Olsson's Book Bits

by Greta Olsson

Nice Work by David Lodge
Copyright 1988
Penguin Books Paperback
ISBN: 0-14-01-3398-8
277 Pages

David Lodge is one of England's top humorists. He spent many years teaching at a British University and that fact permeates this work, and my favorite, Changing Places.

"In the turbulent year of 1969, Philip Swallow and Morris Zapp participate in a transcontinental professorial exchange program that leads to a swapping of students, colleagues, and even wives. A hilarious send-up of academic life, intellectual fashion, sex and marriage."

A hilarious scene has the American run into the non-stop, revolving elevator to escape an irate English professor who is in hot pursuit of him to give him a good thrashing. The American mistakenly believes as he goes across the top of the loop that he must stand up on his hands in order to come down right-side up. In passing the two men look at each other in utter astonishment.

Nice Work has a more serious note than Changing Places.

"Vic Wilcox, a self-made man and managing director of an engineering firm, has little regard for academics, and even less for feminists. So when Robyn Penrose, a trendy leftist teacher, is assigned to 'shadow' Vic under a government program created to foster mutual understanding between town and gown, the hilarious collision of lifestyles and ideologies that ensues seems unlikely to foster anything besides mutual antipathy. But in the course of a bumpy year, both parties make some surprising discoveries about each other's world's - and about themselves."

Robyn Penrose is super brilliant, a top expert on the 19th century industrial novel and women's studies. She teaches Vic Wilcox many literary terms: Semiotics, the study of signs, giving him an amazing sexual understanding of a Silk-Cut Cigarettes poster. This discussion leads into a distinction between metaphors and a metonymic connection. Vic complains that he can't find the meaning of virement in a dozen dictionaries. I couldn't find it in my Oxford one. Vic found it in a revised Collins. Is it really there or did lodge make it up?

The Mexican Mafia by Tony Rafael
Encounter Books, New York and London
362 Pages, Paperback
ISBN: 13:978-1-59403-195-3
ISBN: 10:1-59403-195-9

Although Tony Rafael's "chronicle of the insidious spread of the tribal and violent Mexican Mafia from beyond the prison into the general culture of the American Southwest" is frightening, the work strikes me as historically dry. Victor Hanson of Stanford University and author of Mexifornia, wrote "Illegal immigration, the loss of confidence in assimilation, and the failure of the public to recognize the lethal nature of gang life have all led to entire enclaves under the Mexican Mafia's control - a chilling warning of a terrible crisis on the horizon for us all."

Heather MacDonald, a Manhattan Institute Fellow, believes "the gang 'experts' beloved of the mainstream media claim that gangs are disorganized and eradicable with government jobs, programs, and other social services. Tony Rafael knows better. He shows how entrenched and lethal a threat the Mexican Mafia and other Hispanic gangs are."

Rafael points out that the age difference between generations isn't as wide as in other groups. "A twenty-five year old active gangster can be considered a veteran. Gangsters as young as fifteen have often seen enough street warfare, and committed a sufficient number of crimes, to be considered battle-hardened soldiers who won't flinch at the sound of gunfire, or be easily intimidated by the thought of spending a decade in prison. This very short gap in age difference between one generation of gangsters and the next, allows ranks depleted by incarceration or death to be replenished within a few years."

Rafael believes the Mexican Mafia of today is about where the Italian one was in the 1930's. Will the Mexicans continue to grow stronger and stronger as the Italians did? Do the Mexicans have the discipline, respect, and strength of the Italians?

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