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The Professor and Other Writings

3.69  ·  Rating Details  ·  215 Ratings  ·  57 Reviews
From one of America's most brilliant critics and cultural commentators comes a long-awaited collection of penetrating autobiographical essays and a riveting short memoir, novelistic in style and ambition, about the pathos, comedy, and devastation of early love.

Stanford professor and longtime contributor to the London Review of Books, the Atlantic, the New Republic, Slate,
Hardcover, 352 pages
Published January 19th 2010 by Harper (first published 2010)
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(showing 1-30 of 600)
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Oh, she’s funny. Her eighty-one year-old mother “still spends an hour every morning ‘putting her face on,’ with predictably fantastical, Isak Dinesen-like results.” Castle’s stepfamily was grim and horrible, and everything she writes about them makes me laugh—even her description of the short nasty life and shotgun suicide of her hooker-beating sociopath stepbrother, Jeff:

I think of Jeff as someone who had no language, or no language other than brutality. Not that he couldn’t read or write, on a
Jun 13, 2010 Buck rated it liked it
A ‘fag hag’ is a straight woman who enjoys the company of gay men. Even I know that. But what do you call a straight guy who digs lesbians? There’s got to be a slang term for that, right? Whatever it is, I think I might be one. Not that I have a lot of lesbian friends or anything, but at parties I tend to hit it off with outspoken, crop-haired women with alarming neckties. I just have a good rapport with them for some reason. Of course, I also have a good rapport with elderly ladies, pre-pubesce ...more
Aug 26, 2015 Sara rated it it was amazing
Shelves: 2015
The best memoir critique hybrid I have ever read. Ever will read. Ever.
Could be mean, as Castle calls herself, if it weren’t so painfully honest and self-deprecating. Includes one very uncomfortable dinner with Lou Reed and Laurie Anderson, Susan Sontag dodging imaginary sniper fire on a boutique street in Palo Alto, and one nude, very high and very handsome Art Pepper deliriously admiring himself in a mirror. “The tenderness between lesbians and straight men,” writes Castle, “is the real love
Oct 01, 2010 Amanda rated it it was amazing
I have a weakness for academic memoirs, and I've also been something of a fan of Castle's writing for quite a while. This is a collection of essays that merge the scholarly and the personal in a way I wish more academic writing did -- or, more accurately, they show how the scholarly develops out of the personal. The long title essay, "The Professor," recounts Castle's disastrous grad-school love affair with a considerably older professor; parts of it had me wincing and nodding in half-pained, ha ...more
Feb 16, 2012 Ariel rated it liked it
I didn't finish this book. Normally I would feel the obsessive need to, but because it is a collection of essays I feel it's OK to put it down after having finished three and perhaps return to it later. I liked it, but not enough to read the essays in which the subject matter itself doesn't intrigue me.

I began with the first essay in the book, Castle on her obsession with World War 1. It was OK, it's usually fun to read about someone's obsession with something, but there were also a lot of unnec
City Lights
"Unbelievable. I picked this book up because I knew the author was going to give a reading here at City Lights, just meaning to skim it, to get an impression of her writing. I started with the memoir-within-the-book, “The Professor”, and didn’t put it down until three hours later! The author obviously had to tell this story: it rushes out of her almost conversationally, with both passion and an awe at her own youthful naivete. A devastating work." —Jeff
Mar 15, 2014 Eli rated it really liked it
Often depressing, but always crisp and tart, like a Granny Smith apple. Terry Castle has been punched by the world and gotten up again...and keeps going.
I like her writing so much I ordered her book of essays on women and sex without reading reviews on here first.(!I NEVER buy without consulting GR first now)
It's not so much about pain--it's just that her tone can be dreary even when she's making you laugh. She's brilliant and she makes sure you notice. I have a list of works of art I want to
Lee Kofman
Jan 11, 2015 Lee Kofman rated it it was amazing
Terry Castle’s essay collection is delicious! Her hilarious and utterly unique sense of humour reminds me, at least in spirit, some quirky writers from the UK, e.g. Enright. She is really erudite and seems to be interested in everything, from the First World War to interior design. She is a linguistic maverick; her every page is brimming with inventive prose. Her vocabulary is so vast I needed a dictionary all the time while I was reading and emerging after this book as language-richer. The book ...more
Apr 28, 2014 Elizabeth rated it really liked it
Shelves: 2014
I went into this book thinking it would be a memoir/reflection on writing and the academy. I was very wrong. Though Castle's recounting of her own ill-fated love affair with a professor whilst in graduate school does encompass the bulk of this volume, neither it nor the other essays contained within it are--strictly speaking--much about academic life at all. Indeed, I would go so far as to say that the further afield Castle travels from academic subjects, the more enjoyable her writing is. But, ...more
Ashley Mcculloch
Jul 29, 2014 Ashley Mcculloch rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I picked this book up on a whim from the local used book store, and I am incredibly happy with my purchase. Terry Castle's writing style is descriptive, delightful, a little off color, and amazingly witty. This is one of the smartest books I have ever read. The book is a series of semi-autobiographical essays. You can read the essays in any order as they are not dependent on any other essay in the work. I find that there is a surprising honesty in the text. I enjoy how Castle considers the inter ...more
Apr 21, 2011 Fritz rated it really liked it
This book was recommended to me by a leading tax scholar and the editor of Feminist Rental Property Management Studies.
Frances Coles
Jun 10, 2015 Frances Coles rated it really liked it
These are essays. They're just so much fun. The title one is a little over-long, but there's a great bit in it about an academic fellowship interview in which both the interviewer and the interviewee get stoned (this is in the seventies) and wander around an airport. "My Heroin Christmas" is also a good one. And the one about taking both her mother and her girlfriend to Santa Fe. She's a little mean sometimes. You get the feeling that she really believes in that whole "writing well is the best r ...more
Gwen - Chew & Digest Books -
Feb 19, 2010 Gwen - Chew & Digest Books - rated it did not like it
Recommends it for: people way cooler than me and lesbians
Have you ever started to read a book and realized that it brought you a bit out of your comfort zone and frankly, was a bit over your head? This was one of those for me. I stuck with it though and it provoked many thoughts, feelings, and useful tidbits.

