Book Recommendation

I just finished reading P. F. Kluge’s Gone Tomorrow. It’s about the life of an English professor in a small liberal arts college in Ohio. Notwithstanding, it’s kind of terrific.

Putting aside the plot, the merits and progress of which I’m not qualified to review, I wanted to highlight a few passages from the book that spoke to me, and to the life of professors generally. In the first,the main character is described:

“Canaris was a sweet man, a gentleman, like everybody hopes to find in a college. He was the one person in the department you could count on for a discussion of books and ideas. There’s all this chat about who we should hire, who we shouldn’t have hired, whether semester courses are better than full-year, how we can be expected to be scholars and teachers and community resources all at once. But these aren’t conversations. These are cages that we all walk around in . . .”

So, I like this in part because it reminds me of one of Paul Horwitz’s great, recent posts, in which he mocks blogs’ obsession with these aspects of professional life. But, generally, it just resonates. So, too, did the following, about teaching a seminar, and the first day of class:

“They thought I was on drugs, wired, talking fast, gesturing nervously. I didn’t register my points patiently, didn’t give them time to laugh at the jokes I cracked. And, after half an hour, I’d come to the end of everything I’d planned to say: item by item, I’d sailed through it all . . . And then I was done. I asked for questions, looking up and down the dumb-struck table. I prayed for questions! No one spoke, it was awful. No questions. Or rather, silent questions: what were they doing there? What was I doing there? And how on earth were we going to get through fourteen three-hour seminars together, from this late summer sweatbox evening to December’s frozen ground and cement-colored sky?”

There’s much more of this in the book, which is basically an extended mediation about the life-cycle of being a professor, and its relationship with writing, ambition, and teaching. Since I suspect that the profession of professing will look entirely different in the next generation, I may be overreading a bit, but I also felt like the book was a bit of an elegy. Anyway, good stuff. Go buy and read it!

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