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Beet: A Novel Paperback – January 27, 2009
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From Publishers Weekly
The politically correct, rigorless American university is by now an easy comic target, one that cultural critic Rosenblatt (Lapham Rising), longtime contributor to Time and PBS's NewsHour, hits amusingly. Rosenblatt's Beet College is an old money New England university where students can major in such disciplines as Postcolonial Women's Sports and Little People of Color. But dear ol' Beet is going bust. The endowment's vanished and the chairman of the board of trustees, Joel Bollovate, is a paragon of anti-intellectualism. He's also a real estate developer with his greedy eye on the choice campus land. Peace Porterfield, professor of English, is charged with coming up with a new curriculum—one that will attract more students, more grants and more alumni gifts—or else Beet is beat. Arrayed against Professor Porterfield's honest efforts are the inept faculty on his committee as well as foulmouthed undergrad poet Matha Polite and her confused band of radicals. With plenty of chuckles along the way, Rosenblatt elucidates the grim shift universities have made toward the business model, where the president is CEO, the professors dunderheaded grant grubbers and the students mindless consumers. (Feb.)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
“This is Mr. Rosenblatt’s first novel. I hope it’s not his last.” (New York Sun)
“[An] uproarious debut…. Rosenblatt wields his satiric saber with skill and compassion. A-.” (Entertainment Weekly)
“Great stuff.” (Kirkus Reviews)
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Top Customer Reviews
Okay, this is where things take on a reeeeally unrecoverable tailspin for me...how does a (or, ANY) college Board of Trustees "squander" a $250M+ endowment over a short 3 YEAR period and NOBODY (the press, the whole administration, bookkeeping, faculty, students, The World or. the college's mascot pig!) notices UNTIL they start the process of closing the college and liquidating its assets? The answer is that word of MASSIVELY profligate and/or nefarious spending/squandering would DEFINITELY get out in very short order! Now, how to save the college in light of this Hole-ier-than-Swiss-Cheese crisis? The board appoints a mild-mannered, gifted English professor along with a typically insane faculty committee to come up with a sure-fire, mega-hit, never-been-tried-on-planet-Earth, BRAND NEW curriculum that will. without fail, ****immediately*** attract a tsunami wave of new students in order to keep the place open and financially solvent?
C'mon! This as the core/premise of the story?!? It is NOT within light years of being a credible, solid, well-though-out premise. In movies, they have this thing called the "suspension of disbelief" so that you will just buy into the movie and just go with it. In most of literature, I believe, the opposite applies, the author had better darn well have an "embracing of a fully believable core central premise" or, it puts an bothersome, constantly irritating twang on the rest of the story, no matter how well written it is, now matter how great the characters are developed, no matter how it all weaves together seamlessly...except for a really vastly unbelievable/stupid premise. British TV mysteries are sometimes guilty if this, but had they, and this author, devoted just a tad bit more time and imagination to the premise, it could he nailed down tight...but, I think that they get caught up in the thrill and excitement that moving-on-with-the-story brings and they end up just leaving a gaping hole as the foundation of the story..
I really liked, and definitely recommend, Rosenblatt's "Lapham Rising" and it is fully worth your book-buying dollars and your precious reading time, one true ace of a funny story. I was just disappointed with this book...it had great movie potential...it may yet have, along with Lapham Rising. CALL HOLLYWOOD, ROGER!
First, let me discuss the strengths of the novel. I found that Rosenblatt is highly entertaining at the witty phrase. Names of businesses, clubs, academic courses, etc were indeed funny and did help me stay engaged in the novel. They helped wake me up as I was reading. However, it is the primary themes of the novel that are its strengths. Academia, under pressure from multiple forces, has taken on a business model. Thus the students are the primary customer and courses are taught to entertain and grades are inflated to the point of being meaningless. Rosenblatt points out that the University in its attempts to be universal has become inclusive and post-modern to the point of irrelevance. The university has always had to balance diversity with utility, two forces that can be complimentary or oppositional depending on the strategic insights of the academic leadership. In the case of Beet College, diversity has won but parents are less than amused at courses that are not related to real world experiences and increased opportunity. We all know that esoteric courses may have little 'face' utility but are actually exercises in expansive thought, deliberation with opposing forces, and development of strategic direction. In other words a course on Polynesian poetry and its impact on Irish chapel architecture would have very little immediate utility but in the end it should help teach young people not 'what' to think but 'how' to think. This is the central role of the undergraduate university and Rosenblatt presents a picture where Beet college has lost their direction.
The weaknesses of the novel have to do with a highly predictable plot and a novel full of two dimensional characters that never convince the reader to empathize with them. Insane, unstable, and greedy characters are drawn as cartoons - meant to entertain while making minor points. However the stable characters are also cartoonish and two dimensional. Peace Porterfield is a poetry professor who does try to expand the horizons, both emotional and intellectually, of his students. He is tasked with the job of developing a curricula strategy to save the college. He is meant to be the moral center of sanity in the novel but unfortunately he remains too flat. I give Rosenblatt the benefit of the doubt however in that a real fully developed character among a bunch of cartoons would never work, except in a Disney movie, and therefore he makes Peace into an Everyman from a morality play where good and bad are clearly drawn. I did think that Richard Russo's Straight Man was able to convey many of these points while also developing a stronger and more realistic central character.
It is Rosenblatt's insights into the perils of the current day university trying to remain relevant, entertaining, and useful while surviving financially that pushed me to give it 4 stars.
Read the book with a good dictionary close at hand. The author has discovered some of the most wonderful words ever coined, and it would be a shame to miss the precise meaning of any one of them.