Ship of Fools

About 10 years before retiring, I asked myself what I might want from the process. The answer was to “make new friends and do new things”. Last week I had lunch with one of those new friends. He’s about 15 years older than me, retired from the local college where he taught literature. Though he recently published a book, he seems to think of it as his last one, and cares not whether the publisher promotes its sale or not. He certainly is not inclined to do any marketing himself.


Our conversation wandered far and wide. Though our professional careers were different, our preparation for them had certain similarities, and our lives on college faculties (his for decades, mine merely for years) gave us many contact points.  At some time in the conversation I recommended a book to him, set within the English department at a minor state university. The book was about lots of different things, but the setting would have been familiar to him. 


Arriving home after lunch, I looked up the novel, and realized I’d given him the wrong title. Reflection on the topic and a note of correction I sent him reminded me of other “faculty novels” I’ve read over the years. Like a ship of fools, a contained environment within which characters bounce off of each other without hope of new input or escape until the end of the adventure, faculty novels have their delights, especially when one has served in a department or on a faculty. 

Here’s my list:  Straight Man by Richard Russo,  Moo by Jane Smiley,  Rookery Blues and Dean’s List by Jon Hassler.  None is exactly about faculty, any more than “ship of fools” books are about ships or murder-on-a-train thrillers about railroads. But each delights in its own wacky way.


David Alexander now resides in Holland, MI after 39 years in Taiwan. 

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