Academic Book Week

Academic Book Week (9 - 13 March)

A week long celebration of the diversity, variety and influence of academic books, with a particular focus on the contributions of academic staff and researchers at Derby. 

Over the week there will be talks, workshops, displays, blog posts and a film screening. 

Find out more about our events

Review Your Favourite Book Competition

We’ll be tweeting about Academic Book Week through the week. You can contribute on Twitter using the hashtag #AcademicBookWeek. Make sure to mention @derbyunilibrary too!

We are also challenging you to review your favourite academic book in 280 characters. There is a £25 Blackwells voucher to be won by the writer of the best review! 

Our competition will run from Monday 9 March 2020 to Friday 13 March 2020. To enter, you must tweet using the #derbylovesbooks hashtag and tagging @DerbyUniLibrary. The Research Liaison Team (Library) will choose a winner, who will be announced on Wednesday 18th March 2020.

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Academic Book Week Blog Posts

Looking Back to Move Forward

Dr Daithí McMahon - College of Arts, Humanities & Education

Daithí McMahon is a Senior Lecturer in Media and multi award-winning playwright and audio producer.

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Retromania: Pop Culture’s Addiction to Its Own Past by Simon Reynolds (2011)

Why this book:

The reason I chose this book to write about was because it opened a door during my thesis, The Economic, Social and Cultural Impact of the Social Network Site Facebook on the Irish Radio Industry 2011-2016, which was completed in 2019. It helped me better understand what the implications of my research findings were culturally and socially. Furthermore, as a critic and cultural writer, Reynolds’ writing style and voice was refreshing amidst a mountain of often dense and turgid academic texts.

As with many of academic peers, work on my PhD oftentimes stalled when I hit dead ends, struggling to make sense of the masses of data, or fought my way through the literature in books, journal articles and other academic texts over the course of my research. My discovery of Reynold’s book was a timely port in the storm, invigorating my research with his perspective on ‘Generation Re:’ and his entertaining yet critical writing voice. Reynolds noted that people were becoming more interested in the past and the nostalgia tied in with it. My research found that all sections of society, but particularly those members of Generations X and Y, were becoming heavily interested in sharing memories with one another and reminiscing about their shared experiences on social media. Radio stations realised that there was capital to be gained from propagating material that fed into the audience’s yearning to relive or re-imagine past experiences through physical media, clothing, and other artefacts.

Looking Back to Move Forward

The significance of Reynolds’ work to my research was his commentary and hypotheses on the growing media consumer trends in revisiting cultural content of decades gone by in the context of a world in flux as a result of advancements in technology. He coined the term ‘Retromania’ to describe pop culture’s addiction to its own past. Reynolds observed the emergent interest in retro-fitting our lives with physical artefacts from the past and a reappreciation of cultural media texts such a books, films, music and TV shows and queried why this was happening. Retro is still trending today with rebooted music, fashion and media so influential in establishing taste, making it difficult to identify truly ‘new’ ideas.

An interesting point he makes is that revisiting and reliving of the past is a coping mechanism or a form of escape from the unpleasant present. He was writing at a time when the global economic recession had taken full effect. A time when many were feeling disillusioned and disenfranchised with the present, fearful of the future and overwhelmed by the newness of the swiftly growing role of technology in modern life. He argued that consumers’ affections towards all things retro came from a yearning for a time when life was simpler, happier and crucially, less digital. For many, myself included, this involved a desire to revisit the toys, TV programmes and films of my youth when I was unconcerned about the pressures of adulthood and an uncertain political and economic future.

Taking a voice out of his book:

Reynolds’ writing voice also helped to inform my own. I struggled, as many early career academics do, to elevate my writing to meet the expected standard found in most academic texts and journals I consulted in my research. As a playwright by trade I could see academic writing was a different discipline altogether. Reynolds is an expert in his field, speaks confidently on his subject, and asserts himself well through this text. I took a leaf out of his book, not just in terms of what he posits, but also from his affable yet authoritative writing tone. There’s no doubt that a great many books were highly influential and integral to my research journey, too many to list here, but Reynolds’ Retromania: Pop Culture’s Addiction to Its Own Past was one that stands out for me.

A Book to Pick You Up After a Hard Week

Robyn Fawcett - College of Business, Law and Social Sciences

Robyn has a Masters in Criminology from Birmingham City University. She started her PhD at the University of Derby in September 2019. Her research centres on social harm, Universal Credit and the lived experiences for recipients in Derby.

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You are a Badass: How to Stop Doubting Your Greatness and Start Living an Awesome Life by Jen Sincero (2016)

Academic Book Week serves as an excellent opportunity to share and reflect within the University and across the Derby community. The book I have chosen to discuss is not academic - it focuses on self-reflection and self-belief.

I discovered this book in 2016, and it has been my go-to mood boosting book ever since. It has helped instil quiet confidence and overcome (for the most part) those feelings of self-doubt and anxiety - feelings all too common inside and outside of academia.

Sincero's writing style is fun, humorous, full of wisdom and occasional profanity. Her book is a breath of fresh air. It is a gentle relief from deadlines, sleep deprivation (why do children hate bedtime?) and the pressures of starting a PhD at a totally different University.

I chose to discuss this book, as it has had a profound impact on how I view my life, opportunities and navigate hardship. I felt it could resonate with so many people, in different ways, at whichever part of their journey they may be on. We often cringe (myself included) at the notion of looking inward, self-reflecting and stepping out of our comfort zones. However, I think it's a crucial part of living life authentically. Sincero tackles these topics in a playful manner, which makes you stop and take stock of your life.

