Reading List: July-August 2001

 

We asked several administrators to recommend a novel of campus life.

Kingsley Amis’ Lucky Jim had the luck to get two mentions. Steve Cohn, director of Duke University Press, says, “Although it is about a campus in a place and time (the England of forty years ago) quite removed from ours, I find it far wiser—and also far funnier and far better written—than any novel about an American campus that I know.” Dean of the Chapel Will Willimon adds, “Its portrayal of the perils of being a young professor is unequaled.... I sometimes think that we academics, even we non-English ones, are too easy prey for satirists.

Sue Wasiolek ’76, M.H.A. ’78, LL.M. ’93 marked herself as a fan of the enduring but elusive J.D. Salinger, and particularly of his short-fiction stories collected as Franny and Zooey. “Although it focuses on the nervous breakdown of a young woman in college, its real theme is to remind us that everyone wants to belong and find purpose in life,” she says. “It truly provides inspiration for me to focus on the simple things in life and to recognize that I am part of something so much bigger than myself.”

Kay Singer, associate dean of Trinity College and health professions adviser, has a triple recommendation: Don DiLillo’s White Noise (“My favorite passage is the description of a team-taught seminar in which pop-culture-studies colleagues dissect the relationships of Hitler and Elvis to their mothers); Francine Prose’s Blue Angel (“political correctness, sexual harassment, punk students, and boredom at a small New England college”); and Carl Djerassi’s Cantor’s Dilemma (“scientific mentoring, intellectual property, ethics, honesty, and trust”).

University Librarian David Ferriero singles out Michael Malone’s new novel, First Lady, being released in the fall. The plot, as he describes it, centers on “a serial killer in the environs of Haver University, a large private university in North Carolina’s Piedmont.” Ferriero is drawn to Malone’s knack for creating “a ‘village’ of interrelationships both touching and humorous”—not to mention “the Duke setting in disguise and Inez Boodle, the hot barbecue sauce heiress.”

Favorites for the editor of this magazine include Richard Russo’s Straight Man, whose main character, the chairman of a small-college English department, comments about himself and his fellow faculty: “Anyone who observed us would conclude the purpose of all academic discussion was to provide the grounds for becoming further entrenched in our original positions.” He also recommends Philip Roth’s The Human Stain, in which the Big Issues—the Vietnam War, the Clinton impeachment, identity politics—impinge in unexpected ways on individual academic ambitions.

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