Alma Mater

Kluge, P.F. Alma Mater: a College Homecoming.Reading, Massachusetts: Addison-Wesley Publishing Company, 1993.

This is an interesting Kluge book. It’s basically a memoir about how Kluge went back to his alma mater for an academic year to teach a writing/literature course. Each chapter is subsequent month in the semester, starting with (obviously) orientation in September and ending with graduation in May. What makes this book so interesting is the honest look Kluge takes of academia in general. As someone who has experienced both sides of the desk (student and faculty), he is free to examine the day to day as well as the behind-closed-doors politics of campus life. Every topic is fair game: tenure, scholarship, Greek life, dormitory living, the hiring process, alumni relations, the formation of committees to name a few. But it was the admissions process; specifically the process of accepting prospective students I found really interesting. Others in academia have said Kluge could have been writing about their institution. Admittedly, Kluge takes a tongue-in-cheek approach to Alma Mater but what was really surprising was how negative a picture Kluge paints of Kenyon. The disparaging comments were so frequent I was tempted to reread the book just to take note of every dissatisfaction. As an aside, most of the negativity didn’t come from Kluge directly. It came from faculty, the occasional student, alumni, and even the president of the college, just to name a few.

Other observations: It almost felt contractual for Kluge to mention past famous faculty and students (Ransom, Jarrell, Doctorow & Wright) several different times throughout Alma Mater. Also, I made the mistake of reading Kluge reviews on a “Rate My Professor” site. I’m sorry I did because it altered how I now feel about Alma Mater. I find this troubling because I had finished Alma before reading the reviews yet I was still influenced.

Lines I liked, “As sure as shit and feathers on a chicken coop floor, there’s always something” (p 14), “Was it the fullness of their lives or the emptiness that propelled them?” (p 144), “You need to learn the rules before you break them, master the traditions that you add to, or subvert” (p 145) and last one – “It’s like taking out my eyeballs and rolling them in a plate of breadcrumbs” (p 198). Funny!

Reason read: January is Kluge’s birth month. Read in honor of that birth.

Author fact: Because I have read another Kluge book I had to refer back to that review to see what I said for an “author fact” – simply because I didn’t want to say the same thing twice. Truth be told, I wasn’t writing author facts back than. So, this will be my first “fact” about Kluge and it’s an obvious one: Kluge wrote a book everyone has heard about, at least in major motion picture form – Eddie and the Cruisers.

Book trivia: Even though Alma Mater is a memoir of sorts, Kluge does not include any photographs. Bummer. At the very least I would have liked a picture of his dog especially since he meant so much to Kluge. 🙂

BookLust Twist: from Book Lust in the chapter “P.F. Kluge: Too Good To Miss” (p 140).