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3.46 of 5 stars 3.46  ·  rating details  ·  5,857 ratings  ·  469 reviews
"DELECTABLY ENTERTAINING. . . . An uproariously funny and at the same time hauntingly melancholy portrait of a college community in the Midwest."
--The New York Times
Nestled in the heart of the Midwest, amid cow pastures and waving fields of grain, lies Moo University, a distinguished institution devoted to the art and science of agriculture. Here, among an atmosphere rife
Mass Market Paperback, 437 pages
Published February 28th 1998 by Ivy Books (first published 1995)
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Wow, can I give less than 1 star? This is going in to that rare list of "books I cannot even get through." It makes me very sad that this woman can get published (and apparently won an award at some point in her life!) and I have friends who can actually WRITE who cannot. Imagine if the author of "Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil" had written his 150 pages of character development, but hadn't actually been able to make you care about any of the characters. Or, in fact, been able to convin ...more
I was just reminded of this book by my friend Susan. Now here was a hilarious read. Never was there a more true back picture of academia. They are all NUTS!!! Even the ones who aren't will agree they are a bit around the edges. Please read this, and laugh.
Jane Smiley, a former academic, is pitch perfect in this subtle yet scathing account of academic life in a small Midwestern town. As a former graduate student who had more than his fill of graduate school, this book was both wonderful and horrifying to read. I recommend this book to anyone thinking of attending graduate school, or as a medicine for those still recovering from the absurdity of it.
Moo was one of those books that I was so sure I would enjoy that I was really looking forward to reading it. I thought that since I have been in the field of higher education as lecturer/professor for the last 17 years and before that as a college student and graduate student, I would find it insightful, funny, and entertaining.

I couldn't have been more wrong. I so could not wait to finish the book not because I was enjoying, but because I simply wanted to be done with it. Ironically, I didn't
Anyone who has worked or taught in a university will appreciate this satirical novel set in an unnamed land-grant university in a Midwestern state with a strong resemblance to Iowa. Smiley, who manages to find the entire world in the cornfields of her native region, gets the personalities, idiosyncracies and bizarre internal politics of American academe exactly right in this book.
I knew about Jane Smiley, having won a Pulitzer Prize and having had two of her books made into movies, but had not previously read her works. I am glad that MOO is the first I read.
From MOO:
"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 now taught something called deconstructionism which was only Marxism gone underground in preparation for emergence at a
Keith Rosson
Listen, Jane Smiley is a fucking straight-up genius, and MOO is a hilarious, intricate and brilliant send-up of academia. She effortlessly weaves together dozens of character viewpoints, all while keeping a sort of empathetic humor at a slow boil throughout all of it. It's really impressive.

It's also very interesting to me to see the very polarizing reviews of this book - on one hand, I can see how it's not that interesting to some people (it is, after all, set in an agricultural college in the
My response to Smiley's novel was contradictory. On the one hand, I liked her ambitious attempt at depicting the entirety of a college campus, covering students, faculty, and administration. On the other hand, there were just too many characters for any of them to be sufficiently developed. I could never keep straight the four female students sharing the dorm, in part due to the cutesy rhyming-names thing, but mostly due to the fact that Smiley didn't do a great job of distinguishing them from o ...more
Fiona Van
The description "Dickensian" is often given to Smiley's books and in the case of MOO, I think it is merited. MOO is the abbreviated name of a Midwestern State University, where Animal Husbandry and Horticulture have equal status with Maths or Modern Languages. The book demands concentration as, chapter by chapter you are introduced to perhaps a hundred significant separate characters, with new ones appearing until you are a third of the way through - and such characters - idiosyncratic, opiniona ...more
What a delightful read! Hilarious, poignant, great characters. This is a satire of Midwest American academia, written (and set) around the time of the fall of the Soviet empire.
Will Walton







Jane Smiley is such a sharp student of human nature. This book is so hilarious and filled with so many wonderful characters, including a very lovable 700 pound hog named Earl Butz. Can't believe I had never read this book, which I picked up at a Library sale. Long live Libraries!
Jill Melnicki
This book had a lot of potential. A great storyline; an interesting setting; a talented writer. But, it was entirely disappointing. The problem is with the characters: NO ONE IS INTERESTING. And yet, the book contains detail after detail about the characters. (There are a lot of them.) One could anticipate this from the book's jacket: "Never raising her voice, giving everybody his or her (or its) due, Jane Smiley lets no one escape..." That is an understatement. Each character is just as dull as ...more
Esme Pie
After reading 'Straight Man' I was in the mood for another satire of academic life, so I can't help but compare Russo's book to Smiley's. Moo was funny enough, enjoyable enough but so inferior to 'Straight Man' I never could get into it. It's very satirical, above the fray, ironic--you just never come to care about any of the characters. Whereas 'Straight Man' has heart, as all good comedies should.
I tend to have mixed feelings about novels about academia. On the one hand, I think academia is a rich subject for fiction, including satire. On the other hand, many novels about academia are so heavily satirical that the reader feels the authors must utterly hate academia and that there is evidently no redeeming it from its foibles and sins. As someone who has had almost entirely positive experiences with academia both as a student and, recently, as a professor, I find this thin and tiresome mo ...more
Between reading Moo and DeLillo's White Noise, I feel like I just went back to college! I enjoyed Moo and was surprised at how long it took me to read it -- nearly three days, with two days of solid reading. Smiley populates this book with a university microcosm. At first, it's a little confusing, but it doesn't take long until you are into the swing of it and know these people (just like college).

The book takes place during two semesters in the 1989-90 school year - when businesses are downsiz
Jason Pettus
(As of October 2013, my arts center is selling a SIGNED first-edition, first-printing copy of this book at reseller eBay. [See our entire rare-book collection at (] Below is what I wrote for the listing's description.)

