Elif Batuman is a grad student in Russian literature, and these essays are about her adventures. Aside from some dense portions related to the actual Russian literature, this book moves, due in no small part to Batuman’s dry, quick-witted humor that pokes fun at everyone from the Uzbek landlord who feeds her from an ant-covered jam jar to the elderly professor who literally shits his pants. The real gems, however, are Batuman’s introduction on why she avoided creative writing (reminiscent of her essay “Get a Real Degree”) and her reflections on grad student obsessions—both pointed commentaries on academia.
Two English professors, one American and one British, join their universities’ annual exchange program to escape disconcerting ruts in their respective countries. Lodge’s west-coast America is torn amidst the uproar of 1960s counterculture, while his small-town industrial Britain is chilly, polite, and exaggeratedly tame. By showing each world from the other country’s POV, Lodge creates a witty and poignant commentary on academic and social life on two continents. The novel itself also takes different forms in each of its six sections (letters, a screenplay, etc.), a cool twist on the relationship between fiction and reality.
Where I Got It
Bought from a used bookstore in Columbus, Ohio this past summer. I’d been meaning to read this book for literally ten years, after a former coworker recommended David Lodge to me in 2006. WHY OH WHY DIDN’T I LISTEN TO HIM SOONER? I enjoyed this book too damned much to have gone without it for so long.
2015 Review in The Guardian
Rules for “Humiliation,” a reading game Lodge invented for the novel
DePietro’s collection covers forty years of interviews with British novelist and man of letters Kingsley Amis, who has a lot to say on the writing process, British politics, and the working-class hero in post-WWII fiction as he moves from card-carrying Communist party member to hardcore Thatcher supporter over the course of forty years. The collection also serves as a useful, expedited autobiography of Amis’s life (with his philandering only alluded to), but can be repetitive since Amis retells the same anecdotes over and over—how many times can we hear him deny being one of the Angry Young Men?
Where I Got It
Bought online a few weeks ago as part of research for the new novel.
1975 Interview with Amis for the Paris Review
Or, check out Amis’s first and most famous novel Lucky Jim instead
Craig Brandon exposes some of higher ed’s most pressing problems: rising tuition, overconstruction, bloated administrator salaries, and too many administrative positions, which lead to decreased education standards, unsafe party school atmospheres, worthless degrees, and lots of debt. Unfortunately, though, Brandon writes like a sarcastic and angry old millennial-basher who overgeneralizes, repeats a lot of his points, and writes to an audience of worried parents rather than exploring the issues facing college students’ independence from their level. This makes for eye-rolling chapters that leave the reader feeling angry, even though dumbed-down college-student experiences ultimately affect everyone.
Where I Got It
Bought online in Summer 2015, years after originally seeing it reviewed in a list of new author releases.
The Five-Year Party on Amazon
Wall Street Journal review (summarizes Brandon’s points more succinctly than the actual book)
Higher Ed review (expands on the party school phenomenon with some solid insights)
I like books where writers talk insightfully about writing, and I also like books about young people finding their way—Sylvia Plath’s journals have both. She worries about the same things writers today do: getting published, getting rejected, making money as a writer, never recapturing her earlier success, and whether teaching is killing her creative drive, though she also worries a lot about dating and relationships (including whether 1950s gender roles will smother her creativity). The only problem is that finding these insights requires sifting through 500+ pages of journals and a lengthy Appendix. I recommend judicial skimming.
Where I Got It
Found in my office in grad school, left by previous inhabitant.
Sylvia Plath on Wikipedia
List of Quotes (for the skimmers)
Interview with Karen V. Kukil