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Saturday, April 10, 2010

 

The Professor and Other Writings - A Review

The Professor and Other Writings is a collection of seven essays by author and professor, Terry Castle. As she wrote in the ‘Author’s Note’ at the front of the book, some of the pieces had been previously published, and in this book, appear in the order in which they were written. Castle added, “Having labored in the dusty groves of academe for over twenty years, I felt---as a new millennium unfolded---a desire to write more directly and personally than had previously been the case.”

Intriguing photos serve to introduce, as well as illustrate the theme of each autobiographical essay. Castle unveils her perspectives on love, family, relationships and sexuality, all accompanied by her wicked wit. Nothing has been held back, especially in the title essay, ‘The Professor’, in which she relates her relationship with a female professor. There were times when reading through the book was overwhelming, with the sheer amount of scholarly information that backed personal details.

One essay, ‘Courage, Mon Amie’, is a fascinating study of the author’s obsession (or ‘war fixation’, as she puts it) with military history, inspired by her desire to find the gravesite of her great-uncle, who died during WWI. As British-born Castle makes the rounds of France and Belgium, you’re drawn into her search. There are detailed descriptions of the cemetery, trenches, tiny museums, and other military haunts she visits, sometimes alone, other times with a relative. While it may be off-putting to some readers, the author’s passion for war and its trappings is phenomenal, especially as she struggles (as many of us did back in 2002) with myriad emotions in the aftermath of the 9/11 attacks.

Another essay, ‘Home Alone’, deals with America’s captivation with design (or shelter) magazines, and the desire to create a space, some sort of secured home of one’s own. Castle admits her own ‘shelter-lit addiction’, relishing in flea market finds and eagerness to get her hands on the latest mag candy. She asserts that it “is all about consumption, luxury goods, and the pipe dreams of upward mobility” that drives one to seek this decorative nirvana. Enhancing her dead-on commentary are quotes from American interior design experts Elsie de Wolfe and Mario Praz, and those from the publishing staff of some of the magazines mentioned in this piece. This essay was a much easier read than the one above.

In conclusion, if essay collections laced with scholarly insights and biting humor are your cup of tea, then you’ll want to give The Professor and Other Writings a look.

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