A sabbatical year proves both personally and professionally stressful.
In his last book about three giants of the Lost Generation, Gandal (English/City Coll. of New York; The Gun and the Pen: Hemingway, Fitzgerald, Faulkner, and the Fiction of Mobilization, 2008, etc.) made the provocative argument that the three writers, frustrated by their failure to serve in World War I, infused their fiction with their own feelings of emasculation. He reprises that argument in his candid, digressive, often repetitious memoir about the sabbatical during which he fitfully embarked on a scholarly quest to formulate his insights and to find evidence to support them. Academic detective work is not all that occupied him: the book begins with a death threat, which is quickly dispatched and has little to do with the rest of the memoir except that it left him and his wife caring for his school-age niece. Besides driving her to and from school, the author hardly mentions the girl, and his wife similarly has a scant walk-on role. Instead, Gandal ruminates exhaustively on his frustrations with his field and the tribulations of scholarly work (he hates doing research, he admits); his literary discovery, which he reiterates throughout; and his new obsession with tennis, which he took up as a “refreshment from the mental strain of thinking and writing.” That strain was exacerbated by his feeling ostracized from academia because of “my profession’s seeming taboo on literary-historical research about the military” and some scholars’ refusal to see WWI as relevant to the works he was examining. Still, Gandal persisted in arguing that “American modernist style had been born out of nothing less than the need to hide these embarrassing mobilization wounds while being unable to stop writing about them and thus still compulsively writing about them.” His manuscript completed, he spent nail-biting months trying to find a publisher, feeling at the mercy of hostile manuscript reviewers.
Revelations about self-doubt, authority, competitiveness, and striving for recognition may resonate with other academics, less with general readers.