Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Five Best Books: Academia

5 Best Books is the weekly meme hosted by Cassandra at INDIE READER HOUSTON. Each week there's a new topic and 5 book picks to talk about. This week it's books set in, around or having anything to do with Academia. I love academic satire and academic mysteries--must be because I work at the university and I love to see the academic-types get a good skewering. There are so many really good ones. Here's today's top five:

1. Paradise News by David Lodge: Take a tried and true academic and send him to Paradise. Mix well with an accidental encounter that will open him to possibilities never dreamed of at the college in Rummidge, England. [Other good ones by Lodge: Small World, Changing Places, and The British Museum Is Falling Down.]

2. Straight Man by Richard Russo: Richard Russo performs his characteristic high-wire walk between hilarity and heartbreak. Russo's protagonist is William Henry Devereaux, Jr., the reluctant chairman of the English department of a badly underfunded college in the Pennsylvania rust belt. Devereaux's reluctance is partly rooted in his character--he is a born anarchist-- and partly in the fact that his department is more savagely divided than the Balkans. In the course of a single week, Devereaux will have his nose mangled by an angry colleague, imagine his wife is having an affair with his dean, wonder if a curvaceous adjunct is trying to seduce him with peach pits, and threaten to execute a goose on local television. All this while coming to terms with his philandering father, the dereliction of his youthful promise, and the ominous failure of certain vital body functions.

3. Bodies in a Bookshop by R. T. Campbell: Botanist Max Boyle visits a "curious little shop in a side-street off the Tottenham Court Road" in London and is himself ecstatic with the bookish treasures he finds there. But then he finds something much more disturbing...two bodies in a back room filled with gas fumes. Boyle seeks help from "The Bishop," Chief Inspector Reginald F. Bishop of Scotland Yard. Bishop winds up asking for assistance from Professor John Stubbs, another botanist and amateur criminologist. The play between the professor, the protesting Boyle, and skeptical, world-weary Bishop is entertaining in itself.

4. Death in a Tenured Position by Amanda Cross:
When Janet Mandelbaum is made the first woman professor at Harvard's English Department, the men are not happy. They are unhappier still when her tea is spiked and she is found drunk on the floor of the women's room. With a little time, Janet's dear friend and colleague Kate Fansler could track down the culprit, but time is running out....

5. The Weight of the Evidence by Michael Innes:
Meteorites fall from the sky but seldom onto the heads of science dons in redbrick universities; yet this is what happens to Professor Pluckrose of Nestfield University. Inspector Appleby soon discovers that the meteorite was not fresh and that the professor's deckchair had been placed underneath a large, accessible tower - he already knew something of academic jealousies but he was to find out a great deal more.

Honorable Mention:
A History of the World in 10½ Chapters by Julian Barnes--purely for the marvelous short story "The Dream"--which tells us what academics do in heaven.

N: And who lasts longest? [in Heaven]

M: …scholarly people, they tend to last as long as anyone. They like sitting around reading all the books there are. And then they love arguing about them. Some of those arguments—she cast an eye to the heavens—go on for millennium after millennium. It just seems to keep them young, for some reason, arguing about books.
Narrator; Margaret
“The Dream”


Cassandra said...

Straight Man is a popular choice, it seems :) I like Russo. I'll have to check it out. I thought this would be a good topic for mystery fans.

And I'm definitely going to have to read all of "The Dream" It sounds so good!

Yvette said...

I want to read the Innes book when I get my hands on it. And also Bodies in A Bookshop.

neer said...

Love what Academics do in heaven. :)

Anonymous said...

I, too, love books in an academic setting. I immediately thought of one of my favorite series of mysteries, by Pamela Thomas-Graham. The first is A Darker Shade of Crimson. They never received much press, so I'm not sure she's still writing, but there were three available last time I checked. I highly recommend checking them out!

Anonymous said...

So many books in an academic setting! I haven't read any of these, I must confess.

Death in a Tenured Position is a fantastic title! Sounds like a fun book, too.