Sunday, April 19, 2009

Most of the Time I Do My Best Not to Do This....

So I started reading Sepulchre by Kate Mosse yesterday (a grocery store purchase made on a whim) and for the most part I'm thoroughly enjoying it. Now, is it the best book I've ever read? Not so much. But is it engrossing, entertaining, and a great pleasure-read? So far, yes.

Typically I can cut a book like this a ton of slack. And typically, I don't get too disgruntled when things are outlandish in such a book. So, for example, I'm on board with the whole "the tarot cards are sending definite signals" thing, and I'm also on board with the whole "there is an important connection between these people from a hundred years ago in the book and this biographer character from today" thing, and even I'm cool with the idea that there is something supernatural going on in the book.

But, in spite of my abilities in the area of willingly suspending my disbelief, I am decidedly not able to look the other way about the following passage:

"After a couple of years of researching and planning - but getting nowhere - she'd caught a break. Six months ago, a small start-up academic press made a modest offer for the book. The advance wasn't great but, given that she didn't have a reputation in the field of music criticism, it was pretty good. Enough to make her dream of coming to Europe a reality. She was determined to write not just another Debussy memoir but the book, the biography.

Her second piece of luck had been getting a part-time teaching post at a private college outside Raleigh-Durham, starting the spring semester. [. . .]

After ten years of paying her way through college, Meredith had racked up a lot of debt, and money was tight. But with what she made from teaching piano, combined with the advance from the publishing company and now the promise of a regular salary, she summoned up the courage to go ahead and book the tickets to Europe." (56-57)

I have tried to stop being irritated by the above, but DUDE! a "part-time teaching post" is not (as my readers here well know) a "regular salary" on which one could live, let alone justify a pricey trip to the UK and to France (Paying 10 Euros for breakfast! Agreeing to pay 30 euros for a 1/2 hour tarot reading! Staying in a swank hotel in the heart of Paris, and then in a 5-star place for a few days in the country as a "reward" for roughing it! Not taking the metro once! Flying as opposed to taking the train to the countryside!) by any stretch. And an advance from an small academic press for a first book? DUDE!

I realize my complaint here isn't terribly articulate, but this is exactly why I feel like people who aren't academics - or who have little to no familiarity with academic life - should not have characters whom they style as academics. Of course people think that this is a cushy gig, if the "realistic" parts of the book include these details! Hideous!


Jenny Davidson said...

I am laughing at this post! And you know, I felt a rather similar thing about "On Beauty" - ZS makes this character be an adjunct professor, in his 50s, who has never published a book - it is not at all clear how his family has even minimally enough money to support their lifestyle - but also the ruthless status-aware students of the Harvard-Wellesley-type hybrid she depicts would NEVER idolize an adjunct professor with no book!

Another Damned Medievalist said...

I had a 2/3 time pro rata position once. It was a guaranteed salary for two years -- and was about $30k a year. Enough to live on, not enough to live well on in the big city, even with the extra adjuncting at another college. Definitely not enough for Europe!

Rohan Maitzen said...

Did you see the movie Smart People? It contains even more absurd and inaccurate fantasies about academic book publishing.

Academic2 said...

If I read this book, I would be laughing so hard, I'd have peed my pants at this point.

My first book did exceptionally well in my discipline--about 175 copies...

I paid the light bill with the first royalty check and took my wife out for cheap BBQ with the second.

helenesch said...

Thanks for the laugh! And it's funny that Smart People is mentioned above--that's exactly what I was thinking of when I read your post (and I'm not even in English!)

heu mihi said...

Oh, I was going to post on On Beauty, too--but I do need to make a small connection to Jenny Davidson's comment, above. The professor in Smith's novel wasn't an adjunct; he was, in fact, going up for tenure. But going up for tenure after *ten years* (for some reason)--and also going up *a second time.* Um, dude, you don't exactly get a second shot at the deal, especially not in the elite swanky schools....

That really annoyed me, because Smith seemed to know something about academia (or anyway, this was the kind of thing that it'd be pretty easy to find out). However, the examples that you cite, Dr. C, are far more detrimental to the popular conception of the profession, and thus more egregious.

PMG said...

To be fair, there isn't a good scholarly English-language biography of Debussy, so it's a good idea for a proposal at least!

yours in musicology,

Dame Eleanor Hull said...

DO NOT READ _The Night Villa_, which stars a classics professor at UT Austin, where she was a grad student; important events happen when she was a 2nd-year grad student, 5 years prior to the main action; she is completely unworried about tenure though she says of a colleague that he's worried about it 8 years after leaving Boston.

Now, maybe she's the star of stars and colleague had some interim positions, but *I* shouldn't have to do the work of explaining this to myself. Why will authors research all kinds of things, but not phone the nearest university (let alone Classics at UTA) and ask how things work???

All the above was bad enough, but the book is a bad pagan knock-off of the D V Code. I mean, I'm down with pagan, but it was just bad. Hopeless archeological technique or lack thereof. Positively supernatural/magical technology for reconstructing ancient papyri. Etc.

Dr. Crazy said...

You know, I've actually read The Night Villa and it didn't bother me quite so much. I think it was just so outlandish that I overlooked its silliness - maybe because the silliness was integral to plot? The thing that got me about this stupid book was that there was no reason plot-wise that this even needed to exist - it was just thrown in as this detail that was WRONG.

As for On Beauty, what irritated me most was that ZS SHOULD have known better. She worked on the book while she was doing a writer in residence gig at Harvard - and I like to think that she's not an idiot. I have to say though, I was much more bothered in that book by the way she got American dialects TOTALLY wrong. What American college student refers to somebody as "your man," I ask you? And don't even get me started on the character from Kentucky. HIDEOUS.

And Smart People. I totally saw it, because my mom told me I should watch it because of the professor character with his book. This resulted in a lengthy conversation after I watched it, as you might imagine.

Other offensive movies in a similar vein:

The Mirror Has Two Faces
Mona Lisa Smile
Bull Durham

I've got to say, I kind of loved Philip Seymour Hoffman's portrayal of a professor in _The Savages_, but this may just be about my irrational love of PSH.

gwinne said...

I actually like Mona Lisa Smile (as a sort of feminist revision of Dead Poets Society)...have taught it alongside The Bell Jar.

Bardiac said...

Wait, you mean you don't have a villa in the south of France, paid for by your university? And the fawning editors from the UP (not, for a change, the Upper Peninsula), don't they buy you dinner and drinks at all the conferences?

And your male assistant profs don't all look like Indiana Jones?

Because that's how my fantasy works!