Terry Castle was once described by Susan Sontag as "the most expressive, most enlightening literary critic at large today." She is the author of seven books of criticism, including The Apparitional Lesbian: Female Homosexuality and Modern Culture
Jason Mills
Apr 30, 2012 Jason Mills rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: Fans of the follies of love!
Recommended to Jason by: Jane!
Terry Castle is an esteemed literary critic, but this is a book of memoirs. Half the book is composed of shorter pieces about her obsession with World War I, her obsession with jazz saxophonist Art Pepper, her travels in Sicily, her obsession with Susan Sontag (not the most flattering of portraits!), her obsession with interior decorating, and travels with her aging mother. The second half is the title piece, about her romantic obsession, as a student, with a female professor. These are writings ...more
Nov 10, 2015 Holly rated it liked it
Shelves: 2011-reads
It took a few essays before I warmed up to Castle's voice, but I began to sit up a little straighter with the Susan Sontag piece ("Desperately Seeking Susan") and threw off the blanket with "Travels with My Mother," a travel diary of their New Mexico trip. Castle is funny and self-deprecating and smart: Yet at some point during our remaining days, a lot of the daughter-angst starts to drop away. Like some frantic, dusty, overturned bug, I finally stop waving my many legs about and lie still. I w ...more
Jean Roberta
May 16, 2011 Jean Roberta rated it really liked it
Terry Castle is a professor of humanities at Stanford and an out lesbian with an engaging approach to an eclectic array of subjects. Her better known works include The Apparitional Lesbian: Female Homosexuality and Modern Culture and Nöel Coward and Radclyffe Hall: Kindred Spirits, a brilliant little study of mutual influence between two early 20th-century writers who have each been reclaimed as part of a homoerotic literary past, but who are rarely mentioned on the same page.

The Professor and
K.M. Soehnlein
Mar 14, 2011 K.M. Soehnlein rated it it was amazing
This is a book of lucid, original, sharply funny and intellectually exciting essays by a writer whose work I hadn't previously known (though I was aware of her highly regarded scholarly work). In this book, Terry Castle takes a break from the more academic writing she's been known for, and though the writing remains at a very high level -- keep a dictionary nearby -- there's also a looseness around language and an openness of emotion that makes for a very appealing, juicy read.

Here she turns her
Jun 27, 2010 Cheryl rated it really liked it
I agree with what most of the other readers have posted about this book.

One of my favorite paragraphs:

