June 13, 2004

First Years

Here are a couple of related book reviews about experience in a professional school. First is "One L", a book by Scott Turow (who also writes legal thrillers with about the same talent and readability as John Grisham) about his first year at Harvard Law School. I flirted with the idea of law school a very long time ago. Obviously, I like a good debate, I like research, I like the idea of justice, I'm quick with facts and arguments, etc. I'd probably make an ok lawyer, and I sometimes wonder about the road not taken. You know how it is. So it is interesting to read about what it is like in a prestigious law school, and of course, it is also interesting for me (as a college teacher) to read about student perceptions of professors, even at the graduate level. Turow's book isn't the best of its kind out there, but it is well worth the read if the subject of law school interests you at all.

A better book in the "first year" genre is Robert Reid's "Year One", about his first year at Harvard Business School. It's out of print, so if you're like me, you'll have to find it at a used bookstore somewhere or the library. I've never really considered going this route with my life, but I know a lot of science majors who bailed out for business school. A famous t-shirt at my undergraduate college said, in mathematical symbols, that the limit of one's degree as the GPA approaches zero is the MBA. People who can barely cut a "C" in a basic Physics, Chemistry, Mathematics or Biology curriculum, for example, can often go into the business track and find themselves head and shoulders above a whole bunch of people, many of whom have school as a distant second priority to their social life.

The best of the best go to the top business schools, and Reid tells his story of what comes then. I really liked the first half of this book, but in the second half, Reid's sense of wonder and fascination kind of gets lost as he gets bogged down in the nitty gritty details of classes and assignments. I also got the feeling that a sense of overwhelming cynicism was starting to set in, the kind of thing that repels me from that career path in the first place. It's one thing to be cynical about politics, quite another to be cynical about your career. I'm really lucky I landed in a situation where I got to pursue what I wanted all my life.

On a related note, by the way, I'm currently rereading the Harry Potter series (and I'm now reading about his first year at Hogwart's) for two reasons. One is that it is always interesting to reread a series in light of knowing the events in future books. I'm surprised how well Rowling makes reference to things to come and how complete her world seems to be even in the first story. Did you know that when Hagrid first delivers Harry to the Dursley's, he flies in on the borrowed motorcycle of his friend, Sirius Black? That's an example of a tiny plot point that you might read right over the first time but not after you've read later books, and the first book is loaded with those.

The second reason is that I don't want the movies to be the sum total of my memory of the story, which is so much richer than what they portray on film. I'm sure they'll make a hash (at least, compared to what it could be if given a LOTR Peter Jackson treatment) of the next two lengthy books. What a shame.

Posted by Observer at June 13, 2004 06:36 PM

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