Last week I walked the campus of Villanova University with a friend and his two daughters who are looking to select a college in the next couple of years. It was fun to walk through buildings, classrooms, and labs imagining what it would be like during the school year.
U.S. college campuses are fascinating. The University of Bologna, my Alma Mater, has a now sprawling campus throughout the city from its core when it was founded in 1088. Many universities on both sides of the ocean have robust exchange programs, yet the cultural differences remain.
It was while completing my coursework there that I first learned about British writer David Lodge. His book Changing Places was one of the options we could choose from for an English exam. I was working and studying, so I ended up reading the book on my flight to Italy just before the exam. I never laughed so hard in public before and likely since. It starts:
High, high above the North Pole, on the first day of 1969, two professors of English Literature approached each other at a combined velocity of 1200 miles per hour. The were protected from the thin, cold air by the pressurized cabins of two Boeing 707s, and from the risk of collision by the prudent arrangement of the international air corridors.
Thus began my adventure with the flights of professors Philip Swallow and Morris Zapp and their exchange program, while flying over:
Between the State University of Euphoria (colloquially known as Euphoric State) and the University of Rummidge, there has long existed a scheme for the exchange of visiting teachers in the second half of each academic year. How two universities so different in character and so widely separated in space should be linked this way is simply explained.
It happened that the architects of both campuses independently hit upon the same idea for the chief feature of their designs, namely a replica of the leaning Tower of Pisa.
From the set up it’s easy to see the hilarity will ensue. The Guardian has an interesting take on how flying — the rise of air travel — brought about the rise of the critic as international superstar in the 1960s and 70s.
I enjoyed the book so much — it was a quick read and made for a fun exam — that I followed it up with the other two books of Lodge’s Campus Trilogy, Small World, shortlisted for the Booker Prize in 1984, and Nice Work, which was the winner of England’s Sunday Express Book of the Year Award and got shortlisted for the 1988 Booker Prize.
If you’re looking for a fun, quick read for the beach, the books are also available as The Campus Trilogy: Changing Places; Small World; Nice Work.