Alison Lurie
By: Joshua Glenn | Categories: HiLo Heroes, Literature


Most of my favorite campus novels — from Mary McCarthy’s The Groves of Academe and Kingsley Amis’s Lucky Jim to, say, Don DeLillo’s White Noise — were penned by a novelist who’d done short time in academe (e.g., as a visiting lecturer) while taking catty notes on tenured Marxists, feminists, or Cult Studs, not to mention outrageously left-wing, right-wing, or apathetic students. But the campus novels of ALISON LURIE (born 1926) are snark-free — which is to say, they may be less guffaw-provoking than comedies peopled by two-dimensional phonies, but they’re more deeply enjoyable for it. Lurie, who graduated from Radcliffe in ’47, then followed her literary critic husband to Harvard, Amherst, UCLA, and Cornell, has spent her adult life on campus, which accounts for her empathetic perspective. (From 1970 until recently, Lurie — who is also a scholar of fashion, folklore, and children’s literature — taught at Cornell.) Her first novel, Love and Friendship (1962), which concerns the sexual-existential awakening of a faculty wife at a fictionalized Amherst, takes its title from a Jane Austen satire of middlebrow “novels of sensibility.” It’s as such — and not, that is to say, as (nobrow) satires of academic types — that everyone should read The Nowhere City (1965), The War Between the Tates (1974), and the Pulitzer Prize-winning Foreign Affairs (1984), which wittily criticize the manners and morals of the professoriate without a hint of sententiousness.


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Joshua Glenn is a cultural and brand semiotician, and co-principal of the agency SEMIOVOX LLC. He is editor and publisher of HILOBROW and the Radium Age sci-fi paperback imprint HILOBOOKS. He is author of (with Mark Kingwell and the cartoonist Seth) THE IDLER'S GLOSSARY (2008) and THE WAGE SLAVE'S GLOSSARY (2011), and editor of the object-oriented story collections TAKING THINGS SERIOUSLY (2007) and (with Rob Walker) SIGNIFICANT OBJECTS (2012). With Elizabeth Foy Larsen and Tony Leone, Josh produced the popular family activities guides UNBORED (2012), UNBORED GAMES (2014), and UNBORED ADVENTURE (2015), not to mention two UNBORED activity kits from MindWare. In the ’00s, Josh was an editor and columnist for the BOSTON GLOBE's IDEAS section; in the ’90s, he published the high-lowbrow zine/journal HERMENAUT. He was born and raised in Boston, where he lives with his wife and sons.