I’m in my spot, riveted to the book I am reading: Seveneves by Neal Stephenson. I know it’s late, so I check the time: 4 AM?! Ugh. I wake up mid-morning (at least it’s a Sunday), do a brunch-thing with the kids, then sit down to “just read a few chapters.” I look up; it’s 3 PM already? I go grocery shopping, make dinner, then squeeze in a quick read before getting the kids ready for bed. Finally, I’m back to my spot for some more chapters…2 AM already?!
That’s how much I have been enjoying this book. Set at first in the near future, the Moon is blown apart by an unknown agent, and the humans on Earth have just two years to launch life boats into space before the surface of the planet becomes uninhabitable. 5,000 years later, it’s time to return. This book is richly detailed and beautifully written. Stephenson is not afraid to include advanced scientific concepts in psychology, physics and biology. He uses real-life modern technology as a starting point in many of the plot details. I enjoy a science fiction book that has a basis in real scientific facts.
I have a love/hate relationship with Neal Stephenson. I was blown away when I read the cyberpunk thriller Snow Crash, so much so that I purchased my own copy. The Diamond Age did not disappoint, with a thoroughly engaging young female protagonist. I didn’t like Cryptonomicon as much as I thought I would, a speculative fiction book about WWII, secret codes, conspiracy, sunken treasure and high-tech business. It became bogged down in the mathematics of cryptography, which I didn’t mind, but I stopped caring about the plot before the book came to an end. I got fed-up with Anathem about halfway through the book. The setting was a future world where monks held all of the scientific knowledge safe from the aggressively ignorant masses. The hyper-focus on the esoteric and convoluted narrative was a little much for me to keep in mind from reading to reading. I gave Quicksilver, the start of a massive trilogy called The Baroque Cycle, a 50 page tryout, but put it down. I was not prepared for such a huge undertaking (yet).
Stephenson’s plot visions are multi-layered. He focuses on the minutiae but keeps his eye on the whole world. His brilliance is evident in everything he writes. I feel that the books I did not like might be a failing of intellect on my part. Perhaps I am enjoying Seveneves so much because he is writing about something that I myself think a lot about.
What time is it? I think I have a few minutes to sneak in another chapter.
I’ve long thought college life to be a great subject for fiction writing, but until recently I never knew that there is a recognized “college novel” genre. It was first brought to my attention two weeks ago when a library patron asked me for an old book called The College Novel in America by John O. Lyons. Unfortunately, after she pried it from my hands she checked it out, so I can’t tell you much more about it. However, I found a recent reference work on the subject at neighboring Hillman Library called The American College Novel by John E. Kramer, and I can tell you about that one and some of the hidden treasures it reveals.
Kramer provides annotations for 648 American college novels divided into two sections: student-centered and staff-centered. Some student-centered titles include End Zone by Don Delillo; The Paragon by Jon Knowles; Rules of Attraction by Bret Easton Ellis; Big U by Neal Stephenson; Continuing Education by Dorothy Weil; and Hippies by Peter Jedick. In the staff-centered category you’ll find The Human Stain by Philip Roth; The Temptation to Do Good by Peter Ferdinand Drucker; Straight Man by Richard Russo; Japanese by Spring by Ishmael Reed; Intimate Enemies by Caryl Rivers; Unholy Loves by Joyce Carol Oates; and Breakers by Martin Walser.
If you don’t want to sift through 648 books to decide where to begin your college novel reading, no worries, Kramer provides a top 50 recommendation list that includes Fanshawe by Nathaniel Hawthorne; The Women’s Room by Marilyn French; Fall Quarter by Weldon Kees; Rookery Blues by Jon Hassler; The Groves of Academe by Mary McCarthy; A Friend in Power by Carlos Baker; Stepping Westward by Malcolm Bradbury; and Wonder Boys by Michael Chabon.
Kramer also supplies an index that allows you to find titles based on a character’s staff position at their respective college setting, and yes, there are some that include librarians and archivists as main characters. Four to be exact: Alamo House by Sarah Bird; Lusts by Clark Blaise; The Devil in Texas by Wolf Mankowitz; and The Archivist by Martha Cooley.
Anglophiles, fear not: There is another book I stumbled across here at CLP called The English University Novel, by Mortimer Robinson Proctor, that features critical interpretations of Thomas Hardy’s Jude the Obscure, Angus Wilson’s Anglo-Saxon Attitudes, Dorothy Sayers’s Gaudy Night, and many more.
PS. You might have noticed that some of the titles in this post weren’t linked to the catalog. That’s because those titles aren’t available within our library system and will need to be obtained through our Interlibrary Loan service. Unfortunately, Interlibrary Loan was drastically affected by this year’s state budget cuts to library services, resulting in less access to materials by patrons, and increased costs to deliver those materials. Let’s not forget that in 2010 we need to sustain our advocacy efforts to ensure an increase in library funding in next year’s state budget.