I read It’s a Don’s Life by Mary Beard, based on her ‘A Don’s Life’ blog for the TLS, back in April. April! I know I’m behind on writing my reviews but really, that’s rather extreme. And it is a book I have wanted to review, having had so much fun reading it, perhaps because it was all new to me. Beard is a professor of classics at Cambridge; I have never studied classics and know nothing about academia but am fascinated by both subjects, so, yes, pretty much the perfect book choice for me!
Perhaps because I am a blogger, I loved that the book was not so much a book based on the blog as the blog in book form. In other instances, I have found this approach annoying and unreadable but I thought it worked surprisingly well here. Beard’s purpose with her TLS blog is to educate rather than chronicle any kind of detailed personal narrative so the book is really just a compilation of interesting tidbits of information: thoughts on recent discoveries related to her field, discussions of academic rivalries and debates, and ponderings on blog-related controversies. The inclusion of comments from her readers adds an interesting dimension. There are countless volumes out there of collected newspaper columns by so-and-so but how often do such books include the letters to the editor provoked by those columns? Seeing the generally intelligent and rather well-written responses was always interesting and more often than not highly entertaining. The anonymity of the internet allows for some fabulously impolite remarks: one response described Beard as “a semi drunk chain smoking old female lecher more suited to running a fifties bar in Soho than gracing High Table.” What a gloriously seedy description!
I know nothing about classics. Truly, nothing. I soaked up every word completely uncritically, utterly fascinated by this topic that has been completely absent from my education. My lack of any instruction in Latin always makes me feel hopelessly uneducated and uncultured, particularly as I’m the only person in the family whose education has this gap (my school eliminated it from the curriculum the summer before I was due to begin taking it). I completely do not understand Latin jokes and that makes me sad. Academia, however, I am much more used to reading about and Beard’s thoughts, on the Cambridge admissions process in particular, were very interesting.
Overall, a very fun and informative glimpse into a world I’m completely unfamiliar with.