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Moo by Jane Smiley

Moo (1995)

by Jane Smiley

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2,144553,048 (3.52)119
  1. 30
    Straight Man by Richard Russo (wademlee)
    wademlee: Academic satire, humorous & outrageous. Those in Academe will recognize themselves or their colleagues.
  2. 01
    Zuleika Dobson by Max Beerbohm (allenmichie)

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» See also 119 mentions

Showing 1-5 of 55 (next | show all)
I first read this book when it was released back in the 1990s, and I remember thinking it was hilarious. Although I had little experience on a college campus at that time, having dropped out after a lackadaisical year to work my dream job in the only profession I was ever going to pursue (ha!), my time growing up in a rural community helped me recognize the humorous aspects of a secret project to see just how huge a hog can get if it is allowed unlimited food and no physical exertion. That the hog was named Earl Butz after President Nixon's embattled Secretary of Agriculture was even funnier.

Fast forward to 2017, and I'm re-reading [Moo] because I recommended it for our fledging book club at work. Given that I work at a large state university (although one that is not focused on agricultural sciences) I expected the satire to be even sharper than my original reading. And it was, but parts of it hit a little too close to the bone to be really funny — the mindless drive for private research grants where the size of a donor's bank account is more important than the content of their character, the endless promoting of administrators far beyond their capabilities, and especially the lack of support from the state government for its flagship of higher education — had me wincing more than guffawing.

Smiley attended the University of Iowa's famed Writers' Workshop, and she taught for a number of years at Iowa State University, the real Moo U., and her insider knowledge shows on every page. She knows just where to stick the knife to skewer the university archetypes where it hurts, and I don't think any department is left unscathed. If I have one criticism, it's the sheer size of this novel — its girth gives ole Earl Butz a run for his money. And in her eagerness to leave no campus corner unridiculed, she created an enormous cast of characters who were sometimes hard to keep straight, especially since I read the book over the course of a month. But overall, I thoroughly enjoyed this look at the absurdities of life in higher education, and impressed that it didn't really feel dated at all. ( )
1 vote rosalita | Sep 12, 2017 |
Everyone keeps telling me I should read Jane Smiley and they’re probably right. With biting humor, sharp satire, a wealth of fascinating characters, and even some touches of tender affection for people, place and environment, Moo is a slowly rising storm of a Midwestern University vs. the world, and vs. itself. Readers are guided into the heads of professors, administrators, students (successful and otherwise, plus those still trying to figure what constitutes success), lecturers, secretaries (who of course wield all the power), farmers and even a pig. Every character feels real. Every situation feels close enough to real to be recognizable. And the blend of sharp comedy and poignant observation is perfectly balanced.

Moo is a long novel, reminding me in places of The Masters by C. P. Snow (one of my favorites), and warning me, perhaps, that I’m missing some of the points by not being a Midwesterner. (I’m a Cambridge girl—hence loving The Masters I guess.) It’s easy to read the novel in single chapters, each nicely numbered and titled, so a perfect bedtime book. And the ending is oddly satisfying after all the machinations that came before.

Real people. Curious situations. And caustic humor. A long, slow, thoroughly enjoyable read.

Disclosure: I borrowed it from a friend and I enjoyed it. ( )
  SheilaDeeth | Jun 8, 2017 |
I love satires & satires about academic institutions are among my favorites so I wasn't surprised to find myself enjoying this one. However, perhaps my expectations were too high after reading the powerful A Thousand Acres last year -- this novel doesn't reach that same level. ( )
  leslie.98 | Jan 12, 2017 |
Smiley has a way of empathizing with the most ordinary, flawed people. This book, set at a state ag. university (I was at Iowa State when Smiley was, and the setting is unmistakable) does a nice job of portraying the compromises and moral dilemmas of ordinary people, self-centered but wishing to "do the right thing" whatever that is. An enjoyable read. ( )
  kaitanya64 | Jan 3, 2017 |
Well, I had to try it, considering I attended a college with an Ag emphasis in the Midwest. But now I'm working with my son's high school staff to improve the school for accreditation, and I don't want to think about grown-ups in an educational institution behaving badly.
  Cheryl_in_CC_NV | Jun 5, 2016 |
Showing 1-5 of 55 (next | show all)
Jane Smiley's new novel is a sprawling and hilarious spoof of contemporary life set in a fictional Midwestern university, whose initials provide its nickname, MOO.

Sometimes "Moo" relies on university in-jokes, but mostly Smiley is dealing with human nature. After laughing at each character and enjoying the twists and turns of the plot, readers may also find themselves reflected in this large and forgiving mirror of modern life.
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For Phoebe, Lucy, and Axel James, with love
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From the outside it was clear that the building known generally as "Old Meats" had eased under the hegemony of the horticulture department.
Men are competent in groups that mimic the playground, incompetent in groups that mimic the family.
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Book description
Moo is a 1995 novel by Jane Smiley. It is set in the American Midwest on the fictional campus of Moo University during the 1989-1990 academic year. The novel is a comedy that uses a sprawling narrative style, encompassing the lives of dozens of characters.
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Amazon.com Amazon.com Review (ISBN 0679420231, Hardcover)

The hallowed halls of Moo University, a midwestern agricultural institution (aka "cow college"), are rife with devious plots, mischievous intrigue, lusty liaisons, and academic one-upsmanship. In this wonderfully written and masterfully plotted novel, Jane Smiley, the prizewinning author of A Thousand Acres, offers a wickedly funny, darkly poignant comedy. A finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award for fiction.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:03:16 -0400)

(see all 5 descriptions)

A satire on university life, describing the rackets and the intellectual dishonesty that goes on. The setting is the U of Moo where research into the destruction of rain forests is tailored to suit the corporation funding the project. By the author of A Thousand Acres.… (more)

» see all 3 descriptions

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