"Looking For Class"

“Looking for Class” by Bruce Feiler

I enjoy this author. I like his style and the two books of his that I’ve read are well researched. He can be almost too academic at times, but only for a line or two and then he draws you back in. It is this academic – but not too academic – style that feeds me the history, statistics and other factual information I crave to round out any story.

This window into one of the most prestigious schools on the planet was entertaining, if somewhat disheartening. Some of my admittedly naive illusions about Cambridge were blown away like leaves in a cold Autumn wind. Never having been there myself, my illusions were formed completely from what I read of other’s experiences and – ok I admit it – fiction. I read just about anything, truth or fantasy, that is set in those hallowed halls. I have envied the students, revered the professors, and fabricated an illusion of Cambridge that is dear to me. I have believed it to be a place where intelligent people gather for their favourite activities: study, research, writing and the kind of conversation of which I would like to be capable, but am not.

Giving up this cherished illusion was not something I enjoyed, but facts must be faced. And Mr. Feilier says the facts are that it is not always learning that preoccupies the students. Many don’t attend lectures, but instead waste whole terms in hosting and attending drinking and sex parties. Not so different from other universities I expect, but this is not other universities. This is Cambridge – revered, romantic Cambridge. So much for romance.

I did, however, enjoy reading about Feiler’s year there. His account is both honest and funny. Between the entertaining accounts of his personal encounters and anecdotes about other students we learn something of how the university and it’s colleges are run, the changes that are being made to try to adjust to modern times and what the daily life of a student looks like. Reading the book felt a bit like actually spending a few days at Cambridge; Feiler has the ability to make his experience very real to the reader.

So, I liked this book. And I’m not completely disenchanted. The setting amid old stone buildings and English gardens is still romantic. The students are intelligent. The conversation is at times quick and witty (the debate account is particularly enjoyable), and at others profound and enlightening. I would still go to Cambridge if I had the chance, as a visitor of course; I am neither intelligent nor wealthy enough to attend. It may not be the hallowed place of my illusions, but it still has more than enough charm for a good book.


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