Sunday, January 04, 2009

Imaginary Academics

I've been listening to a book on tape, as usual. This one's Geraldine Brooks' People of the Book, a novel about a bibliographer who curates rare manuscripts. She's called to Sarajevo to work on a medieval Haggadah, the Sarajevo Haggadah (hey, this one actually exists!). During her work, she discovers wine stains, a Venetian censor inscription, salt, a bit of insect, and a hair (and maybe more, I haven't finished). And then as she looks into each other these, there's a narrative that tells the story of the Haggadah and how the stains or whatever came to be where they now are. All that's very interesting, but I do find the lack of finish to the mini-narratives a bit frustrating. What happens to Ruti in trying to escape Spain during the expulsion? How does she escape, and where does she go?

(There's also the really irritating lisp the CD reader gives one of the Spanish characters; I think she's trying to give a sense of a Barcelona accent, but it's just irritating.)

But, the other part of the novel follows the narrator as she deals with her famous mom and learns that her dad, too, was famous; he was a famous artist. And she galavants around continents, across Europe, to the US east coast, and so forth.

And that's the part of the book I find sort of irritating. Because, really, how many people have famous moms and dads? There are no worries about money, no student loans to worry about, no nothing. It's sort of like watching Indiana Jones, and thinking his is anything like an academic's life. It takes an effort in disbelief. In the case of Indiana Jones movies, at least they're amusing and laughing at themselves along the way.

Have you ever noticed how depressing most of the books about the midwest are? I suppose Moo isn't, totally. I lived in a town with an annual Prime Beef festival, including a Prime Beef Princess. It's pretty hard not to be depressing when high school girls in town aspire to be the Prime Beef Princess.

I feel like I'm in EEBO-less exile.

I want to be able to go outside without being miserably cold, and to call up old college friends or one of my relatives and go out to dinner.

I hate winter.


  1. I'm starting to think there are only two phases to winter: cold and miserably cold. The compensations are that there's usually no snow to shovel with "miserably cold."

    The way you feel about academic movies is kind of the way I feel about Woody Allen movies. Everyone always has limitless amounts of money and fabulous apartments, even if they're supposedly writing for a living--hah!

  2. I think she's trying to give a sense of a Barcelona accent

    If that's true, it's sort of unfortunate, because a true Catalan accent would mean that they didn't speak with the 'th' sound. That's a common marker of Castilian Spanish, but people who are native Catalan speakers who are hardcore about their identities will speak with a Catalan accent, and Catalan doesn't have the 'th' sound.


  3. I just finished that book tonight! I liked it quite a bit, but I was rolling my eyes about Hanna's working conditions (flying first class for the rich collector?). The lack of closure about all the smaller narratives was rather frustrating--but I liked the way all those mysterious threads influenced the provenance of the manuscript.

  4. With you on the suckiness of winter. What I wouldn't give for a temperate climate!

    I just love the life academics/professors live in books and movies. If only it were so! It seems like I spend quite a bit of time trying to convince people that "conference" is not code for an exotic vacation and that I do indeed have to work in the summer - without pay, no less.

  5. I can't believe how quickly my blood thinned when I moved to the west coast. I lived in Indiana (26 years) and Wisconsin (3 years), and then moved to California (for the last 3 years). You'd think all that midwest living would have given me a tolerance of cold that would resist jackets in the "winter" that is in the bay area. Not so. I'm sitting here freezing right now, though the high today was 53. AND my heating/electric bill was 180 dollars last month. AND I'M STILL FREEZING. Oh well. I do like winter here, though -- it's the only time there's even a hint of a chance of rain. And sunny and 65-75 every day does wear on you after a while. (Yes, I'm aware how bratty it is to complain about California weather, but I also pay 1900 dollars a month in rent, so... yeah...And that's cheap!!)