Tuesday, November 08, 2005

Changing Places: A Tale of Two Campuses by David Lodge

Last month in Berkeley, California, my friend Richard, who is a dedicated reader, recommended several books to me. During a conversation about books that satirize academic life, starting with Portuguese Irregular Verbs by Alexander McCall Smith and mentioning Moo by Jane Smiley, Richard remembered Changing Places: A Tale of Two Campuses by David Lodge, the first in a series of comic novels dealing with college life. I had never heard of it and made a mental note to myself to read it. The note had to be mental as I had no pencil and paper at the moment of the conversation. Like many of the readers I help in the library, I promptly forgot the author’s name, and I emailed Richard for the citation after I returned to Illinois. I had to interlibrary loan the book, of which there was only one copy in Metropolitan Library System’s SWAN catalog.

Once I started reading Changing Places, I realized why Richard, who has lived most of his life in Berkeley, would know the book. Part of the book is set at Euphoria State University in the city of Plotinus, high on the hills overlooking a bay. Across the bay is the city of Esseph (sound it out). The year is 1969 and the hippies are occupying a plot of university land and calling it the People’s Garden. Governor Ronald Duck calls out the National Guard. See the connection?

At the National Archives on Thursday, our guide spoke about how federal records that are preserved are often used for purposes other than their original intent. This novel written in 1975 can be read in a different way than when it was first published. It describes a period of history that is mostly past and almost forgotten. Here are some of the details that would not have been worth comment thirty years ago:

People smoking on airplanes
Renting a color television (with a big emphasis on “color”)
Everyone living in cheap apartments
Brick and plank bookshelves
Eight-track tapes

In the course of the novel, several characters hear of Women’s Liberation for the first time. Student unrest, the Vietnam War, and the Sexual Revolution are featured parts of the humorous story.

David Lodge took a creative approach to the writing of this novel. Every chapter is written in a different style. The story advances in one chapter through letters. Another chapter uses news clippings, and the final chapter is written as a play.

I ordered a copy of Changing Places for my library, so there will be two copies in SWAN. I recommend it to readers everywhere.

Lodge, David. Changing Places: A Tale of Two Campuses. New York: Penguin, 1995. ISBN 0140170987

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