Wednesday, October 24, 2012


From the Mailbag: Put on Your Crowdsourcing Hat

We have two book-related queries from our readers today, and your assistance would be invaluable in the process.

Question the First:

Elise writes to inquire about novels and stories in which professors get into trouble, and then die. She's sure she's read at least two of them, thinks it may be a trope, and would love to know if there are others. For my part, I immediately thought of a recent (controversialllllll) blog post by Joe Hiland at Indiana Review, in which "Scholars Misbehaving" joins "The Sad Garage Sale" and "[Insert Character Name] is Sick" as Three Stories Unlikely to Make it Beyond the Slush. Relevant chiefly to publishing nerds and people wondering why Indiana Review is failing to accept their submissions, it's still worth a read. Especially if you're interested in entering their fiction contest, judged by the superlative Dana Johnson, entries due by October 31st (!) Okay, guys, what are some books about Scholars Misbehaving (and then dying)?

Question the Second:

From Liz – "I was hoping you might be able to help my mom pick a good read for her book club. Her turn only comes around once a year and she always agonizes over the decision. The club is 12 ladies, almost all retired, and many of them were teachers. There are a variety of tastes but they are usually all very studious and thoughtful (I joined in when they did Hunger Games and they all had printed out various lists of themes and maps of Panem and had an intense discussion about how you could teach the book–it was pretty adorable). My mom likes politics and always wants to pick some kind of dry nonfiction, but I fear not everyone is into it. Also, people will be reading it during December holidays so something that is easy to get through in a busy month is great. And it also needs to be in paperback already, so Cheryl Strayed's "Wild" is out which was what I was going to suggest. Can you help us think of something interesting and fun that a group of retired elementary school teachers would enjoy discussing?"

Yes, we can do that!

Book club picks are so tricky, aren't they? I'm going to simplify our task somewhat by requesting that we come up with writers who are still active (support the writers!), and I'll toss out, hm, four ideas, and then the rest of you can chime in.

1. Lives of Girls and Women, Alice Munro
2. The Last Report on the Miracles at Little No Horse, Louise Erdich
3. The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao, Junot Diaz
4. Gilead, Marilynne Robinson

Speak to us of your book clubs!

146 Comments / Post A Comment


For Question #2, I'd suggest The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks! Nonfiction and semi-political (at least, can start up political discussion), but a quick read... and it opens up a lot of topics for discussion AND for further research, since they seem into that.


@SarahP Also Room and The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time, because they're both told from interesting perspectives that I feel like elementary-school teachers would appreciate.

sugar cubism

@SarahP I had just logged in to suggest The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks! I finished it yesterday and it's soooo good! And there's so much to talk about in there!


@SarahP My book club did TILOHL and it was a very, very interesting discussion. Other book club favorites were The Life of Pi and Motherless Brooklyn.


@SarahP I like all of your suggestions and wish to subscribe to your newsletter (reading list?).


@SarahP Another vote for Room! I loved it. Henrietta Lacks, on the other hand, left me cold.


@themegnapkin My book club did Room and we had a great discussion. We also taped the room to show the dimensions of Room (the dimensions are given in the text somewhere...) and held the meeting in that area.


@TheLetterL I had to stop myself at 3, but basically I want you all to know that I love recommending books and will do it ay any turn! (Though I'm not as good at it as Nicole because I don't know many living authors...)


@allofthewine That is awesome!


@allofthewine what an awesome idea! (It's 11 x 11, I just checked on my kindle.)


@SarahP We did the Henrietta Lacks book at my book club. It actually wasn't all that well-liked by most of the club, unfortunately. A bunch of people had some issues with the author, but we did get some good discussion out of it.

polka dots vs stripes

@MilesofMountains Really?? Like what?


