Daily Archives: March 30, 2011

The Nobel Committee knew what it was doing

Soul Mountain by Gao Xingjian

This is a marvelous book. The writing mixes folklore with existentialism. I can’t recommend it highly enough. I’ve been reading books on China like Wild Geese, which has a compelling story but the style was mediocre. Here we get literature and a glimpse into life in China. I wish he wrote more novels.

Gao (in North East Asia family names come first) has written many plays and lives in Paris. More of his work has been translated into French than into English.

Soul Mountain focuses on the narrator who learns that he doesn’t have lung cancer after all. He then abandon’s his life as a cog in a propaganda department to wander through rural China.

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Posted by on March 30, 2011 in classic, contermporary, Nobel Prize



Oil!by Upton Sinclair, the author of The Jungle, caught my eye at the library. I’m so glad it did.

Oil! is a brilliantly constructed satire or exposé of the oil industry in the early part of the 20th century, with many parallels with recent history, sadly. Sinclair makes each character realistic and flawed. He has great insight into people and how they muck things up because they’re too soft, too greedy, too idealistic, too divisive, etc.

The main relationship is between Bunny, who is a young teenager, and his father, an oil man who’s driven to make more and more money and to give his son a good life. The father feels that school doesn’t teach much of importance so when Bunny’s middle school age, he travels around with his father learning how things are done. (When there’s time a tutor comes to get the boy, who eventually does go to high school and college, up to speed on the three R’s.) The father is a self-made man who can sincerely justify any short cut in business. He reminded me of the first Richard Daley, since he was more street smart than book smart and really often came across as clueless about how things should be done.

Bunny, is a refined, nice boy, who attracts some interesting friends. There’s Paul a boy about his age, who’s run away from home and trying to escape a father who’s a religious fanatic, while earning money for his siblings’ food. There are Socialist friends at college and a movie starlet girlfriend. Since he’s a sympathetic person, Bunny becomes associated with people from all walks of life, often on very different sides of the era’s burning issues. He uses the money his father earned from fields fleeced from families like Paul’s to pay Paul’s bail when his friend cum hero is arrested by instigators his father’s associates hired to put an end to unionizing. There are many shades of gray though it’s clear some are far darker than others to Sinclair.

Through this story which follows Bunny as he matures, Sinclair skewers business, government, religion, Socialism, academia, college sports, the movie industry, well just about every institution in the society with the exception of the food industry, which he tackled previously in the 1903 novel The Jungle.

There are many history lessons in this novel as Dad is one of the men who funded or bought Harding’s way to the White House.

This book is action-packed and witty. It reads fast, but it’s no longer in print, even though it was the inspiration for the film There Will be Blood. It should be at your library though.

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Posted by on March 30, 2011 in American Lit




Here’s a link to the short story that this blog and it’s predecessor are named for.

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Posted by on March 30, 2011 in classic, fiction


Gypsy Scholars, Migrant Teachers and the Global Academic Proletariat: Adjunct Labour in Higher Education

This is the first time I’m posting on a book I haven’t read. It’s edited by my friend Steffen. It costs $64. Otherwise I would buy it and review it. The topic is germane to those in higher education.

Once adjunct teaching was considered a temporary solution to faculty shortages in institutions of higher education. Now it is a permanent and indispensable feature of such institutions, not just in the U.S. but worldwide. This book takes stock of this new development, concentrating primarily on the situation in the humanities. It looks at its impact on the lives of the highly-educated scholars and teachers from many parts of the world; scholars waking up to the sobering fact that higher education presents them with a two-tiered labor market in which they themselves are permanently barred from moving up to the higher tier. To them, being an adjunct teacher means experiencing frustration and humiliation. All essays in this book offer personal accounts of adjuncts’ experiences together with critical reflections on institutional conditions and suggestions for their improvement. In turn defiant, poignant, analytical, exasperated, and sardonic, these essays are always incisive and revealing. Their inside view-a view from below-shows higher education as a world different from how it appears to tenured professors and university administrators, different from that presented in most college brochures. For all those who care about the current state and the future of higher education-no matter if they are teachers, scholars, students, parents, or administrators-this book will offer valuable insights into the working world of academic teaching.
I will get it, used or when the price comes down.

They should unionize . . . though in this anti-labor era it ain’t gonna happen.

I do think there are other ways to bring down the cost of education. High schools can pay most teachers more, so it seems that they can find a way to do so in college.

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Posted by on March 30, 2011 in non-fiction


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