I decided to read David Lodge’s novel Small World. It is set at a small college in England, which was the basis of my decision to read. I am a fan of British history and pop culture and after my studies I am very well versed in some of the British colloquialisms. I have only worked as a student-cataloging assistant at an academic library so I am not very familiar with the culture. But I do have a strong background as user/student in academia.
First, this novel is set at the beginning of an academic conference at a small university in England. You get to see some of the dynamic of the academic world and conference through the characters Lodge presents. The setting is pretty much what I expected: a sleepy university with professors, their wives and a few professional women. This book was written in 1985 and it would have been nice to find a more contemporary work; one that perhaps portrayed a more current view of women in academia. The book reinforced many of the assumptions I had about life in academia. Many of the characters seemed a bit sophomoric which I imagine is prevalent in academia. Also, the portrayal of pompous professors was also spot on to what I thought.
For the most part, the characters embody certain archetypes one is likely to encounter in the academic world but they lack personality and depth. Maybe that is true in some academic circles. One of the interesting concepts that the author drives home is the overall theme of the book. The academic worked is a small world. If you are in a certain field, you go tot he same conferences and see the same people and it is a small world. These professors go to conferences all over the world but their subject matter seems to make their sphere of influence shrink. There weren’t many students portrayed in this book as most of it took place at a professional academic conference where few students would be anyway. It also seemed to be from the perspective of the professors even though it was written with an omniscient narrator.
I had never really read academic satires per say but I enjoyed this book and would probably read another. Many of the titles I came across were written awhile ago. I would like something more current. Maybe I should write one later in life.
The other book, The Courage to Teach also brings to light the rewards and demands of teaching as a profession. I actually spent four years learning various teaching skills while studying my minor in Secondary Education. Although, I decided that teaching high school in a traditional setting was not for me, I learning a lot of skills that will serve me well as an academic librarian. What I enjoy most about teaching was one-on-one interaction with the students.
These two books gives us an idea of what working in an academic setting might be like but the truth is that we will have no clue until we are there and get our feet wet so to speak. It is one of those things were experience is a better teacher than any textbook.