by Jane Smiley

Hardcover, 1995




New York : A.A. Knopf, 1995.


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.

Media reviews

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
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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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User reviews

LibraryThing member rosalita
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
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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.
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LibraryThing member Pferdina
This novel was recommended to me as one that reflected true life on the campus of an American college campus. The novel was fine, but nothing about it really interested me.
LibraryThing member otterley
Enjoyable, cleverly plotted and structured. I think the satire is a bit too gentle and loving for my tastes - while there are plenty of digs at everyone from left to right, rich to poor, and plenty of sharp observational comedy, in the end I prefer a bit more metaphorical blood on the carpet .
LibraryThing member ffortsa
Maybe I had trouble starting this book because I was reading it in littke snatches, and there is such a large cast of characters to sort out. But once into it, the book really moved, and was quite funny, skewering academic pretensions and outside intereference. From the back cover:

"Moo University
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lies in the heart of the Midwest, a distinguished institution devoted to the art and science of agriculture. Here, in an atmosphere rife with devious plots and lusty liaisons, Chairman X of the Horticulture Department harbors a secret fantasy to kill the dean; Mrs. Walker, the provost's right hand, knows where all the bodies are buried; and Bob Carlson, a sophomore, feeds and maintains his only friend: a hog named Earl Butz. ... Jane Smiley offers us a wickedly funny comedy that is also a darkly poignant slice of life."

Pretty much on target.
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LibraryThing member nealmhughes
My favorite novel: a must read for potential academics.
LibraryThing member Muscidae
Disappointing. Nowhere close as entertaining as Russo's "Straight man".
LibraryThing member name99
The type of novel described as being "the antics of a large cast of colorful characters".
Maybe if I worked at a university, I might care about this sort of satirizing, but I want my comedy to have rather more laughs per minute than this provided, and beyond that, I really had no interest in the
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lives of the characters. Even I am Charlotte Simmons was more interesting.
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LibraryThing member marysargent
"Wonderfully written and masterfully plotted novel." I couldn't agree more. And funny. She seems to have more kindness in this book than her previous ones, i.e., a kinder view of humanity.
LibraryThing member anncdean
I don't actually own this novel right now because whenever I get a copy I give it away. I think everyone who works or is thinking of working in academia should read it. The thing is like a manual for figuring out what is actually going on in an American university. Plus it's fun to read. I find
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Smiley's books very interesting because she has so much empathy for her characters and because she is so undisguised about her interest in money and ambition. She always has a character who strikes me at first as incredibly annoying and she always gets me invested in that person's story. Enjoy.
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LibraryThing member majorbabs
This has to be one of the funniest and truest books I've ever read. Highly recommended to anyone who works at a Midwestern university, particularly one with an extensive agriculture sequence.
LibraryThing member Katya0133
A desperately funny take on academic life in the Midwest.
LibraryThing member rowmyboat
Oh, good book. Nothing much exciting to say about it. Just it was very enjoyable. I liked it much more than I did A Thousand Acres, also by Smiley. That is, admittedly, also a good book, but messy deaths and incest aren't really my cup of tea. The draw of this book, I think, is the series of
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distinct, somewhat archetypal, characters Smiley sketches out, and how she handles their growing interaction, even/especially when those interactions are not particularly important or are incidental to the main plot.

Now that I've mentioned both of those books, it comes to me that there were hogs featured in both. Hum.

Anyway, Moo is a slightly hyperbolic portrait of a Midwestern state university. Living in a state university town, though not in the Midwest, and being a student myself, I had a good chuckle over a lot of it.

I don't really have much analysis to offer this time around, but I will say that it was rather well written, and I recommend it. Try it if you are looking for mild humor that isn't dumb, and perhaps if you need to let off a little steam from your own university experiences. It seems a bit long at first, but the short chapters break it up well.

