Jan 18, 2010

The history of memoirs: newyorker.com

Another one of those articles that asks, "What-Does-Our-Love-of-X-Tell-Us-About-Ourselves?" in which X equals something that isn't necessarily good for you, or high art.

This one is about memoir.

The history of memoirs: newyorker.com

Why are Professors So Liberal and Underpaid?

Got your attention? In today's NY Times, Sociologists Neil Gross and Ethan Fosse say their findings show that professors tends to be liberal for the same reasons men tend not to be nurses. Certain occupations are so heavily associated with a particular gender, or, in this case, political ideology, that professors tend to clone themselves--that's my phraseology not theirs.

In their study, Gross and Fosse (any relation to Bob? Now there's a typecast occupation) find that the stereotype that Professors tend to be liberal and secular and earning a salary disproportionate to their level of education was supported by comparing professors' survey responses to "the rest of Americans."

The salary part, of course, caught my eye. Patricia Cohen, the Times' writer, quotes Louis Menand on this question:

The mismatch between schooling and salary complements a theory that the Harvard professor Louis Menand raises in his new book "The Marketplace of Ideas." He argues that the way higher education was structured by progressive reformers in the late 19th century is partly responsible for the political uniformity of today. In the view of the early reformers, the only way to ensure that quality, rather than profit, would be rewarded was to protect the profession from outside competition. The tradeoff for lower salaries was control; professors decide who gets to enter their profession and who doesn't.

I'm going to let this salary issue stew for awhile before I offer comment, but I do want to take issue with one aspect of the article. Patricia Cohen characterizes the professorial stereotype as "tweed jacket, pipe, nerdy, longwinded, secular ? and liberal."


Pipe--I have smoked one before and it tastes good. Actually, I have one of my grandfather's old pipes in my office, but he worked for the rail road his whole life (though he did want to be a writer).

Nerdy--my college friends regularly shouted "Nerd" at me for spending many many hours reading on the couch in my dorm room.

Secular--I'm Catholic (Thomas Merton and Dorothy Day are big influences on me).

Liberal--Well, depends on the issue.

My point is that I think that there's a larger variation of thought and belief among professors than can be captured in a survey. I went to a Catholic university that employs a lot of really smart and accomplished scholars and many of them were religious and liberal, so my role models showed me (though didn't often talk about it) that it was possible--and crucial--to hold faith up to reason and vice versa.


Jan 17, 2010

Notes from No Man's Land by Eula Biss

I just finished reading Eula Biss' award-winning book of essays, Notes From No Man's Land: American Essays. The book won Graywolf Press' Nonfiction Prize in 2008, which has previously been bestowed on the work of Ander Monson and Kate Braverman--two of my favorite writers.

I'll write something longer and more considered later, but I want to say right now that it is upsetting and thought-provoking. I think it should be required reading for anyone who believes that we are living in a "post-racial" world. This is not to say that I agree with all of Biss' observations and conclusions and feel that everyone should think about race exactly the way she does, but it IS to say that Biss openly challenges many of the attitudes about race that, I think, Americans are cowed into accepting out of politeness--a desire not to rock the boat.

Jan 11, 2010

Good War on Video

Here's the collaboration I blogged about last week (or was it the week before that?--all the days are running together). Photographer Ashley Florence did it all. She found the images, did the cutting and splicing and sound design. All I did was read my essay. We're hoping to do more of this sort of thing soon.

In Memorandum - Ashley Florence and David Griffith from ashley florence on Vimeo.

Jan 10, 2010

Contact Me

Check out The Perils of 'Contact Me' by Ben Yagoda, most recently the author of Memoir: A History, on the fun and irritation of receiving emails in response to one's writing.

I've never received a cranky or irritating email in response to my writing, though one of the chapters from my book did offend the political sensibilities of a literary journal editor to the point that he wrote me a two-page rejection email.

The most gratifying emails I receive are those in which the writer says that they were so glad to see someone writing about religion and its intersection with culture in a way that isn't dismissive.

But the emails closest to my heart are those from male college students (who have probably been forced to read my book for some class) who say something like, "at first I hated it, then I got to the chapter about Pulp Fiction and it got good." I see my college-aged self in those emails.

One of the best coorespondences between writer and reader I've ever read took place between Flannery O'Connor and a woman who had picked up her work on a whim.

The woman wrote to say that when she came home at the end of the day she wanted to read something that would uplift her and O'Connor's work had not.

O'Connor wrote back to say that if her heart had been in the right place she would have been uplifted. Burn.

Jan 4, 2010

Richard Nash: Founder, Cursor

Check out this from the Utne Reader's November-December issue on Richard Nash's new publishing engine, Cursor. Early 2010 is the projected start--very exciting.

Richard Nash: Founder, Cursor