@MilesofMountains A few of them felt she was simultaneously trying to write herself as part of the story without being willing to make herself a "character" the way everyone else is. I kind of agree with them, but unfortunately I'm having trouble explaining it. Two of the members felt she was trying to be a White Saviour to this poor black family, pestering them repeatedly even after they say they want nothing to do with her and writing about this close "friendship" even though none of the family actually seem to think of her as a friend. Also, just general complaints about the quality of the writing and feeling like she kind of wanders and repeats herself a lot.

My book club can be pretty harsh sometimes. The response to Five Quarters of the Orange was brutal.

polka dots vs stripes

@MilesofMountains Nope I totally understand - I did think she seemed to stretch the friendliness of their relationship, and there was definitely sort of a White Man's Burden aspect to it. I love it anyway.

Emma Peel

@MilesofMountains I'm glad other people feel that way. I loved the concept but didn't love the execution, and I think maybe the dynamic you cite is part of it. (Partly because it doesn't have to be that way -- thinking of Adrian LeBlanc, Alex Kotlowitz, Katherine Boo.) I think I'm going to reread it and see if my feelings change -- I read it in one day when it first came out, because I think I read it AT the bookstore, and have been sort of surprised how many people list it as an all-time favorite. Didn't hate it, but didn't think it was a masterpiece.


@MilesofMountains That's so funny, because I didn't enjoy the book that much myself (though I did find it a quick read), for similar reasons, but my book club and all of my friends loved it so I've kept quiet till now.

Nonetheless, I think it's a good book club read because most people who aren't me/your book club do like it and because those of us who don't still have plenty to talk about with it.


Ah ah my god+.+@k


So the challenge is to pick a wintery book - evocative snow, or deep dark forests - with a sort of political (but not too political) edge to it. Some kind of fantasy?

Ooh! For question no. 1 - would Pale Fire count? I know John Shade is quite mellow as things go. But he does die! And the book as a whole is brilliant.


@feartie I second this because Everyone needs to read Pale Fire if they want to understand what a novel can be.

the little c


Eowyn Ivey's The Snow Child fits this description perfectly. My book club and I found it very predictable, but it's based on a fairy tale and has beautiful descriptions of Alaskan wildlife. You really can't lose with either of those things in my opinion.

ETA: Eh, I guess it's not political. But it is about westward expansion in the early twentieth century? Could get some interesting discussion going.


@feartie Orhan Pamuk, My Name is Red -- so many scenes of mysterious painters trudging through softly falling snowflakes. And it's political -- but it's the politics of the image in early modern Istanbul.*

*And yes, Pamuk takes some liberties, and fetishizing Islamic injunctions against image-making is a thing, but I still like the novel a lot.


For the bookclub I suggest The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society. It's fiction, but it's about WWII and it's charming and delightful and I think it's a book that book lovers should enjoy.


@likethestore Strongly seconded.

polka dots vs stripes

@likethestore Ditto! I liked that book a lot.

Days like this I wish I carried my book journal around with me everywhere, I'm sure I have suggestions but can't think of anything except the most recent stuff I've read :/


@likethestore I just got that book at a rummage sale! A lady my mom's age recommended it and I figured she might be onto something. Looked good when I flipped through it.


@likethestore Oh. My. God. That. BOOK. I was sobbing - like, openly weeping, snuffling, ugly crying - on the subway reading that book. Just this one line killed me. But I don't want to say what it is because people may not have read it, but oh, the weeping!


@likethestore My mom recommends that book to EVERYBODY, touting it as the only book that she (a reader of mostly fiction or books related to her field), my dad (reader of political, religious, and historical non-fiction, or classic lit), and my maternal grandmother (reader of mostly news or non-fiction) all enjoyed. My sister and I liked it a lot, too.


@Bebe I did some ugly crying too. Kate Winslet is going to star in the movie apparently!


@likethestore I don't know if I could take the movie! Maybe I'll watch it alone at home! Another one that's good for an ugly cry about the terrible and amazing things that happened during WWII - Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet. A Chinese boy and Japanese girl become best friends in grade school at the beginning of WWII, and the girl and her family are taken to an internment camp, and the boy tries to find her. So good and so weepy!


