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DEFENDING THE CITADEL

CONFRONTING CORPORATE MANAGEMENT AND CORRUPTION IN AN ILLINOIS COMMUNITY COLLEGE

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

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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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A LITTLE LIFE

The phrase “tour de force” could have been invented for this audacious novel.

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Four men who meet as college roommates move to New York and spend the next three decades gaining renown in their professions—as an architect, painter, actor and lawyer—and struggling with demons in their intertwined personal lives.

Yanagihara (The People in the Trees, 2013) takes the still-bold leap of writing about characters who don’t share her background; in addition to being male, JB is African-American, Malcolm has a black father and white mother, Willem is white, and “Jude’s race was undetermined”—deserted at birth, he was raised in a monastery and had an unspeakably traumatic childhood that’s revealed slowly over the course of the book. Two of them are gay, one straight and one bisexual. There isn’t a single significant female character, and for a long novel, there isn’t much plot. There aren’t even many markers of what’s happening in the outside world; Jude moves to a loft in SoHo as a young man, but we don’t see the neighborhood change from gritty artists’ enclave to glitzy tourist destination. What we get instead is an intensely interior look at the friends’ psyches and relationships, and it’s utterly enthralling. The four men think about work and creativity and success and failure; they cook for each other, compete with each other and jostle for each other’s affection. JB bases his entire artistic career on painting portraits of his friends, while Malcolm takes care of them by designing their apartments and houses. When Jude, as an adult, is adopted by his favorite Harvard law professor, his friends join him for Thanksgiving in Cambridge every year. And when Willem becomes a movie star, they all bask in his glow. Eventually, the tone darkens and the story narrows to focus on Jude as the pain of his past cuts deep into his carefully constructed life.  

The phrase “tour de force” could have been invented for this audacious novel.

Pub Date: March 10, 2015

ISBN: 978-0-385-53925-8

Page Count: 720

Publisher: Doubleday

Review Posted Online: Dec. 21, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 2015

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FIREFLY LANE

Dated sermonizing on career versus motherhood, and conflict driven by characters’ willed helplessness, sap this tale of...

Lifelong, conflicted friendship of two women is the premise of Hannah’s maudlin latest (Magic Hour, 2006, etc.), again set in Washington State.

Tallulah “Tully” Hart, father unknown, is the daughter of a hippie, Cloud, who makes only intermittent appearances in her life. Tully takes refuge with the family of her “best friend forever,” Kate Mularkey, who compares herself unfavorably with Tully, in regards to looks and charisma. In college, “TullyandKate” pledge the same sorority and major in communications. Tully has a life goal for them both: They will become network TV anchorwomen. Tully lands an internship at KCPO-TV in Seattle and finagles a producing job for Kate. Kate no longer wishes to follow Tully into broadcasting and is more drawn to fiction writing, but she hesitates to tell her overbearing friend. Meanwhile a love triangle blooms at KCPO: Hard-bitten, irresistibly handsome, former war correspondent Johnny is clearly smitten with Tully. Expecting rejection, Kate keeps her infatuation with Johnny secret. When Tully lands a reporting job with a Today-like show, her career shifts into hyperdrive. Johnny and Kate had started an affair once Tully moved to Manhattan, and when Kate gets pregnant with daughter Marah, they marry. Kate is content as a stay-at-home mom, but frets about being Johnny’s second choice and about her unrealized writing ambitions. Tully becomes Seattle’s answer to Oprah. She hires Johnny, which spells riches for him and Kate. But Kate’s buttons are fully depressed by pitched battles over slutwear and curfews with teenaged Marah, who idolizes her godmother Tully. In an improbable twist, Tully invites Kate and Marah to resolve their differences on her show, only to blindside Kate by accusing her, on live TV, of overprotecting Marah. The BFFs are sundered. Tully’s latest attempt to salvage Cloud fails: The incorrigible, now geriatric hippie absconds once more. Just as Kate develops a spine, she’s given some devastating news. Will the friends reconcile before it’s too late?

Dated sermonizing on career versus motherhood, and conflict driven by characters’ willed helplessness, sap this tale of poignancy.

Pub Date: Feb. 1, 2008

ISBN: 978-0-312-36408-3

Page Count: 496

Publisher: St. Martin's

Review Posted Online: May 19, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 1, 2007

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