The Best of Brit Lit

The editor of the Times Literary Supplement picks his favorite reads, from “chavs” to pulp Oriental novels to literature in the psych lab.

09.09.11 2:45 PM ET

Working Class Blues
"The working class is in trouble" declares Andrew Gamble in the TLS, highlighting the predicament of the pejoratively named "chavs." The recent riots, he explains, "showed how extreme is the loss of respect for the law and for authority among some younger members of the underclass, both black and white."

Chavs by Owen Jones

Literature in the Psych Lab
Perhaps we are conversely showing our writers too much respect; Gregory Currie urges "a recognition that when we engage seriously with great literature we do not come away with more knowledge, better abilities, clarified emotions or deeper human sympathies. We do exercise capacities that let us explore a fascinating, demanding conception of what human beings are like—probably a wrong one." In the light of new psychological research, Currie asks us to reconsider how we read.

Shakespeare’s Beasts
In the TLS, we look at how an age-old question—what distinguishes humans from animals?—inspired William Shakespeare: Russ McDonald recalls the time when a judicial hanging, after due process of law, was thought an appropriate response for young homicidal pigs—being eaten was too good for them. Reviewing Andreas Höfele’s Stage, Stake, and Scaffold, he considers how “some of Shakespeare’s most profound texts” relate to the fuzzy dividing lines between human and non-human creatures.

Stage, Stake and Scaffold by Andreas Hofele

Pulp Orientalism
Robert Irwin, meanwhile, turns his attention to pulp orientalism, explaining that "Modern thrillers set in the Middle East are heirs to medieval Christian treatises on Islam, holy wars and the Apocalypse." Surveying the depiction of the Middle East in 20th-century crime fiction, he discusses the history of crude caricatures, villainous Arabs, and dastardly Fu Manchus, up to the current Evangelical Christian thrillers—"like the Sheikh romance,  ... a genre of which some TLS readers may have been hitherto unaware."

Spies and Holy Wars by Reeva Spector Simon