For Question #1 -- The Human Stain! Coleman Silk is a professor, he definitely gets up to some stuff, and then he dies. Really good book too, actually.


For Q1, check out Lee Siegel's "Love in a Dead Language." It's hilarious and extra delightful if you enjoy books within books. Or if you've read "The Kama Sutra." And not just the illustrated version.

polka dots vs stripes

I would like to join Liz's mom's book club, please.


For #1, the Marriage Plot, obvi.

miss buenos aires

@sprayfaint Wait, who dies in that? I thought the DFW stand-in goes off to live in the woods or something?


For question 2 you might try "Olive Kitteridge" by Elizabeth Strout. It's a wonderful book, and is very thoughtful. Each chapter both stands on its own as a short story, and contributes to the overall narrative, so it's a good one for teachers who love to discuss form as well as content.


@bibliophile8117 I picked Olive Kitteridge for my last book club selection, and everyone seemed to like it. Good discussion. The year before that I picked Gilead, which was also well-received, though I think some of my friends wished it had a more action-packed plot. (Not me - it's one of my favorite books EVER.)


Q1: One of the novellas in James Hynes's Publish and Perish. Not the one with the cat who deletes the book manuscript, although that's definitely the story that still haunts me. One of my shelves is dedicated to academic satires, but I think the characters almost all survive.

miss lonelyhearts

@kualaruya I logged in just to recommend James Hynes for Q1. So I'll second this! Have you read Kings of Infinite Space? It features the same cat (and the same man), I think. It's a zombie office comedy. I didn't like it as much as Publish & Perish, I think, but it's fun.


@miss lonelyhearts It's the same character, but I agree, not quite as much fun as that first collection. The Lecturer's Tale also got a little silly by the end.


@kualaruya Publish and Perish came immediately to my mind when I read Q1. Great stories.

polka dots vs stripes

Ohhhhh Unbroken about a WWII bomber pilot who was track star about to break a 4 minute mile but ended up a Japanese POW instead. I think I read that whole book in a day. Guy is still alive, too, well into his 90s I think.

Or not, depending on the age/closeness to similar WWII or Vietnam experiences the members are.


@polka dots vs stripes Louis Zamperini! He punched a shark in the face! Great suggestion, and I haven't met one person who didn't absolutely love the book.


@chevyvan Oh man, he punched a shark in the face? I really hope that's engraved on his tombstone.


That blog post reminded me of when I was an "Editorial Assistant" (sounds fancy, but means "unpaid data entry clerk") at my college's literary magazine, in charge of marking rejections in a spreadsheet, and got to see the scribbled comments from readers explaining their rejections. My favorite was "PUN IN TITLE -- NO!"


@Elsajeni Hahah oh man, slush piles are fun.

dracula's ghost

The wretchedly awful book the Historian is about a professor getting in trouble, I forget if he dies, but the whole thing is about a dissertating student who has to save his dissertation chair from a vampire. That book sucks but does indeed fit the required bill.

Frankenstein is about the 19th century's version of a graduate student getting in trouble because of his studies. Also dies at the end.

The Secret History is about real nerds getting in trouble, though not professors and not dying at the end. Well one of them dies. Plus an old farmer. Sorry, spoiler alert.

Most of M.R. James's wonderful late 19th century ghost stories involve professors getting into trouble and often dying, or at least being haunted forevermore. They are really weird and Freudian and creepy and there are lots of hilarious jokes about university and about how boring professors are. James himself was a professor.

Is Faust a professor? If so that book would DEFINITELY fit the bill. I don't know if he is though.

Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf is certainly about professors getting in trouble horribly. I don't know if anyone dies but they all DESERVE TO.

