Wednesday, November 7, 2012

The Harvard Lampoon Big Book of College Life

1978, Doubleday edition, from later that year
The Harvard Lampoon
(credited to 34 people, including Tom Gammill, who a year later was writing for Saturday Night Live, and went on to The Simpsons and Seinfeld, among other shows)
The Harvard Lampoon Big Book of College Life
Original price $5.95, purchase price $3.50
Very worn paperback

As with Bored of the Rings, the best parts of this book involve the de(con)struction of clich√©s, the best of these the campus hijinx story, "The Memorable Talent Show."  I also enjoy the nonsensical list of "campus contraband," full of very random phrases, like "menstruating dowager rats," as well as the language textbook list of phrases that are indivisible units, including "abject poverty," "pendulous breasts," and "Joanne Woodward."  College hasn't changed all that much in the last three decades, so the book isn't as dated as you might think, although it's certainly a product of its time-- drug humor, Watergate references, and all.

Unfortunately, it's often racist and sexist, and it's difficult to tell sometimes whether this is meant satirically.  The Afro on the stick-figure thief on the safety notice is probably meant as parody, but the thing on Mexican medical schools is dubious.  Similarly, I think some of the time they're making fun of sexist male college students, but there's one story that I don't know how to take.  At six pages (including a full-page creepy illustration), "The Unfortunate Coincidence" is not only unfunny but disturbing, with a friend of the narrator telling the story of how his attempts to seduce a girl were foiled when he accidentally reintroduced her to an accomplice to her rape of a few years before.  Are we supposed to think how shallow and insensitive the narrator is, or laugh at this pretentious Jewish girl who doesn't know that Abbey Road was one of the Beatles' later albums?

That said, there are some lines in the book I used to quote all the time, like "If you are not eating at home, kindly eat at this place."  I'd still recommend the book, though with reservations.

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