In The Basement of the Ivory Tower

"Professor X" is not a professor, as he reminds his students. He is, by day, a government employee with an MFA and, by night, an adjunct instructor at both a four-year and a community college. After X bought more house than he could afford, he started adjuncting, teaching composition and literature for mortgage money. When his students submitted their first set of papers, X was shocked! The students' writing was, he claims, barely high-school level.  This college, he was stunned to discover, was nothing like the one he attended.


Reading In The Basement of the Ivory Tower: Confessions of An Accidental Academic, one is tempted to write "please focus" in the margins. X covers teaching students who struggle to write academic essays, the misguided idea that all Americans should attend college, middle-class troubles with homeownership, ruminations on some famous writers, what the critics said about his article in The Atlantic that lead to this book, and, finally (because the book is, as X tells us in the Author's Note, a "quest narrative"), how he stopped fighting and learned to love being a middle-aged, suburban father with a day job and a chance to talk about Great Literature at night.


X is engaging and likeable. But this book is an act of bad faith. Written anonymously ("because I love teaching and I love my colleges"), these "confessions" only glance at scholarship on effective writing pedagogy. The author complains students are underprepared for college—yet never comments on his lack of teacher training.  I doubt he would have given one of his students a high grade for unsigned, unfocused, shoddily researched work.

Anne Trubek is Chair of Rhetoric and Composition at Oberlin College and the author of A Skeptic's Guide To Writers' Houses.

April 23: " 'A job,' the woman repeated again, smiling, as if I hadn't heard her. 'Would you like one?' "

Kenneth Calhoun (Black Moon) and Lysely Tenorio (Monstress) of the Discover Great New Writers program on B-movies, heritage, and finales.

Books, CDs, DVDs to know about now
A Private Venus

Dubbed "the Italian Simenon," Giorgio Scerbanenco (1911-1969) began his crime-writing career with books set in the USA, but quickly shifted scene closer to home, the city of Milan.  In this adventure, appearing in English for the first time, his underdog hero Dr. Duca Lamberti finds himself in the middle of a seedy, scantily clad criminal racket, where the presence of an outsider could result in death.

The Promise of Hope

Killed last year in the infamous terror attack at Nairobi's Westgate mall, Kofi Awoonor was a national treasure in his native Ghana.  His career began in 1964 with Rediscovery, and this magnum opus serves as a tribute to his entire long journey charting his beloved nation's course through his accomplished poetry.

Winter Mythologies and Abbots

A pair of linked stories finds that, as translator Ann Jefferson relates, "[Pierre] Michon's great theme is the precarious balance between belief and imposture, and the way the greatest aspirations can be complicated by physical desire or the equally urgent desire for what he calls glory."