STONER, by John Williams. Ugh, what an incredible book. INCREDIBLE. I hardly know anyone who has read it but it's one of the most beautiful books ever. About a farmer boy who gets the Shakespeare bug and becomes an academic in 19th century Missouri, breaking his parents' hearts. Lives as a professor and is mediocre and passive. Beautiful death scene at the end. Highly recommended.

Oh! Oh! A Single Man, by Isherwood!!! SOB!


@dracula's ghost I bought Stoner as a gift for my mother two years ago, but still haven't read it myself. Your comment reminded me to get on that!


@dracula's ghost Ah! I had looked up that book at one point and tried to find it to no avail, and then forgot all about it! I will resume the search thanks to your reminder.


@dracula's ghost It sounds like you didn't read The Historian at all. For one thing, the main character is a woman. It was a pretty good book, if dry, written in the style of Dracula, and it was a well researched, well written homage to the original. For shame sir/madam.

Harriet Vane

@dracula's ghost OMG I READ STONER!
Everyone I've recommended it too loved Stoner, it's amazing. I was going to recommend it for Q1 too!


I think The Secret History by Donna Tartt fits this category, though I haven't read it, so I may be wrong.
I just had great success with 12 Angry Men in my book group last month. I also re-read "The Dead" from James Joyce's Dubliners every year around Christmas. It's my only Christmas tradition that I enjoy. I fucking hate the holidays.


Oh! And for Q2 I recommend The Housekeeper and the Professor by Yoko Ogawa. Not a lot of action, but it's profound in its quiescence. It's a quick read, and I think the teachers will dig it.


SOB indeed re: A Single Man.

The Art of Fielding - another professor who misbehaves and dies. Wanted to like it so much more than I did, but really, how many more books can we write where the ladies and the gay men help the straight guys Find Themselves? Great baseball though.

Ashmead's kernel

@Margalo Cosigned. Such a promising first half, such a mess of a second half.

miss buenos aires

@Ashmead's kernel Ugh, and the first thing Pella does after her one-night stand is wash the dishes and scrub out the sink?! No. No. No.


For #1: Joyce Carol Oates' Beasts!


Question 1: Zadie Smith, On Beauty? But I can't remember if he dies. I feel like someone had cancer in that book though.


@GingerJane I think his rival does?


Blue Angel by Francine Prose and Coetzee's Disgrace are two excellent Professors Behaving Badly books.


@Decca Ahhhh! Can't even bear to watch the film version of Disgrace. So good, but so rough.


@Decca Ooo - forgot about Blue Angel. That was good!


@Decca loved Blue Angel, but I couldn't remember if professor dude dies at the end.


@claire_eileen@twitter I don't think he does, no. That plot detail is hard to include!


For #1, The Hair of Harold Roux is definitely about a professor behaving badly, but I can't remember if he dies at the end.

For #2, I wonder if Pulphead would work?

dracula's ghost

oh yeah On Beauty! Good call @GingerJane

dracula's ghost

Does Confederacy of Dunces take place at Christmastime? I seem to vaguely remember this. If so, why not take the opportunity to revisit that classic old saw, what a delight

Or just read Ethan Frome and harsh out your mellow

dracula's ghost

@dracula's ghost (because it's snowy, not because it's christmassy)


Pale Fire comes to mind for no. 1. Also Arcadia (though that is a play!)

For the second, my old book club very much enjoyed David Foster Wallace's A Supposedly Fun Thing, which is lively enough to suit anyone (guaranteed to promote table-thumping arguments) and will also satisfy the non-fiction lovers. Also we enjoyed A Woman in Berlin very much. For a novel, how about Old Filth? Or Fifth Business? Not long, but so absorbing, funny, sad and beautiful.

p.s. we read Gilead in that group and just loved it. Reminded me of Angle of Repose, a bit, style-wise. A SUPER NOVEL, but it's long.


@barnhouse I've not read Gilead, but I've read its companion novel Home and recommend it to everyone. Gilead is definitely on my To Read list.
(Edited for italics).