Sincero discusses her own experiences and how her change in perception transformed her life. There is always something reassuring and soothing about reading other people's struggles and becoming self-aware. Therefore, this book encouraged me to take small steps that transformed into giant leaps towards the unknown. It has pushed me to do things I previously wouldn't have considered, such as pursuing a PhD in a topic I'm genuinely passionate about.

Sincero achieves this by discussing a higher power, the universe working for us and not against us. One of my favourite quotes from the book is "All that matters is what's true for you, and if you can stay connected to that without straying, you will be a mighty superhero".

I know, I know, it sounds slightly outrageous at first. Still, it helps challenge your perspective, to find positives in even the most difficult situations, making life easier to manage. 

Another section of the book discusses procrastination and perfection: looking for the perfect desk, reorganising the cupboards and materials to begin writing. We procrastinate because we are afraid of the unknown or we are worried we aren't good enough or the most qualified person for the role. Sincero eloquently asserts “procrastination is one of the most popular forms of self-sabotage because it's really easy".

This quote really resonated with me. She goes onto state done is better than perfect and it is something I have taken on board over the last few years. It has led to a more relaxed approach to reading, research and writing. This approach has taken off the pressure and led to better results

To end, I’d like to quote one of my favourite passages from the book. It addresses facing fear of the unknown, in pursuit of your ambition and dreams:

"Is your fear greater than your faith in the unknown (and yourself?)

Or is your faith in the unknown (and yourself?) greater than your fear?”  

A Writer’s Toolkit, 2,500 Years in the Making 

Alistair Hodge - Head of Humanities and Journalism

Relatively new to academia, Alistair has spent the majority of his working life as a book publisher, commissioning and editing new books, often by academic authors. After thirty years of that, in 2016 he brought his publishing experience to bear in setting up publishing programmes at the University of Derby, first at postgraduate and then at undergraduate level. He is now Head of School for Humanities and Journalism, but still teaches editing and the delights of classical rhetoric.

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Classical Rhetoric for the Modern Student by Edward P. J. Corbett, Robert J. Connors (4th ed., 1998)

A tradition lost

In Britain, it would seem, we have lost something rather special. Over the last half century or more, neither in schools nor in most universities have pupils or students been exposed to a profoundly rich vein of ancient knowledge and expertise: classical rhetoric. This is a great shame, because of what it can offer of real value to writing, to speech making, to politics, and to the wider world of public discourse.

In the USA rhetoric is still seen as an important topic of study and a valid, vital part of a rounded liberal education, which is perhaps why most of the good books, including this one by Corbett and Connors, are written and published there. That explains, also, why so many of the historic examples they use are American, from the Gettysburg Address to the speeches of Kennedy, King or Obama.

My own personal journey of discovery began as a writing and editing practitioner 35 years ago, but my interest and research into classical rhetoric was really kick-started (as a motorcyclist I allow myself this metaphor) by the purchase of Classical Rhetoric for the Modern Student.

I recall paying £70 for my copy. Not an insignificant sum for a book, and yet I was intrigued not only by the subject but by the title, which implies contemporary relevance.

The power of the ancients

When one thinks of a time before word processors, the internet, and typewriters, before even books as we know them, or printing, or widespread literacy, one can appreciate the reasons for the evolution of sophisticated techniques of communication that relied solely on the human voice. For tens of thousands of years oral communication was the mode of communication. Storytelling, public discourse and debate, political argument and legal contestation were all profoundly oral and aural experiences.

Soon, ancient Greek and Roman rhetoricians – Aristotle perhaps the most prominent – began to codify the techniques of such matters. Eager students were now taught that there were five ‘canons’ of rhetoric: inventio, or how to ‘discover’ the facts and the logical arguments to underpin one’s case; dispositio, or how to organise one’s thoughts into a logical, powerful order; elocutio, that is, expression or style, and how to use rhetorical techniques to enhance one’s work; and memoria, and pronuntiatio, the two canons dedicated to explaining how orators can use memory and performance (gestures, voice modulation, facial expressions) when delivering a piece.

For 2,500 years such things were taught. In the Renaissance the work of the ancients was rediscovered, and refashioned for that new age.

Over the course of the last century, such concerns have fallen away from our school curricula and our consciousness.


I have been working with authors and writing (mainly non-fiction) for almost forty years. I only wish I had discovered my Corbett and Connors four decades before I did.

In practical terms, the third canon – elocutio, or style – is probably the most relevant today. Would not any aspiring writer, and every professional editor, do well to get to grips with all of its liberating and enabling schemes and tropes, its anaphora and its epistrophe, its alliterative tricolon and its zeugma, its synecdoche and its diacope, its metaphor, and, of course, its rhetorical question …? (Lol, see what I did there?)

Such literary techniques, once learned and appreciated, are enabling. One can view them much as one would a carpenter’s tools, each useful in its different way for honing and shaping, crafting and perfecting, one’s work. They can be liberating because English language is largely taught according to ‘rules’ of grammar and syntax that themselves are often arbitrary and restrictive. Classical rhetoric allows writers immensely more freedom that most English teachers would dare allow their pupils to believe.

Inspiring further study and reflection…

The best academic books inspire one to research or to reflect, to change one’s view of the world. Even as an experienced and long-established writer and editor, I found real inspiration in delving into this varied world of classical rhetoric. Not least, it has increased and deepened my appreciation of the subtleties, the beauty, and the endless possibilities that our use of language can bring.

I end with a peroration of Aristotle: ‘I have done. You have heard me. The facts are before you. I ask for your judgement.’

In short, if you are a writer or an editor, I invite you to consider paying the £70 for this book …