" ... I also felt weirdly fatuous, almost paralyzed -- like someone in a jumbo jet when it begins its insane, mind scrambling acceleration down the runway. All of a sudden everything starts to race by and its all you can do to squeeze out some last morbid good-byes: bye-bye terminal; bye-bye little fuel trucks, bye-bye control tower (hope someone's in there), bye-bye scrubby trees and outlying c
Jul 30, 2010 Megan rated it liked it
Ya know, for a book titled after Charlotte Bronte's "The Professor" and coming from a Stanford scholar of 18th century literature, I guess you'd expect less chatty, tangential prose and more discipline. I had to just skip over some of the less interesting tangents, like for instance Castle's description of her preoccupations with rubber stamping and digital collage. Still and all, Castle's goofy, self-deprecating style, while perhaps not worthy of the superlatives Dave Hickey piled on it in his ...more
Jul 20, 2010 Theresa rated it it was amazing
Zinger autobiographical essays: amazingly self-revelatory, specific and universal, images that nail her meaning and call no attention to themselves, great writing. She gets enthralled with things: the bravery of the marching WW I foot soldiers (how did they do that?); the self-destructiveness of her half brother and also of Art Pepper, the genius alto sax player (what is the difference in their self-destructive lives?); the trip to Santa Fe with her 81 year-old mother (that maddening love/hate m ...more
Michael Burnam-fink
Apr 29, 2011 Michael Burnam-fink rated it liked it
Shelves: 2011
Literary non-fiction is the most self-indulgent of all styles of literature. Really, does anybody care about some writer's (lesbian) lovelife, vacations, or taste in art? Terry Castle redeems the inherent self-indulgence of the genre, but only just. She actually has interesting taste in music, drops literary references in a way that makes the reader feel more cultured, and the lesbian-ness of the bad relationships makes them a little more enjoyable. The wordcrafting is good, and occasionally spa ...more
Mar 19, 2011 Krista rated it it was ok
I found this book to be pretty disappointing. It may simply be a case of mis-placed expectations: I had heard good things from some colleagues who had heard Castle read portions of it, and they seemed to indicate that it was in the "humor about academia" genre. I didn't find this was really the case - there were certainly a few humorous moments, although really not that much about academia (thus my disappointment - I find the "humor about academia" genre particularly fabulous given that I work w ...more
Vincent Scarpa
Mar 24, 2015 Vincent Scarpa rated it really liked it
She's a few feet behind Fran Lebowitz on the page, but not too far.
Feb 02, 2014 Joanna rated it really liked it
So funny! Also deeply erudite, sometimes solipsistic, rawly personal and essentially feminine.
Sep 06, 2014 Roxanne rated it it was ok
Completely forgettable. Disappointingly so.
Mar 14, 2012 Jillian rated it it was amazing
I didn't care for the first story in this collection but I'm so glad I kept reading. Most of the writings beside The Professor reminded me of Doris Lessing's The Golden Notebook: difficult but brilliant.

The Professor was one of the most twisted, realistic and uncomfortable things I've read in a while. Castle nails the "S&M relationship of the vanilla set" (I can't remember where I heard that but it fits) and anyone who has loved someone toxic will relate.
May 17, 2012 Emmi rated it really liked it
Terry Castle is a wonderful writer. The essays in this book are cerebral yet very personal, filled with literary and cultural references, meaningful and interesting, and really funny. I really liked how she repeatedly makes fun of herself and points out her character flaws. She is very accomplished: a Stanford professor, writer, and artist, and super smart, and she presents herself as a regular person with the same neuroses as the rest of us.
Jan 14, 2012 Maddie rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: essays, own
A lovely and enjoyable collection of essays. This is the first work I have read by Castle and I thought it was quite a good read. "The Professor" is an essay about Castle's first relationship (and one that was psychotic) is located at the end of the book and is about half of the book. While I enjoyed this essay, my favorite was "Travels with my Mother" in which Castle details a trip she took with her girlfriend and her mother.
Jan 19, 2011 Whitney rated it liked it
Parts of this book work really well. I loved the mixture of literary criticism with the personal and was expecting the book to be more of a book about book-loving than it actually was, which is fine. I'm torn on her rambling prose...I sometimes like where it leads her and sometimes think she just uses it as a way to tell (terrible) jokes. It's weird how lowbrow her sense of humor is.
Apr 22, 2013 scherzo♫ rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: non-fiction
Gave up. Too self-centered for me, especially the road trip to San Diego when she acts like a spoiled two-year-old because her boom box doesn't work. It made me feel sympathetic for therapists who have to listen to this stuff all day.

The narrator should learn the correct pronunciation for place names. Van Nuys is not pronounced Van Noise (a long i instead).
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Terry Castle was once described by Susan Sontag as "the most expressive, most enlightening literary critic at large today." She is the author of seven books of criticism, including The Apparitional Lesbian: Female Homosexuality and Modern Culture (1993) and Boss Ladies, Watch Out! Essays on Women and Sex (2002). Her antholoy, The Literature of Lesbianism, won the Lambda Literary Editor's Choice Aw ...more
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“True or False? The delusion that doing well in school will win me love has disfigured my life. Discuss in 5-7 pages.” 5 likes
“...the very greatest satire, I came to think -- the kind that lives forever -- ultimately grew out of a debunking attitude toward the self. To see the world mock-heroically was necessarily to engage in a sort of preliminary self-burlesque. You couldn't take yourself *that* seriously. You were part of it. All the Lilliputian preening and pomposity was, at bottom, one's own.” 3 likes
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