@barnhouse Seconding Old Filth! Do you recommend any of Jane Gardam's other books?

sceps yarx

@plumb-bob (formerly Pixa) I lurrrrrrved Gilead! It may just be one of the best books I've ever read.


We liked the Wooden Hat one, but not as much. Haven't read any others, though.


Do recommend for book club: Cloud Atlas. Just finished the book (in anticipation of the movie) and I loved it. It also works with a lot of themes/recurring symbolism that I think would be fun to discuss in a book-club context.

Do not recommend: Super Sad True Love Story. Tried to read it, ended up hate-reading 3/4ths of it where I literally started inserting comments into my Kindle copy, talking smack to the author about various plot points/descriptions/characters just like my dad yells at the TV news. Obvs I know some people loved this book, so YMMV.


@jule_b_sorry My book club read both of thos and I loved both of those. I did have a couple issues with Super Sad True Love Story, but they were mostly questions about some of the more science fictiony elements that didn't seem to work for me. I do not think any of the characters were particularly likeable, but that seemed on purpose.

miss buenos aires

@jule_b_sorry Were any of your comments concerning cunnilingus?


Book club suggestion: Island Beneath the Sea by Isabel Allende. My mom and I read it simultaneously, and enjoyed discussing it afterward. It's historical fiction, set in Haiti and New Orleans before, during and after the Haitian revolution. There are plenty of historical details for retired teachers to discuss, but it's also an interesting read, so it shouldn't be a chore.


Aaaaah! I actually cried at the end of that book, tears coming down my face, sitting on my front porch as I finished the last few pages! SOoooo good.

Also, for more on Haiti, I highly recommend the non-fiction "Avengers of the New World." "Island Beneath the Sea" made me want to reread "Avengers," but I haven't got there yet.


For #1 - the professors don't die in these, but there are 2 satirical novels about professors/academia that I really liked - Straight Man by Richard Russo and Moo by Jane Smiley.

For #2 - Is The Snow Child by Eowyn Ivey in paperback yet? It's fairly wintry, but is not remotely political - it's hard to say what it's about without giving the whole thing away, but I really enjoyed it.

For non-fiction, I really enjoyed Red Leather Diary - a NYT journalist happened to find an old diary kept by the college-age daughter of a wealthy family in New York in the 30s. The book is about the diary, and how the journalist tried to find the original owner. The diarist had a really interesting life, and it was very well done. Could spark a lot of discussions about feminism, the Depression, education, etc.


@Bebe Ahhhh I was just about to suggest those two book for Q1! Both very funny.


State of Wonder is professory/research types getting in trouble and dying. I just so happened to read it this month for my book club, although I don't recommend it because I didn't actually like it very much.


@MilesofMountains To each her own, but I suggest folks give it a chance, I LOVED it big time and thought it was super-smart. I think the author (blanking on her name) is not everyone's cup of tea though.


@Margalo That's a good point. I haven't read any of the author's books, but I came away with the feeling that she was probably a fantastic author, because the writing itself was wonderful, but I felt she dropped the ball with the plot and characterization.

miss buenos aires

@MilesofMountains Is it Ann Patchett? I loved loved loved Bel Canto but could take or leave the other few books of hers that I've read. I floated State of Wonder for my book club but no one bit.


For Questioner #2 I suggest The Submission by Amy Waldman. Topical!

Orrrrr Wolf Hall/Bring Up the Bodies.


OK I am going to violate Nicole's stipulation about active writers (sorry Nicole! I am a professional writer myself!) But! @Liz, if your mom is into politics, has she read the Palliser novels by Trollope? They are delightful, and being set in the UK in the 19th century somehow seem appropriate for winter. I especially like Phineas Finn, but they are all excellent, as are most of his books IMO (The Way We Live Now might also be appropriate for the book club).

I am envious of people who have yet to experience Trollope's books--they are so good, and there are so many of them. They are kind of comfort-reading, but not of the junk-food variety you regret later.