And, there's a happy ending.
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LibraryThing member booksinthebelfry
Wickedly funny academic satire on a par with Richard Russo's Straight Man and the works of David Lodge, but not without a heart. I have an especially soft spot for it in my own heart because when it was first published I was working at an independent bookstore in western Massachusetts and had a
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grand time producing a window display featuring this book (the process involved felt, a glue gun, a sawhorse, a lot of hay borrowed from a neighbor's rabbit hutch, and much amusement on the part of my family and co-workers). Like all Smiley's novels, this one draws you into a particular world and turns it inside-out for your edification and delight.
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LibraryThing member simchaboston
Academia at its most comic.
LibraryThing member jbeckhamlat
A comic novel of academe populated with characters from every strata of university life (townies to scholars, young to old, capitalists extremists to radicals). Each memorable, some hilariously so, but none more memorable than a giant white porker depicted with as much persona as any human. Rich
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imagery, societal commentary, conflict. You can feel the midwest in the seasons as well as the in the variety of attitudes . . . a very fun read.
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LibraryThing member Eyejaybee
An interesting and entertaining novel though, curiously, there was not one character with whom I felt any empathy.
There is no extended narrative - the novel is episodic, flitting from one character to another, but it is so tightly plotted that it holds the reader's attention effortlessly.
LibraryThing member SeriousGrace
Moo is an agriculture university somewhere in the midwest (my guess would be Iowa). Characters range from four in-coming freshmen girls to administrative bigwigs and everyone in between. Moo is a satire that is incredibly silly in places. Superficial relationships collide and somehow become
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meaningful. What makes the story so interesting is the drama, the scandals, and mischief the campus seems to promote. Everyone has a secret. Everyone has someone they would either like to kill or screw. The word everyone uses to describe Moo is "wicked" and it fits.
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LibraryThing member MarieFriesen
Rumoured to make readers laugh out loud.
LibraryThing member WMelis
For everyone who is aspiring to a life in academia - a must read! Hilarious and yet a very accurate portrayal.
LibraryThing member LTFL_JMLS
Essential reading for anyone who works at an ag school. Fun for anyone who works in higher ed, too.
LibraryThing member gregory_gwen
Essential reading for anyone who works at an ag school. Fun for anyone who works in higher ed, too.
LibraryThing member sturlington
Moo is a satire about university life, covering the course of one academic year and many scandals, large and small, at a Midwestern state university. The large cast of characters includes all the usual suspects: the self-interested creative writing teacher; the aging, angry idealist who can’t let
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go of the 60s; the matronly secretary who controls campus affairs with an iron fist. In fact, the cast is so large that it’s often difficult to keep straight who is who, much less figure out who we’re supposed to be rooting for or sympathizing with. Nevertheless, Moo is often funny, and even if many of the more sympathetic characters come to depressing self-realizations (the others aren’t capable), two chapters at the end — titled “Deus ex Machinas” and “Some Weddings” — signal that this is intended to be a comedy after all.
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LibraryThing member librisissimo
Substance: Humor in academia and the Midwest. Not sure what she intended satirically and what literally.
Style: Literary narrative. Too many characters introduced too quickly, took 100 pages to get all of them differentiated and recognizable by name. Characters were interesting and she kept them
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distinct in their behavior and thoughts.
NOTES: see book
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LibraryThing member jawalter
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
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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 one another. Similarly, several of the professors tended to blend together into a mishmash of motivations and relationships.

Similarly, I liked the farcical tone (similar to I Am Charlotte Simmons), but felt that Smiley didn't take it far enough. It seems like there can be no middle ground when dealing with farce, and Smiley tried to find one, grounding some situations is realism, while piling on ridiculous coincidence so as to get to the finale where everything comes together.

It's not as though this is a terrible book, and there were parts I enjoyed immensely. Smiley does a wonderful job of capturing certain snapshots of the college experience, and when she hits one of those moments, the book roars to life. But in between those moments, I had to struggle to remain interested and contextualized.
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LibraryThing member lucybrown
Awful!! I really disliked this book.




Other editions

Moo by Jane Smiley (Paper Book)
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