Sunday, October 22, 2006

do not fear: the boy detective fails concerns a different boy detective

boy detective cover

A common cocktail party topic for academics is what job they would fancy doing if they weren't academics. My stock answer for what I would do if I was cast out of academia, "Write a lurid murder mystery about academia," still holds, and I continue to collect anecdotes that might be good fodder for that exigency should it arise (feel free to e-mail me; the truth value of particular anecdotes is not as pertinent for my purposes as its lurid novelization value).

The more common way of asking the question, though, is just to imagine your fantasized alternative career--sometimes phrased as what you really want to be when you grow up--and for this I have cycled noncommittally through various answers. This weekend, though, I read the novel The Boy Detective Fails (recipient of a rare 5 kiwi rating on Lucy's blog) and have decided that this is really what I want to be when I grow up: Jeremy Freese, boy detective. Indeed, given the adage that the best way to become something is to pretend to be it already, it's all I can do not to make a WWJF,BDD bracelet for myself, or to change my signature file and business cards to add this along with the "associate professor" and "policy fellow" titles.

I think it's long been the case that the times I enjoy social research the most are those where I feel like Jeremy Freese, boy detective, so at least I can be more honest with myself about this fact and perhaps also take up solving crimes on the side.

I was telling a friend excitedly all about this while we were walking on the bricks, cement, and iron subway grates of Massachusetts Avenue between Harvard and Central Squares. Suddenly there was this really loud noise like a train. "What's that thing that sounds like a train?" I said, looking around perplexed, since it's not like there were any railroad crossings near where we were walking. Then I added: "Oh, uh, it's the subway," which was, at that moment, directly beneath us. "Nice work, boy detective," said my friend.

BTW, from The Boy Detective Fails, how the protagonist discovers his calling:
The room was still as the boy detective took the magnifying glass in his hand and began to do what he had always been meant to. At once, the mysterious, the unknown, and the unidentified moved from the shadows into sharp contrast before his eyes. It was at that moment that the boy detective first began to detect.

It went exactly like this: Billy held up the magnifying glass, the lens bringing the wondering faces of his family into perfect sharpness, their soft expressions suddenly becoming serious, each a portrait of some hidden secret. Billy spied his older brother with the magnifying glass, as he was the relative standing the closest, and Derek immediately confessed that he was gay. Also, that he hated life in the Navy.
The book also features a brainy girl who is intimidated out of participating in the science fair by a popular girl who goes on to win with the project "How Water Totally Turns Into Ice."

13 comments:

rps said...

You solved "The Mystery of the Invisible Train"! And without your magnifying glass, even...

dorotha said...

my whole life, my mother has always said that she was going to be various things when she grows up. for a while when i was in middle school, she wanted to raise chickens. yesteday she turned 63 (maybe 64, i'm not sure). my sister and nephew took her to a place in austin where you can bring a dead thing and trade it for a different dead thing. my mother now wants to run a place like this. it is a good fit for her.

my dad has a PhD in chemistry. he did a postdoc somewhere in the netherlands and one at yale. then he ended up in "the industry." he regrets it. now that he is older he really wishes he had a tiny lab somewhere and a grad student or two.

my mother got us instead of chickens and my dad got a business card that says "demulsification technical engineer." when they retire they will go to austin. my mother can swap her dead things back and forth and take care of some of her chickens. my dad can start going to talks at the university of texas. if they think positive, i think this will work out.

my word verification "word" for this comment is "dietpb." i like it when the word verification i get contains an actual word. in this case, however, it reminds me that i am getting quite chubby.

AaronSw said...

Can you give an example murder anecdote?

jeremy said...

Aaron: Nice try. You'll have to wait and buy it in hardcover.

jeremy said...

DH: I think your parents will enjoy Austin. You might consider opening up a Madison franchise of the dead thing exchange.

dorotha said...

i like dead things, but for my mother, it is a passion. my nephew saves pet fish that die (as pet fish do) and dries them out for his "icky collection." he did it to be like my mom. don't get me wrong, i have an icky collection, too, but nothing like either of theirs. i just don't think that i have the same drive they do. i doubt i would get my icky swap off the ground.

Anonymous said...

I love the science fair bit. And imagining you walking around asking yourself WWJF,BDD. You really should make that bracelet.
-andrea

rps said...

You are my hero for adding "boy detective" to your self description.

I can hardly wait to see "boy detective" on your cv and your cards and the title overheads for all your talks...

Anonymous said...

On the topic of sociologists and mystery novels, you might know that Randall Collins of the University of Pennsylvania published a mystery novel "The Case of the Philosophers' Ring" in the 1970s. From a summary on the web (see http://www.geocities.com/Athens/ Parthenon/7069/philring.html) the story includes famous academics, but doesn't sound too lurid.

Anonymous said...

Oops--on the link I just posted on the previous comment, you've got to leave out the space before "Parthenon" to get it to work.

Anonymous said...

Regarding the campus/academic novel, David Lodge's work is wonderful (see: _Changing Places_ and _Small World_). Also, Richard Russo's _Straight Man_ is good.

Kim said...

Jeremy Freese: the next Andrew Greeley. (Or Frank Parkin?)

Anonymous said...

My favorite boy detective book is "The Riverside Villas Murder" by Kingsley Amis. Its lurid, but in unexpected ways. And the story is more intelligently told than most examples of the genre, by far.