Wear a Mask! Oxford Pandemic Portraits by Oxford local Martin Stott (Signal Books, 2021), is a slender book’s worth of portraits of Oxford people wearing masks during the pandemic, the Foreword by Trisha Greenhalgh, Oxford Professor of Primary Care Health Sciences. The portraits are all shot from a uniform approach, so as to focus on the individuality of the subject. Every conceivable background and age group is taken in, so that diversity is a conspicuous quality of the book. There are placard-waving protesters so that Black Lives Matter and Extinction Rebellion are accorded their moment in the sun and the broader collection becomes a snapshot of social history at a peculiar moment in national history. Stott, a former city councillor, notes that the book gathered up almost accidentally – he was constrained too by lock-down but began to circulate the city. Far from being a source of anonymity, masks here become the colourful expression of individuality, a particularly British response one could say, but also as Trisha argues a valuable tool against COVID.
Alien Aloft is a memoir by Erik Jensen (Worcester, 1954), (Ex Libris Books, 2021), which takes us back to the enormously austere yet riotously becoming and burgeoning decade of the fifties, now so fondly recalled by Oxford’s alumni who remember it as undergraduates. Worcester’s Provost was J.C. Masterman, the legendary sportsman and future Vice-Chancellor of the University, casting the memoir in an immediate glow. Jensen became a member of The Buskins amateur dramatics society (there are three lovely photos of productions) and President of the Lovelace Club. He summarises Oxford then as Brideshead Revisited emulated but with the volume turned down – a muted reference to what the war had done to society, or rather what it had not done to class aspiration, but unmatched this time by the same gilded sensibility. Jensen then went on to a remarkable career at the UN and retired as Under-Secretary-General. There is a short but lovely foreword by travel writer Colin Thubron, and plenty of photos of critical moments at the UN.
Mutual Admiration Society, How Dorothy L. Sayers and her Oxford Circle Remade the World for Women (Little, Brown) is a wonderful volume by Mo Moulton, who is an academic historian at the University of Birmingham. Moulton says on her website, ‘At the broadest level, I am interested in collectives: how people join and form communities, and how they remake their own worlds through activism, art, and experiments in living.’ That is a brilliant clue here because the Mutual Admiration Society of the book’s title was the name of a small, tightly knit group of women who met at Somerville College in Oxford in 1912. Writers and activists and friends, they rebuilt the world around them and defiantly smashed up limitations that would have otherwise hedged them. A much-admired book that QUAD would have noted earlier but for the pandemic leaving it hidden on a desk in a stranded office!
How To Get On With Anyone (Pearson) is a management book by Catherine Stothart (St Catherine’s 1976). Lots of bullet points and check boxes about triggering positive emotions and maintaining your self-esteem, without overdoing it and above all by gaining self-understanding.