Back to School: 7 Novels that Tackle The World of Academia
Who says novels with scandal and simmering resentment are just for the searing heat of summer? Academia is the perfect setting for intrigue and character development. It is a small, enclosed world—whether you are talking about an entire campus, a dorm or an academic department—and people are vying to be in positions of power and influence. Writers who set their books in and around college campuses know that even when those characters leave the pressure cooker of competition on campus, they still have to contend with the realities and expectations of their communities at large.
For students, especially freshmen, college can be a brand new world—exciting and scary. If one is not already a working adult, it is an in-between time when you feel not quite grown up.
We’ve compiled a list of novels that provide fictional visions of academic life. Of course there is more to college than research, term papers, and tense faculty meetings. There is debauchery in which to participate, fun to be had, life lessons to be learned, and lasting friendships to be made.
The friends we meet at college can alter the course of our lives at a time when we thought our paths were set, as Charles Ryder finds out. His time at Oxford in the 1920s with unhappy, alcoholic Sebastian Flyte, and his school breaks with Flyte’s family, give him access to the beautiful Brideshead estate where he finds love and loss.
A Nigerian college student is in a bind when she gets caught up in the patriarchal sexual mores of life on campus, while her sweetheart can’t get past the dictates of a society that resists the idea of women pursuing education.
A naïve first-year college student finds academics is not the focus for many at her school and the novel highlights class and regional differences. Some think Wolfe aims to give readers the same jolting shock that Charlotte feels when she discovers that college life in the 2000s is more corrupt than she thought.
This book, both humorous and serious, has a protagonist who balances a blue-collar past with life at Yale in the 1980s as he defends his father’s food truck, ignores his girlfriend at home, and adjusts to campus life.
In this comic novel set in the 1950s, a disillusioned college lecturer who feels his girlfriend is emotionally blackmailing him has a bumpy ride during his first year. Will he survive his the first year with a job, a girlfriend and his sanity intact? This novel set a standard for books that satirize academic politics.
Set in Massachusetts, this novel of opposing academics (white Englishman Howard Belsey contends with Monty Kipps, a black West Indian who also calls England home) and opposing ideological stances took E.M. Forster’s Howard’s End as its template. Belsey’s family and marriage are faltering; he has an affair and watches in dismay as his black wife and biracial children drift away from him.
A lower class California kid ends up with a group of posh friends at his Vermont college, but he doesn’t know that these students share a sinister secret that will lead to violence that reverberates through the community.
MOVED BY WHAT YOU READ?
Have you read books that reflect your actual (or imagined) college experience? Add your Thoughts below.
Read any of these novels or think you might want to? Add them to myReads.
Elsewhere in inReads: Did you check out our anti-summer reading list?