• Confessions of a Community College Dean

    In which a veteran of cultural studies seminars in the 1990s moves into academic administration and finds himself a married suburban father of two. Foucault, plus lawn care.

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Friday Fragments

A surprising book recommendation, reader responses on fundraising and the return of The Girl.

September 23, 2022

When the kids were younger, they were the right age to watch the first run of iCarly. It was on in the house often enough that I caught some scenes from time to time, though I don’t think I ever made it through an episode. At the time, I thought that Sam, played by Jennette McCurdy, was the obvious standout. She had comic timing, even if the scripts were trash. Over the years since, I’ve expected to see her appear in other things, but she mostly didn’t.

I mention that to explain why I noticed when her new book, I’m Glad My Mom Died, came out, and why I listened to it in the car. And I can’t believe I’m writing this, but it’s terrific.

It’s a blunt story of a deeply dysfunctional family, a predatory industry and the not-always-admirable coping mechanisms she used to handle them. But it’s also funny, vivid, beautifully written and utterly believable. Listening to it, I kept thinking of a more tragic Lisa Simpson. In recreating conversations, she sprinkles in what she was really thinking while also reporting what she actually said, and the effect is devastating.

The characters that win me over in fiction are the deeply flawed ones who know they’re deeply flawed, who try to be better but who only succeed in fits and starts when they succeed at all. Bonus points if they’re funny. (They cross genres: Bojack in Bojack Horseman, Devi in Never Have I Ever, Laura Dern’s character in Enlightened and the narrator in nearly every Replacements song.) This book isn’t fiction, but it’s narrative, and the character arc is the same. She isn’t always likable, but she’s sharp and funny and she wins you over. She’s also a hell of a voice actor. Unexpectedly and highly recommended.

Thanks to the wise and worldly readers who responded to the query about innovative fundraising by community colleges. The consistent theme of the responses was the need to separate the idea of giving to an institution—a difficult sell on a good day—from giving to students. When the pitch was about helping students, it got a better response.

That certainly sounds right. I’ve seen faculty and staff scoff openly at the idea of donating to their employer—usually saying something like “I give by accepting this salary …”—but many soften when they learn that they can direct the donation to student scholarships.

That said, please consider the call for ideas still open!

The Girl is coming home for a couple of days this weekend! This has been the longest we’ve been without her since she was born. Empty nesting is best settled into gradually.

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Matt Reed

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