Monday, March 02, 2009

Mickey Hess' Big Wheel at the Cracker Factory

Mickey Hess' Big Wheel at the Cracker Factory is a really funny book about a university lecturer, though it is a different book from what I expected. The back of the book says it is "about choosing what you want to be when you grow up, and finding out you still have to wait tables on the weekends." Now maybe I am dense, but I didn't read much before I began to think that the book wasn't about that at all. Instead, I think this sums up the book's general theme:

Being an ice cream man, even for one weekend, canceled out the seriousness of my real job, and by not taking my real job seriously, I was determined to stay who I was before. Which seemed like a good idea at the time (p. 201).

I thought it would be a book about the exploitation of part time labor in academia, but that is only a small part of it (he even avoids getting a faculty ID as long as he can). Reviews said it was funny, and I was intrigued by the idea of exploitation made comic. Instead, it is a guy in his 20s trying to figure out whether he even wanted that job to ever become full time. Once it was full time, it would be a real job, lacking in variety, instead of a constantly shifting array of jobs that were intended to support his writing career. The solidity made him anxious.

Writing it out like that makes it sound dull, but this book made me laugh at loud multiple times. Plus, I've never heard anyone compare rappers and academics because they both cite each other all the time. And I discovered that it is really true that in Iceland there is a penis museum. Then there's the Billy Graham Corndog.

This is not your average book about academia because the university itself is not central to the story. It is really more about how Mickey Hess decides whether or not to make university work into a permanent job. And, in fact, I did not realize immediately that it is a memoir rather than fiction (he has a blog here). He is now an Assistant Professor of English at Rider University (which, I realize, constitutes something of a spoiler). I'd take one of his classes in a second.


Tambopaxi 11:51 AM  

Ji. This is funny. I've got two kids in college (still!), with one of them considering the vida academica; I'm going to recommend Hess's book to my kids.

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