Saturday, February 16, 2008

Five best: satires of academic life

Roger Rosenblatt's contributions to Time and PBS have won two George Polk Awards, a Peabody, and an Emmy. He is the author of five Off-Broadway plays and twelve books, including the national bestseller Rules for Aging and Children of War, which won the Robert F. Kennedy Book Prize and was a finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award.

His latest book, Beet, is an academic satire.

For the Wall Street Journal, he tagged five "satires of academic life [which] deserve to sit at the head of the class."

One title to make his list:
Straight Man
By Richard Russo
Random House, 1997

Another idiotic English department? At least this one's in America -- West Central Pennsylvania University, a nice joke in itself. Hank Devereux, the department chair pro tem, is a wiseacre but an optimist and therefore envied and despised. (An interesting element of academic novels is that, at one time or another, everyone is envied and despised.) Russo tends to easy marks -- Grace DuBois, the once lusty poet who has gone to fat; Campbell "Orshee" Wheener, the protofeminist who appends "or she" to every "he"; and Hank himself, who has done what most professors do once they have published to avoid perishing: He never writes again. But for all the nonsense he suffers (he is suspected of killing a goose), one feels something for Hank and for the world beyond his reach. Every laugh Russo elicits precedes a sigh.

Read about Number One on Rosenblatt's list.

--Marshal Zeringue