Tuesday, August 6, 2019

Book Review: Campusland by Scott Johnston

I am a faculty brat. My father is a now-retired professor of economics at Vanderbilt University. I was born at Vanderbilt Hospital. I practically grew up there. I spent every summer in college (and spring break and fall break and Christmas break) working at the Vanderbilt Bookstore. One of my father's specialty areas is the economics of education. I was his research assistant for many years in my teens and twenties and learned a lot about the high ed system. I kick butt when the "colleges and universities" category comes up on Jeopardy! Needless to say, I very much gravitate to academic novels.

In this book, we are at the fictional Devon University, an Ivy League college about two hours north of Manhattan. Eph is an English professor, specializing in 19th century American lit, on the tenure track. He's dating D'Arcy, the executive assistant to the college president. Everything seems hunky-dory in his life. Until a group of radical students (mostly not enrolled in his class) infiltrate his class, stage a protest over Huck Finn and its language, record a video of the protest, edit it to make Eph look very bad, and post it online. He is cleared eventually, mostly due to Lulu, a first year rich girl from Manhattan, who then proceeds to hit on him. While he politely and firmly rebuffs her, after a night when she stumbles home drunk after falling and giving herself a black eye, her R.A. insists on knowing who assaulted her. After a lot of pressure to name her attacker, she names Eph. Chaos ensues. And I haven't even mentioned the faux-British society, the literal ball-and-chain, the paper mache giant penis, the rapper, the movie star, and other myriad craziness that effectively passes for this not-quite-a-parody of university life today. Will Eph clear his name? Will Lulu figure out what to do with her life (and come clean about Eph)? Will Huck Finn be banned? What has happened to colleges today?

In the vein of Dear Committee Members and Straight Man, this is a very funny academic novel that will have insiders crowing, and most of us laughing at nervously (especially those with college-age kids).

This book is published by St. Martin's Press, a division of Macmillan, my employer.

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