One of the most common questions out there among people who collect "hypermodern" first editions (books less than thirty years old) is how to best guess which living authors to be collecting in the first place; and while only the future will show us which
this was a bit too episodic for my liking. but very funny in parts. and insightful. from my favourite chapter:

"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 now taught something called deconstructionism which was only Marxism gone underground in preparation for emergence at a time of national weakness.

It was well known among the legislators that the facult
My first Jane Smiley novel. She and Ruth Ozeki are kindred spirits for sure. But My Year of Meats was better paced; this one dragged in places and there were a few characters I never could keep straight because there were so many storylines bouncing around. Most of them came together satisfactorily, but I can think of 3 or 4 that could have been eliminated within endangering the overall coherence of the plot...which, by the way, centers on the eccentric personalities of professors, administrator ...more
I actually abandoned the book. I've been trying to read it since early March or late February, and I'm barely past page 100. I just can't get interested. The first 50 or more pages seem to do little more than introduce character after character after character. By the time all the characters have been brought in, I can't remember who the first ones are, and at page 100, I still can't figure out if there's plot. I considered the possibility that the book is more of a collection of vignettes than ...more
I'm a great lover of academic satire. Letting Go (Roth), Beet (Latham), Straight Man (Russo) are all on the top of my list. So I really wanted to love this book. It IS well written, there are some gems of paragraphs. But at the same time, the book was distressing, too. I think that the subject matter is just a little too close to home for me, right now. Moo was originally published in 1995 and the economic crises of the 2000's were a long way off, so I can't blame Smiley for the imaginative scen ...more
Dec 19, 2009 Kedric is currently reading it  ·  review of another edition
It's interesting too far, but too many damn characters to keep track of. Seriously, there are like 10 students and 12 faculty of Moo University. 4 of the students who live together are named Mary, Sheri, Terry and Diane and there are 2 Harstads and at least 1 person is a Dean of the University and another is a professor named Dean. ARGH! I'm wondering if the confusion was intentional? It's starting to get good though. I'm enjoying the intrigue of the gold mine in Costa Rica and the university po ...more
Moo U. is a land-grant university in one of the mid-Western states. The author presents us with a huge cast of characters: students, academics and bureaucrats. In this farcical send up of academia- albeit agricultural academia rather than the ivory tower sort- everyone is avid for something, be it sex, tenure, grades, money, power, food, or a way out of the life they have. The living metaphor of this greed sits at the very center of the campus, physically and symbolically: a huge hog named Earl ...more
This was an interesting book. Just...interesting. I guess it's supposed to be comedy, and that's fine, there were definitely funny moments and had the people in the book not been so utterly horrible and with so few redeeming features, I think it would have been even funnier. But I just couldn't get over the fact that except for one or two people everyone in the book is just a caricature of a human being, with few, if any, redeeming qualities.

Maybe one person in this book showed growth. Maybe. I
I read this too long ago to make for a good review, but what I do recall is that immediately upon finishing I sent it to my friend, Jas. She and I used to talk about how in high school we pictured ourselves at university sitting around in coffee shops talking philosophy and such (perhaps even wearing black turtlenecks) and then we got to university and... Well, it was underwhelming. Something about this book struck a chord with me at the time.
Steve Tally
This satire of a Midwestern campus does a respectable job of sending up a large, American midwestern land-grant university. Unfortunately it has a serious problem for a book of satire—like a Saturday Night Live skit that goes on much, much too long, the book just isn't funny. Not laugh-out-loud funny, and not even wry smile funny.
Julie Bowerman
Jane Smiley won a Pulitzer for A Thousand Acres, so that is probably the one I should have read, This novel centers around Moo University, an agricultural school, with a cast of at least 30 faculty, students and farmers. It's a little hard to keep track of who's who, but I did like the pig and the theme of piggishness.
America's answer to David Lodge, Jane Smiley produced the campus novel par excellence with this witty evocation of a midwest agricultural university - having visited a number of these myself subsequently, the portrait is uncanny. It also includes a dubious economics professor as a major character.
A deeply enjoyable diorama of a Midwestern university over a year. I very much enjoyed the wry humor which was suffused throughout with genuine affection and a honest reality that raises this book over other campus genre novels. A very fun read and highly recommended.
Honestly, one of the best books I have read in years, from one of our greatest living authors. A sprawling, often hilarious tale of university politics. (Hmmm, wonder why that appeals?)
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Hit and miss authors 1 15 Sep 10, 2012 01:57AM  
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Jane Smiley is a Pulitzer Prize-winning American novelist.

Born in Los Angeles, California, Smiley grew up in Webster Groves, Missouri, a suburb of St. Louis, and graduated from John Burroughs School. She obtained a A.B. at Vassar College, then earned a M.F.A. and Ph.D. from the University of Iowa. While working towards her doctorate, she also spent a year studying in Iceland as a Fulbright Scholar
More about Jane Smiley...
A Thousand Acres Some Luck (Last Hundred Years: A Family Saga, #1) Horse Heaven The Sagas of Icelanders Private Life

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“The body, the mind, and the spirit don't form a pyramid, they form a circle. Each of them runs into the other two. The body isn't below the mind and the spirit; from the point of view it's between them. if you reside too much in the mind, then you get too abstract and cut off from the world. You long for the spiritual life, but you can't get to it, and you fall into despair. The exercise of the senses frees you from abstraction and opens the way to transcendence.” 6 likes
“Almonds. Apricots. Avocadoes. Some peaches I don't know. Grapefruit. Lemones. Probably oranges.” 3 likes
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