Monday, August 30, 2010

Latest Grievance

In a recent post, I sought recommendations for academic novels that I had not yet read. Someone suggested Elinor Lipman's My Latest Grievance, which I had not read, but now I have read it and I found it very entertaining on a recent trip. Thank you for the suggestion, anonymous commenter.

Much about the academic setting in the book was unfamiliar to me -- a small "inferior" college that has housemothers or houseparents in the (all-female) dorms, a scandal-prone new president with a suicidal wife and a "rude and fast" daughter etc., but I was interested in the main character, a teen-aged girl whose parents are both professors at the college.

At times, this girl is not very sympathetic to her parents. She describes her father as an "unappetizing specimen" who is also "one of those daft-looking professors".

Her mother is unfashionable, and an intellectual snob. The daughter delights in playing with their minds, subtly revealing their hypocrisies and inconsistencies, disconcerting and manipulating her parents. She is devious, and entertaining.

And she longs to have a more normal family and live a more normal life, although, at the same time, she likes being the center of attention (a kid growing up on a college campus where her parents are both professors and houseparents in a dorm) and having an unusual life.

I read some passages of the book to my daughter, the only child of two professors. She nodded and smiled at some of the descriptions of the eccentric parents who are rather intense about their work. She could also relate to the fact that, in the end, the fictional daughter appreciates her little family unit, their peculiar habits and traditions, and even her unfashionable parents. (In the novel, stylish people do not come off so well).

Recently, my daughter and I were talking about various things, and she said "Sometimes I think that I am the only thing keeping you two from spending all of your waking hours working." She concluded that she is therefore good for us.

I informed her that she was exaggerating a bit about how much we work when she is not around, like when she is away at summer camp, but I agreed that she is definitely good for us.

We have a lot of fun together, so she knows that she is not an annoying obstacle hindering us from doing what we'd rather be doing. Mostly she seems amused by her parents -- lucky for us -- and says that she thinks it is great that we have jobs that are perfectly suited for us. And, since she is a teen, she now typically adds something like "especially since it's hard to think of anything else you guys would be good at".*

Perhaps one day she will write an academic novel about being the only child of two Science Professor parents. The non-"hard" sciences are rather well represented in this genre, and part of the fun the daughter in the Lipman novel has in lampooning her parents relates to the fact that they are professors of psychology (the dad) and sociology (the mom). Of course, since Physical Science Professors are so cool, any lampooning of particular science professory characteristics will have to be highly fictionalized.

* The other day, while our car was stopped at a red light near campus, four pedestrians crossed in the crosswalk in front of our car. My daughter gazed at them for a moment and said "Those guys make Dad look really cool."**

** They were obviously engineers.


NJA said...

One small quibble - psychology is not a humanities subject! All the hypotheses testing, controlled experiments and data analysis I do every day makes me fairly sure I'm doing science :)

Anonymous said...

Another suggestion Weisenheimerby Mark Oppenheimer. It is autobiographical, not a novel, and it covers middle-school through undergrad years of a student, rather than faculty, but it is a fairly good read.

Anonymous said...

Another small quibble - sociology is not a humanities subject. All the quantitative models, data analysis. I believe they call it a social science.

Anonymous said...

NJA and anon @5:50 - When does FSP say that they are? Weird.

Female Science Professor said...

I said it indirectly in the paragraph in which I wrote that the humanities are overrepresented in this genre, but then I edited the text so the implied "humanitization" of these fields was removed.

Namnezia said...

Try the book "Stoner" by John WIlliams. It is my favorite academic novel and a really good book. I'm curious if you would find it depressing or quite the opposite.

His other novel, "Butcher's Crossing" is also excellent.

Female Science Professor said...

I've been meaning to read Stoner for a long time and forgot all about it; thanks for the reminder. I'll check it out.

Anonymous said...

Hilarious post. Your daughter rocks.

Slant said...

Are you looking for novels specifically or will shorter forms work as well? I'm thinking short stories, poems, and the like.

Anonymous said...

Lol. Thanks for sharing about your family, it is nice to see a glimpse of how you (others) intersect family with work.

ME said...

I have a feeling I'm in for many similar comments in a few years! And as an engineer, I resemble the last comment!