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Monday, March 21, 2011

Academic Satire Recommendations

It is possible that you are at that point in the semester, or in your career, when you are in need of academic satire in literary form.  Although many would recommend Lucky Jim by Kingsley Amis, it has scenes of gratuitous cruelty in the beginning chapters that I can never get past. [I feel the same way about certain episodes of Seinfeld involving George or most episodes of Curb Your Enthusiasm.] It does contain a brilliant description of a hangover, though. Some would recommend Jane Smiley's Moo, which has a brilliant opening chapter but doesn't follow through.  Instead, I prefer David Lodge's Changing Places, which has a brilliant scene about a "rising star" English professor whose tenure prospects are scuttled when he admits during a drinking game at a faculty party that he's never read Hamlet.  I also love Richard Russo's hilarious Straight Man, which captures the inanity of (certain) faculty meetings perfectly.   

Posted by Lyrissa Lidsky on March 21, 2011 at 07:42 PM in Books, Lyrissa Lidsky | Permalink


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Thanks for all the wonderful suggestions. I am about to embark on reading a couple of books by fellow law prof Richard Dooling, but I've put in an amazon order for some of the works suggested here. I'm especially intrigued by The Discovery of Witches, which sounds like the perfect end-of-semester book to read while one is supposed to be grading.

Posted by: Lyrissa | Mar 26, 2011 2:42:49 PM

It has been a while since I read it, but I particularly enjoyed the book Foolscap by Michael Malone, which is set in the drama department of a North Carolina college.

Posted by: Paul | Mar 24, 2011 11:45:29 AM

Here's one that's slightly off the beaten track: James Hynes's The Lecturer's Tale, which is a more magical-realist tale wrapped in and around an academic satire.

Posted by: C.E. Petit | Mar 22, 2011 12:01:01 PM

Don't neglect Vladimir Nabokov's Pnin-really hilarious-and Alison Lurie's War Between the Tates (Cornell at the end of the sixties)

Posted by: Rob Howse | Mar 22, 2011 9:36:05 AM

Tom Sharpe's Porterhouse Blue and Richard H. Fallon, Jr.'s Stubborn as a Mule are well worth reading, too.

Posted by: Joel K. Goldstein | Mar 22, 2011 7:22:47 AM

Lodge books are nice but I LOVE Straight Man, and anything Russo more generally - if you like Russo and academia -- his newest book, That old cape magic is about a prof/filmmaker. prawf Richard Albert just gave me Fletcher's The Bond which involves the academy. and finally, not normally my genre, but surprisingly good: the new hit vampire/magic novel: The Discovery of Witches, is about a history professor falling in love with an Oxford based biology professor [witch meets vampire].

Posted by: Orly Lobel | Mar 22, 2011 1:58:01 AM

Those are my favorites as well, and I've also never been able to handle Lucky Jim. The Lecturer's Tale, by James Hynes is pretty good, with characters based on the non-Stanley Fish stars of the literary academic firmament.

Posted by: David Zaring | Mar 21, 2011 9:36:32 PM

I liked _Changing Places_ and _Small World_ quite a bit, but I have to admit that it spoiled things for me a bit when I learned that Morris Zapp was heavily based on Stanley Fish.

Posted by: Matt | Mar 21, 2011 9:04:19 PM

For satire on academics at its finest, read Malcolm Bradbury's work. http://www.malcolmbradbury.com/index.html.

Posted by: John Linarelli | Mar 21, 2011 8:48:11 PM

While one does recognize that the members of this "blawg" [sic.] might be so tired or tiresome as to require satire of the academy, their minds might be better salved by the most excellent musings of one Sir Alan Patrick Herbert, whose "Misleading Cases in the Common Law" is a true tour de force of ridicule of both the common law and its Sophistic trappings. Keenest satire comes from knowing ones target intimately and then skewering each bit with glee, and Herbert possessed cutting insight into the subject. Rather than entertaining notions of satirizing the academy, Herbert plumbs much more colourful depths by satirizing the law, and the law, for one, is significantly better for it. One imagines this blawg's contributors would be similarly improved by reading it.

Posted by: Cantab. | Mar 21, 2011 8:23:29 PM

I've been reading, off and on, Lodge's Small World. It's very fun...can't quite decide whether it's satire or description of the academic in his/her natural habitat.

Posted by: Marc DeGirolami | Mar 21, 2011 8:09:26 PM

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