With MIT commencement last week and all the attention Matt Damon’s speech brought, it seemed like a good time to write up my review of GEEKS & GREEKS, written by Steve Altes and illustrated by Andy Fish, available on Amazon. And there is a giveaway going on now at Goodreads!
This was such a fun read. It shows a very different MIT experience than the one I remembered because I was not involved in the Greek system and hazing was frowned upon the years I was there. It was interesting to see a different era of MIT. A mostly male, even nerdier MIT (which surprised me-who knew it could get even geekier than what I experienced?).
Steve’s sense of humor is wonderful and I laughed out loud on multiple occasions (and not just at the geeky jokes!). I actually started laughing at his introduction, before I had even started the story.
I was pleasantly surprised by the romance. I loved all the nerdy flirting between the protagonist and the sperm donor receptionist (yes, you read that right). They had great chemistry and sweet moments that had me rooting for them.
When I was a student, there were fliers all around campus to donate sperm since MIT sperm is apparently in high demand. In the book, it was $150 per donation, but if I recall correctly, in 2004 it was more like $1000! I even knew an MIT graduate who donated multiple times and met the kids he fathered.
If there has to be hazing, then the die of doom is a clever way to do it. At MIT, we refer to everything by numbers—majors, buildings, courses (my brother once asked me if I was referred to by a number instead of my name… like a prisoner .. the answer is no). So the 12-sided dice was used to determine a major, which would then influence the method of hazing. For example, for mechanical engineering (course 2), they created a Rube-Goldberg machine that ended up splattering the hazee with raw eggs.
And the references. So many wonderful details that showed how much time Steve spent crafting this book for an MIT audience. It’s very obvious that he went there and painstaking wove in as many Easter eggs as he could.
I loved that so much of this was based in truth, and Steve did a fabulous job outlining what was real and what was fiction. I went to great lengths to keep MIT references in my own novel accurate so I appreciate just how challenging that is. Hopefully other MIT readers will notice Steve’s attention to detail and enjoy the story that much more. Steve also did a fabulous job deciding what to tweak for the sake of plot and continuity.
I also loved the notes from Steve before and after the actual book, and I felt like they helped to give the reader a full sense of the MIT culture.
Some of my favorite references:
Smoot! I LOVED that he wrote a blurb for the book! Oliver Smoot was a brother at LCA, and one drunken night the brothers measured the Harvard Bridge in “Smoots,” using Oliver Smoot as the unit of measure. 364.4 smoots + 1 ear. He recently was in a parade and was presented with a smoot stick, an official unit of measure! Even after all these years, Smoot is still a big deal!
All the hacks! The details provided for the police-car-on-the-dome hack (probably MIT’s most famous one) as well as the pranks on Harvard really brought me back. I remember learning about these walking through the Infinite and reading the little blurbs on the walls.
The liquid nitrogen rat prank. This embodied the MIT spirit so well and even though it was disgusting and horrifying, liquid nitrogen just screams MIT. During orientation, there was liquid nitrogen ice cream all over campus.
I feel honored to have been able to spend time reminiscing in Steve’s labor of love. The plot was well done, the MIT culture amazingly portrayed, and it will be enjoyable to both MIT alums and non-MIT affiliated readers alike! If you’ve ever been curious about what goes on beneath MIT’s famous domes (and on-top of them!), this is a must-read! It offers a rare glimpse into what life was really like, and as Steve outlines in his introduction, there are unfortunately very few books about MIT written by MIT folks. It makes sense since the only people weird enough to go to a math, science, and engineering school only to become a writer is…well, me and Steve apparently.