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Ever the treasonous clerks

If you don’t know Jane Smiley’s delightful comic novel Moo, set in a large Midwestern university, you have a treat ahead of you that should not be delayed. From this 1995 novel, a short passage to illustrate an enduring feature of our political landscape:

It was well known among the citizens of the state that the university had pots of money and that there were highly paid faculty members in every department who had once taught Marxism and who now taught something called deconstructionism which was only Marxism gone underground in preparation for emergence at a time of national weakness.



Posted by John McIntyre at 12:26 PM | | Comments (4)


On Facebook, Mike Pope comments on his taste for comic novels set in academia, particularly:

Lucky Jim, Kingsley Amis (of course)
Changing Places, David Lodge, and his follow-up novels with the same characters
Straight Man, Richard Russo
Wonder Boys, Michael Chabon
Rebel Angels, Robertson Davies, or really the whole Cornish Trilogy. tho those are less outright comic than the others

And Lisa McLendon chimes in with a recommendation of The Lecturer's Tale and Publish and Perish by James Hynes.

The Amis has been a talisman for academics, and Davies writes like no one else. Great stuff. But surely Nabokov's Pnin deserves a place of honor on this particular shelf.

I am also a sucker for novels set in academia. Adding to the enjoyment of David Lodge's Changing Places and sequels is the general assumption that one of the main characters was based on Stanley Fish, who was at Hopkins for a while.

I also enjoyed Moo, but was what endures in my memories of that book is a novel use for guacamole.

It has long been acknowledged that there is a large kernel of truth buried in comedy.

Pnin is far and away my favourite academic satire, but Randall Jarrell's Pictures from an Institution certainly isn't bad:

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About John McIntyre
John McIntyre, mild-mannered editor for a great metropolitan newspaper, has fussed over writers’ work, to sporadic expressions of gratitude, for thirty years. He is The Sun’s night content production manager and former head of its copy desk. He also teaches editing at Loyola University Maryland. A former president of the American Copy Editors Society, a native of Kentucky, a graduate of Michigan State and Syracuse, and a moderate prescriptivist, he writes about language, journalism, and arbitrarily chosen topics. If you are inspired by a spirit of contradiction, comment on the posts or write to him at
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