, but I have rarely read from beginning to end a digital academic book, except when doing so as a peer-reviewer for a press.

Kim Wilkins: I find them online and print out chapters to read and mark up and write all over. It saves the books (but probably kills the trees).

Madhu Krishnan: I always prefer the printed book! Being able to flip back and forth and the tactile nature make the reading experience for me.

Rebecca Lyle Skains: On PDF, if at all possible.

Lucia Cedeira Serantes: I browse and skim online or pdf but in the end, when I really need to engage, I go back to print. I need to vandalize the book and there’s nothing like pencil and print for that!


Question 5: ”What’s your favourite reading space for academic books?”

Melissa M. Terras: Airplanes are particularly good places to get stuck into monographs: no electronic interruptions…

Jaki Hawker: My sofa. Trains are good, too, but airports can be a little busy. Boats tend to vary depending on size and weather…

Leah Tether: Duke Humfrey’s Library at the Bodleian in Oxford, though there is now a special place in my heart for the Big Library at Ushaw College, Durham. You can’t actually work in there at the moment, but I know it would be the most wonderful reading space.

Marianne Martens: I really read anywhere and everywhere, but I actually like to read on planes. Since there’s generally no internet access, it’s a nice place to get some uninterrupted reading done.

Eugene Giddens: I can concentrate just about anywhere, so the space does not matter much, but I tend to read them in my office on campus, or if I really need to meet a deadline, I will sneak to the library.

Kim Wilkins: I do a lot of academic reading on the plane. Nothing to distract me.

Madhu Krishnan: I like to read at home, either at my kitchen table or sitting on my sofa. I hate reading in my office at the University, where the energy always feels too hectic for me to slow down. When the weather allows it, nothing beats reading while sitting in the grass outside!

Rebecca Lyle Skains: My office, in my yellow wingback with a kitty between me and the screen.

Lucia Cedeira Serantes: I have enjoyed many different places: when I need motivation, the academic library is the best. But also some of my best reading happened in my office, stretched over two chairs.


Question 6: ”How will you be celebrating Academic Book Week?”

Melissa M. Terras: Reading, writing, and tweeting!

Jaki Hawker: With our local academic authors and publishers, in several bookshops. And with a brand new academic bookshop in Manchester, opening on the 5th March!

Leah Tether: I’m on research leave at the moment, so I’ll be honouring Academic Book Week in appropriate style – by reading a lot of academic books, and working towards producing some of my own!

Marianne  Martens: I will be speaking about digital reading formats to a group of Japanese Librarians in Tokyo as part of IFLA’s Libraries for Children and Young Adults Section mid-year meeting.

Eugene Giddens: I will be finishing off my introduction to a Revel’s edition of James Shirley’s Hyde Park for Manchester University Press, so my reading will be a refresher on the many fine Revels editions that have come out in recent years – daunting inspiration!

Kim Wilkins: I’ll actually be on long-service leave, so will celebrate it from my hammock.

Madhu Krishnan: I’ll probably be reading more academic books!

Rebecca Lyle Skains: Doing research – which means reading academic books!



Question 7: ”What do you think is the most pressing issue with regard to academic books in current contexts?”

Melissa M. Terras: The open access agenda. Finding the funding to make academic books available to all. Persuading people who think open access is a nonsense that it could be transformative in our sharing of knowledge, particularly in the Arts, Humanities, and Social Sciences.

Jaki Hawker: From my perspective as a bookseller, the disjunction between the needs and perceived needs of teaching staff, publishers, librarians and students – there’s no one size fits all solution.

Leah Tether: In the UK context, it’s REF – the pressure to produce monographs as opposed to other types of academic books (edited collections, editions etc) means that some very important types of output are being sidelined and this might have long-term consequences. For instance, if we do not have up-to-date modern editions of pre-modern texts, scholars will have to rely on what are often products of the nineteenth and early-twentieth centuries. These were remarkable in their time, but scholarship and methods have moved on, meaning that they no longer fulfil the requirements of the modern scholar. Additionally, the pressure to produce monographs means that these are sometimes being rushed so as to fit in with an arbitrary deadline, rather than scholars having the space to allow their research to develop and mature organically.

Marianne Martens: I feel like the Internet has given all of us shorter attention spans, and in recent years, academic journal articles have gotten shorter. I think this has an impact on academic books as well – why read a book-length work if there’s an even shorter journal version on the same topic? The cost of monographs is also prohibitive, and even my university library will buy access to e-versions of books before (and if) they buy print.

Eugene Giddens: Open access – no question. In the age of misinformation, we can no longer hide cutting-edge research behind paywalls, but we need to figure out who pays. Of course academics already give a lot of ‘free’ labour, especially independent scholars and precarious early-career researchers. There isn’t a purse big enough to meet the true cost of research and publishing, so we need to find ways to increase dissemination without decreasing quality. The closest solution I have seen to this problem is the fantastic discussion that sometimes emerges on academic Twitter.

Kim Wilkins: Sustainability and open access.

Lucia Cedeia Serantes: Accessibility (cost, formats, open access, payways etc) and visibility (discovering new books beyond your already known academic clusters)

Elements in Publishing and Book Culture is a new series of research-focused collections of Elements on aspects of Publishing and Book Culture. Click here to find out more about this Elements series.

Elements available in this series include:

Young people comics and reading         Digital authorship       Publishing the science fiction canon       Contingent canons       Picture book professors


About The Authors

Rebecca E. Lyons

Rebecca Lyons is a Teaching Fellow at the University of Bristol, where she recently completed a PhD on Women Readers in the Fifteenth Century; she is also an experienced editor, an...

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Samantha J. Rayner

Samantha Rayner is a Reader in UCL’s Dept of Information Studies. She is also Director of UCL’s Centre for Publishing, co-Director of the Bloomsbury CHAPTER (Communication His...

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