ETA: The Palliser series also puts our current dreadful US politics in perspective, a little tiny bit...

George Templeton Strong

@churlishgreen The Way We Live Now is an excellent book. Trollope writes about financial shenanigans and some serious class issues and those are always two good topics for discussion.


@churlishgreen I'm 3/4 of the way through The Way We Live Now, right now. I just can't believe how delightful it is and how I had never heard of it before Netflix threw the (also delightful) BBC miniseries of it in my direction. I read the first half in under a week (unfortunately, since my classes have started again, I'm now reading it at a glacial pace).


Q1- perhaps this is beyond a meaningful definition of "misbehaving," but aren't a fair number of Lovecraft stories about scholars checking out books from the libes that cause them to be consumed by Dickish Elder Gods and such?


Q1 - The Art of Fielding!!!


I can respect your rules Nicole, but this really taught me that practically all the fiction I read is by dead people. Anyway! My four picks:
The Shadow of the Wind Spain! The power of books!
The Angel's Game Same author! Spain! The power of writing!

Ivan's War: Life and Death in the Red Army, 1939-1945 This holiday season, be glad you are not freezing/starving to death in Leningrad. This is such a great book.
River of Doubt: Theodore Roosevelt's Darkest Journey Great true story about perspectives on defeat and hubris.


@highjump I, for serious, just finished reading The Shadow of the Wind an hour ago. Super dope! (But so much exposition, holy crap.)


@Interrobanged Then you should read his new book Prisoner of Heaven because it is basically Shadow Part II. It is good, but after waiting since Shadow to catch up with the characters I didn't understand why he didn't just make Shadow longer. Angel's Game is great too and has some of the same characters including the cemetery of forgotten books, which I consider a character.

all the bacon and eggs

#1 Not so much with the "dies at the end," but Straight Man, White Noise, and Wonder Boys are all about aging professors misbehaving and confronting their own mortality.

The Casual Reader

For Q1, The Egyptologist. Didn't love the book, though.

ETA: Just saw this photo of the autor and decided I quite liked the book after all: http://www.arthurphillips.info/HighResImages/ArthurPhillips_AndreasVonLintel.jpg


@The Casual Reader Ooohhh the Egyptologist! Interesting and twisty. As a reader I liked it, as an archaeologist I did not.

Also in this vein is The Hidden (in terms of academic/psychological intrigue).


My newly-formed Skype book club are about to start with Les Mis! I worry that it is too ambitious, as it is very very long, but I am still excited to get cracking!


#1: Jurassic Park! :P


For #2: City of Thieves by David Benihoff. It's interesting, funny, gripping and the setting is VERY VERY cold.


Since everyone's breaking the rules for #1 and listing professors who don't die, I will say LUCKY JIM. The best ever novel about a professor behaving badly? Probably!


For #1 - The City and the City, by China Mieville! Although I fear just by mentioning it in this category I might be giving away spoilers...Sorry!


@plumb-bob (formerly Pixa) China Mieville! Just wanted to say that I love him and his books.


@plumb-bob (formerly Pixa) Have you read The Scar. My brains are still scrambled by that book.


@Olivia2.0 No, I haven't - TCATC is the only one of his books I've read. But I did give The Kraken to my brother as a present in the hopes of borrowing it off him later (presents work like that in my family). But yes, definitely do want to read more Mieville.


Oooh, okay, I have to comment for the first time to recommend Staggerford by John Hassler for the first question. It's technically about a high school teacher, not a professor, but it's just incredible. Really really beautifully written and sort of about nothing but gripping anyway.


for question 1: Nabokov's Pnin! I would definitely say it is a trope, and kindof meta as well.


@downwiththeship "Our friend applied himself to the pleasant task of Pninizing his new quarters..."


Special Topics in Calamity Physics for the first one. Super fun!

The Casual Reader

@sarahm That book blew my mind! Ha ha.

miss buenos aires

@The Casual Reader You mean the teacher? I can't remember if a certain other main character died or not. That book got great in a hurry.


