An opinionated, perceptive insider’s take on an unsung but vital part of America’s education system.

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DEFENDING THE CITADEL

CONFRONTING CORPORATE MANAGEMENT AND CORRUPTION IN AN ILLINOIS COMMUNITY COLLEGE

Community college teachers fight for their rights—and the soul of higher education—in Lanter’s feisty memoir.

Lanter (In This House of Men, 2010, etc.) taught English and philosophy at Southwestern Illinois College, a two-year public institution with a history of labor activism. Here he chronicles 25 years of union battles against an administration and board of trustees hell-bent on bringing the crass, exploitative norms of the corporate workplace into academia. The struggle involves familiar issues of pay, workload—officials were forever trying to impose “productivity” benchmarks on instructors—part-time staffing and the fight for recognition of the faculty’s American Association of University Professors bargaining unit. But in the background, Lanter contends, lie deeper conflicts over the meaning of a college education; namely, whether it should be a rigorous tutelage in academic disciplines conducted by professionals or—in extreme terms—a cheap, profit-generating commodity geared toward vocational training and employment credentialing, purveyed by glorified “drug-store clerks.” The narrative provides a comprehensive, if somewhat disorganized and repetitive, case study in academic and labor politics, immersing readers in pay tiers, overtime provisions and tenure guidelines. The author regales readers with the minutes of particularly rancorous meetings and the returns from county board of trustee elections and property-tax referenda. The level of detail is often eye-glazing, but there are dramatic episodes—including a sharp-edged 1980 faculty strike that ended in mass arrests—and an invigorating edge of scorn for the administration, its professorial cronies and its “insidious and parasitical” union-busting lawyers. Intertwined is a caustic, loose-jointed critique of higher education that takes swipes at watered-down grading, vapid learn-at-home telecourses, excessive concern for student self-esteem, junky “education” degrees and religious zealots who want to censor their profs; the whole “American capitalist ideology” under which “democracy has come to mean the right to make a corporate profit” also takes a hit. Lanter’s memoir may be, at times, curmudgeonly, but the author makes a cogent case for defending academic standards—and academics’ dignity—against an onslaught of business values.

An opinionated, perceptive insider’s take on an unsung but vital part of America’s education system.

Pub Date: Feb. 9, 2012

ISBN: 978-0983841203

Page Count: 392

Publisher: Twiss Hill Press

Review Posted Online: April 20, 2012

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Kin “[find] each other’s lives inscrutable” in this rich, sharp story about the way identity is formed.

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THE VANISHING HALF

Inseparable identical twin sisters ditch home together, and then one decides to vanish.

The talented Bennett fuels her fiction with secrets—first in her lauded debut, The Mothers (2016), and now in the assured and magnetic story of the Vignes sisters, light-skinned women parked on opposite sides of the color line. Desiree, the “fidgety twin,” and Stella, “a smart, careful girl,” make their break from stultifying rural Mallard, Louisiana, becoming 16-year-old runaways in 1954 New Orleans. The novel opens 14 years later as Desiree, fleeing a violent marriage in D.C., returns home with a different relative: her 8-year-old daughter, Jude. The gossips are agog: “In Mallard, nobody married dark....Marrying a dark man and dragging his blueblack child all over town was one step too far.” Desiree's decision seals Jude’s misery in this “colorstruck” place and propels a new generation of flight: Jude escapes on a track scholarship to UCLA. Tending bar as a side job in Beverly Hills, she catches a glimpse of her mother’s doppelgänger. Stella, ensconced in white society, is shedding her fur coat. Jude, so black that strangers routinely stare, is unrecognizable to her aunt. All this is expertly paced, unfurling before the book is half finished; a reader can guess what is coming. Bennett is deeply engaged in the unknowability of other people and the scourge of colorism. The scene in which Stella adopts her white persona is a tour de force of doubling and confusion. It calls up Toni Morrison’s The Bluest Eye, the book's 50-year-old antecedent. Bennett's novel plays with its characters' nagging feelings of being incomplete—for the twins without each other; for Jude’s boyfriend, Reese, who is trans and seeks surgery; for their friend Barry, who performs in drag as Bianca. Bennett keeps all these plot threads thrumming and her social commentary crisp. In the second half, Jude spars with her cousin Kennedy, Stella's daughter, a spoiled actress.

Kin “[find] each other’s lives inscrutable” in this rich, sharp story about the way identity is formed.

Pub Date: June 2, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-525-53629-1

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Riverhead

Review Posted Online: March 15, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 2020

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More Hallmarkiana, from a shameless expert in the genre.

THE RESCUE

High-stakes weepmeister Sparks (A Walk to Remember, 1999, etc.) opts for a happy ending his fourth time out. His writing has improved—though it's still the equivalent of paint-by-numbers—and he makes use this time of at least a vestige of credible psychology.

That vestige involves the deep dark secret—it has something to do with his father's death when son Taylor was nine—that haunts kind, good 36-year-old local contractor Taylor McAden and makes him withdraw from relationships whenever they start getting serious enough to maybe get permanent. He's done this twice before, and now he does it again with pretty and sweet single mother Denise Holton, age 29, who's moved from Atlanta to Taylor's town of Edenton, North Carolina, in order to devote her time more fully to training her four-year-old son Kyle to overcome the peculiar impediment he has that keeps him from achieving normal language acquisition. Okay? When Denise has a car accident in a bad storm, she's rescued by volunteer fireman Taylor—who also rescues little Kyle after he wanders away from his injured mom in the storm. Love blooms in the weeks that follow—until Taylor suddenly begins putting on the brakes. What is it that holds him back, when there just isn't any question but that he loves Denise and vice versa-not to mention that he's "great" with Kyle, just like a father? It will require a couple of near-death experiences (as fireman Taylor bravely risks his life to save others); emotional steadiness from the intelligent, good, true Denise; and the terrible death of a dear and devoted friend before Taylor will come to the point at last of confiding to Denise the terrible memory of how his father died—and the guilt that's been its legacy to Taylor. The psychological dam broken, love will at last be able to flow.

More Hallmarkiana, from a shameless expert in the genre.

Pub Date: Sept. 19, 2000

ISBN: 0-446-52550-2

Page Count: 352

Publisher: N/A

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 2000

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