Tag Archives: college

* Tender by Belinda McKeon

Tender is a story of an infatuation of a female college student for a gay apprentice photographer which, of course, ends badly. The story starts brilliantly, with the two developing an intimate friendship that fools even their families but, they think, they can control. I wish they can, as the rest of the story is all about the doomed romance and destroyed friendship, and careful analysis of minute feelings and confusions.

May work for introspective souls. Me, not so much.

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* Where You Go Is Not Who You’ll Be by Frank Bruni


Where You Go Is Not Who You’ll Be: An Antidote to the College Admissions Mania is essentially a book-length rant against the folly of thinking that getting into a top university equates to success, and that any other path equates doom. And, in the first pages, the author presents as an example a young man who, having gone to his safety school as an undergrad, gets into Harvard Business School. So the lesson is: if at first you don’t get in, try, try again? Rather ironic, I thought…

And so it goes, with plenty of examples of people who are successful in the narrow sense of the world (think: CEOs) who have not gone to prestigious universities, but, alas, little hard data on differences between alumni of top schools and not-so-top schools. This is not to say that the author does not make interesting points, and in particular exposes the damnable techniques that give alumni’s children outrageous priority in admissions, further distorting the randomness of college admissions for everyone else.

 

He also points out that the Ivy League frenzy is not, by far, the largest issue with college admissions– which is the lamentable inability of many gifted students to afford tuition and other costs. I would have preferred to read the rant in article length and read a book about the larger issues of college access.

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The Wonder Bread Summer by Jessica Anya Blau

The Wonder Bread Summer never reaches the lows of the worst book I ever reviewed on this blog, Twilight, and in particular it’s competently written — but the story simply does not make sense, nor does it achieve the levity that one would expect from a madcap comedy, which could be enjoyed without making perfect sense. So our college student heroine travels from Berkeley, CA, to Southern California and back with a large bag of cocaine, unscathed (problem #1), returning with her avenger father in tow when he previously would not even bother to keep her updated on his address (problem #2) to find her best friend having bonded with the cocaine kingpin’s enforcer (problem #3) and her father talking down said kingpin (problem #4). If you enjoy improbably stories with so-so period details (early 1980’s in Berkeley, California, to be contrasted with the perfect taste and feel in Michael Chabon’s Telegraph Avenue), this might be the book for you…

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*** Crazy U by Andrew Ferguson

Not another book about getting into college! Do try Crazy U. It’s the lighthearted true story of a dad and his reluctant son moving through the crazed world of college applications, including colleges who actively manipulate their rankings (all of them),  colleges that fill a large minority of their openings with politely named “legacy” students (some of them), the high-priced admission counselors who convince prosperous parents that they must write them large checks to get their offsprings into a college they can boast about at cocktail parties, and shady online essay-writing mills for the less prosperous. There are many funny parts, including the father trying his hand at the SAT (interesting that we expect our children to do well on something we can’t do) and his wry commentary (such as his characterization of his son’s essay “a verbal version of his bedroom”, lol). A good read even if you are not suffering through that process.

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Beet by Roger Rosenblatt

Note to self: borrow only one book at a time from a given author and return for more only if satisfied.

Actually. I enjoyed Beet much more than Lapham Rising.It, too, is a madcap story but I thought it worked much better. This time we are in a small private college in New England that charges expensive tuition fees to hand out diplomas in vapid, if creative majors such as “Dominican and Video Game Studies”. (There’s no word on what employment prospects await the students and it may be a good thing.) Unfortunately the college is going bankrupt, or so it seems, and Peace Porterfield, an eager English professor, is asked to put together a new curriculum to save the college. It’s unlikely that the ad-hoc committee will provide any help, and meanwhile students are ineptly trying to sabotage his efforts — just as soon as they can come up with some demands.

To be clear, the students are quite colorless, the reasons for the bankruptcy scare ridiculously contrived, and the bad chairman so evil he could not possibly have survived more than a few days without being exposed, but I found myself rooting for Professor Porterfield, always a good sign of reader engagement.

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Admission by Jean Hanff Korelitz

Admission tells the story of the failing marriage of an admission officer at Princeton set against a season of admission work, sifting through applications to find the lucky special high school seniors that will be deemed worthy to attend the university. The heroine appears to have a need, especially at dinner parties, to channel the Q&As on college web sites to justify her work  (why not just admit that apart from basic academic credentials the bulk of the selection process is, well, a judgement call?), she rags on Berkeley for no good reason (two demerits!), and the last third of the book hinges on a silly and amazing coincidence that makes the plot wholly unbelievable (and is not even necessary) but I enjoyed the book and the heroine both, even if I would have much preferred the story minus its contrived ending.

I would recommend the book to anyone who is curious about college admissions. It’s much more fun than the dreadfully practical books written by ex-admission officers (the author is an ex-admission officer!) and, in my mind, just as informative as the several others I have read on the topic, from what happens during school visits to the relationships between admission officers and college counselors, to how to create a good application. One of the fun features of the book is that each chapter starts with a quote from an application essay, most of them miserably bad and funny.

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Racing Odysseus by Roger Martin

Racing Odysseus is the story of a college president on sabbatical who, having narrowly escaped death by cancer, decides to enroll at a small liberal arts college and be a freshman for a quarter. He brings with him his obvious age, his identity as a college president (see below), and some special privileges such as living off campus with his wife. Otherwise, he signs up for classes — not very well, apparently– and studies like the other students.

The author chose to attend a rather peculiar college where the curriculum is built entirely on the classics. So the freshmen start with the Greek philosophers and historians and the seniors get to the 19th century. Sounds like heaven for classically-minded students (I have a nephew like that) but he also insists, bizarrely, that an education solely grounded in the classics is great preparation for success in the world. Please! To each his own, but what could possibly be wrong with adding some other topics like science, math, engineering, even (gasp!) modern languages?

The other annoying feature of the book is that the author never lets himself or the reader forget that he is a college president and should be treated as such. So when he signs up for crew (the racing part of the title) and gets upbraided for not rowing properly he immediately reverts to the loss of dignity caused by the upbraiding of a dignified college president by a “kid”. If he wanted to be a freshman again, then be a freshman and forget that gravitas!

That being said, it’s fun to see college from the eyes of a grownup: the disorganized students, the good professors, the coach who quotes Greek literature, and especially the rowing regatta.

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