JM Coetzee's Disgrace is about a professor who behaves very, very badly and gets in trouble for it (but doesn't die).

Munich Pixie Dream Girl

@Lyesmith I was hoping he would by the end of it though.


@Lyesmith Just logged in to suggest Disgrace also.


I want to join a book club! Why haven't I ever done that?

For Q2, I would recommend The Monsters of Templeton. It almost reads more like a nonfiction memoir, but it is a fictional novel with a touch of magical realism. It is set in a small town; the setting has a bit of a To Kill a Mockingbird vibe, although it is set in the East rather than the South. My husband and I both love this book, and he usually prefers nonfiction.

For bookworms I would also recommend The 13th Tale and The Book of Lost Things because they are the most awesome ever.


@MrsTeacherFace The Monsters of Templeton is set in my hometown! (With the name changed.) So many of the characters are thinly veiled real-life people. I didn't really realize people outside of my town read this book!


For #1, I can't swear if the narrator dies, but I'm pretty sure someone does--The Lecturer's Tale is a hilariously bleak look at department politics and hijinks. It may help to know that I couldn't remember the title and found it by Googling the phrase "swiving Pescecane's woman."

Also, I love how The Hairpin is basically Jezebel for female academics!

sceps yarx

@sheistolerable When you said "Jezebel for female academics" it made me think of another really good answer for #1! It's The Game, by A. S. Byatt. A female professor and her sister have a horrid, evil relationship and then the academic comes to a horrid, evil end. I kind of wish I could erase the ending of that book from my brain, because it freaked me out!

Her novel Posession is much more uplifting and has lots of female and male academics behaving wonderfully badly.


@sheistolerable I'm so glad someone suggested Posession. I was hoping that by the end of reading the comments I would have remembered if a) anyone died in that book and b) the title!

I'm not sure if it's in paperback, yet, but Madeleine Albright's most recent book "Prague Winter" captivated me--it's on the longer side, but not difficult--and would definitely be good both for LW2's mom who likes non-fiction and politics and potentially also her book group, who might not. One of the best books I've read in the last few years!


@EmmaM I love Posession so much! I think that would also actually be a good suggestion for Q2, but I'd also like to add my vote for Cloud Atlas and I don't know if anyone's suggested The American Wife, by Curtis Sittenfield, but I really enjoyed that and think it would be a good compromise - fiction, but mildly political. N.B., though - Cloud Atlas was declared by my mother to be ridiculously confusing and is the reason she no longer reads books "written in more than one tense and/or with more than one narrative voice". I've explained the limitations of this andshe's having none of it. She LOVED Gilead though.


#1 Harry Potter - every book. It's usually the Professor of Dark Arts.


@plumb-bob (formerly Pixa) The history prof is already dead! And as far as bad behavior is concerned, the Potions Professor could really learn to let go of a grudge now and then.

Miranda Loeber@facebook

For the second one, I'd suggest The Party-Cloudy Patriot, by Sarah Vowell. It's political and non-fiction, but hardly dry.


@Miranda Loeber@facebook THIS THIS THIS! I loved that book so hard. It's also my favorite audio book to pop on during long roadtrips.


I'm just popping in to say, even though I GREATLY enjoy it AND Michael Chabon, the most obvious "Scholars misbehaving" story is Wonder Boys. There may not be death PER SE of the scholar in question at the end, but there's some Rearranging Of Life Position (tm) there.


In Robertson Davies' The Rebel Angels a professor misbehaves and dies! OK actually I think he's only a sessional lecturer but he definitely dies, and there are a few other professors who misbehave who live.


Doesn't the professor come to a bad end in "The Secret History"? And honestly, that new(ish) Stephen King book 11/23/63 is interesting in it's fiction but it brings up a lot of interesting moral time-travel issues and...it's good. My boss read it and really liked it. And I'm reading "Libra" right now by Don Delillo and it's sooooo goooooood. I guess I've decided to read all of the Lee Harvey Oswald novelizations this fall.


