Book Club Backlog

Now the semester is over and we just had a long holiday weekend, I’ve managed to get caught up with the last two books from my bookclub (I’ve missed or been late to the last two, didn’t finish either book, just like my students, hah!) As it turns out both selections involve psychotherapy and the politics of academia, not surprising since the club has two psychiatric social workers, a retired school counselor, three professors, as well as a lawyer, a journalist, and an accountant (am I forgetting anyone?)

April’s selection was House Lights by Leah Hager Cohen, which describes the life of 20-year old Bebe Fisher-Hart, the child of two hip psychotherapists who merged their surnames long before it was fashionable. Bebe decides to reject her parents’ expectations that she go to college and instead seeks out her estranged grandmother for advice on how to become a successful actress. Meanwhile, her father is accused of sexually harassing several students and is eventually forced to resign his academic appointment. Bebe’s first acting gig is as a historical reenactor at a historic homestead on the Underground Railroad (it later turns out to be a fake historic site created to attract tourists to the town). I really enjoyed reading this book and while the central theme is rather serious (and creepy — I’ve seen too many guys prey on their students around here) — the descriptions of the grandmother’s “salon” and the rehearsals at “The Farm” in Western Massachusetts were light enough to keep my interest and move the story along.

May’s selection was Kyra by Carol Gilligan. I was looking forward to reading this since, while I find Gilligan’s theories of women’s psychology problematic, she was “must read” for graduate students during my time at Cornell. I have say I was really disappointed. Although there were some (unintentionally?) funny descriptions of the mendacity of faculty meetings and hiring procedures, and the therapy sessions seemed realistic for the most part, on the whole I found the story rather boring and the writing uneven. Since this is Gilligan’s first venture into fiction I’ll give her a bit of a break, but she really needs to take a fiction-writing class. She has lots of good ideas and themes going on — love, heartbreak, architecture — but it doesn’t add up to the sum of its parts. I didn’t really find Kyra to be an engaging character and the ending was really disappointing.

Next up is Unaccustomed Earth by Jhumpa Lahiri, one of my favorite writers.

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