@Olivia2.0 I'm not really a particular Stephen King fan but I thought 11.22.63 was brilliant (even to a Brit like me who has issues with the formatting of the title...). Even my husband, who reads approx one fiction book per decade, loved it.


Oh, I do have a recommendation for #1, and for everyone ever, pretty much: The Beauty of Humanity Movement. It's definitely political (it's about the legacy of historical oppression in Vietnam) but it's also all about food and family and manages to be quite deep and complex, but the author has such a light hand it's not depressing. And who needs depression in the depths of winter? Like I said above, my book club can be pretty critical, but I don't think I heard a single criticism that whole meeting. We all loved it.

sceps yarx

For question 2, I'm sure most of the elementary school teachers have read this already, but The Chosen by Chiam Potok is such a beautiful little book. Adorable Jewish high school boys and a definite political/historical vibe.


For #2, I'd highly recommend Devil in the White City - pretty much nonfiction (I think? some of it is dramatized/imagined), very cold for parts of it, and super interesting. Don't know anyone who's read it who didn't like it.


Ooooh Twelve Angry Men who was a good suggestion. My mom's book club did A Tree Grows in Brooklyn last year and they all really loved it and said the conversation was great. Most of them hadn't read it since they were in middle school and revisiting it as grown women was fun for them.

Harriet Vane

This is an amazing thread! "College" novels is how I describe my niche reading tastes (to myself, in my head). Stoner by John Williams, this year's The Art of Fielding by Chad Harbach, Lucky Jim by Kingsley Amis - do any of these apply for Q1 writer?

Seconding suggestions for Room & Marriage Plot for Q2's mother. Crimson Petal & the White also maybe? Wolf Hall AND Bringing up the Bodies perhaps? All that history can be really fascinating and great to read around & get your teeth into.


@Harriet Vane YES WOLF HALL. I was just about to start Bringing Up The Bodies, having read Wolf Hall about a year ago, but first am going to retread WH just to remind myself what's going on, and I'm even excited about THAT!


Ohhh and for Question 1, Parasites Like Us features a professor who gets into a lot of trouble, and while he specifically doesn't die, almost all the other professors do. Plus it's an absurd, fun read.


Loving this thread! I want to suggest another David Mitchell book for Q2: Black Swan Green. It's one of the best treatments of adolescent schooldays I've come across and features speech therapy, poetry, divorce and the eighties, plus much more. A character from Cloud Atlas makes a brief cameo.


I read this whole damn thread saying "I'll just wait for the Middlemarch mention then I'll close tab. I'll just wait for the Middlemarch mention then I'll close tab." AND IT NEVER CAME.
Elise! Casaubon is the OG professor guy who does bad things, like being mean to Dodo, and then dies. (And he continues to do bad things after death, with wills and such!) Can't believe nobody mentioned it!

miss buenos aires

@Maghrebi He is terrible! I concur.


Also, how has no one mentioned Brideshead Revisited? I know Sebastian is only sorta scholarly, but he is an Oxford student...

miss buenos aires

So, spoilers ahead, obviously, but I asked the dead professor question and the two books I was thinking of were "The Human Stain" and "The Art of Fielding." But it felt so familiar when Affenlight died, I felt so absolutely sure that I had read the misbehaving professor conveniently dies thing about a million times. But reading your beautiful witty erudite comments... I got nothing. The professor doesn't die, or even really misbehave, in The Secret History, I couldn't finish Disgrace, I've never read any Lovecraft... Why did I feel like I'd come across this so many times before? Maybe it is the part where they misbehave and are professors and then I kind of wish they would die. But I get mad when they die because it feels so weasel-y. Hmm...

baked bean

Hey guys, wouldn't it be cool to have a Hairpin Book Club on Google Groups or something?


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