10 great college novels

What more erudite way to relive your college years than by curling up with a college novel? The genre is exploding, with at least 200 significant titles published between 1980 and 2002, according to college-novel bibliographer John Kramer, and many more since. In an article that published yesterday, I explore the various ways real colleges are portrayed in novels and other works of fiction.

The piece drew comments from readers who wondered why one worthy college novel or another was omitted. In this post, I list 10 well-regarded novels, including a few suggested by those readers. I have read a few of these works and am told that all (well, nearly all) are classics of the genre. Feel free to toss out more names in the comment section.

Fanshawe. Published in 1828, this work is generally regarded as the first college novel. It was penned by a 23-year-old Nathaniel Hawthorne and drew upon his then-fresh memories of Bowdoin College.

This Side of Paradise. Written in 1920 by a young F. Scott Fitzgerald and set partly at Princeton, this book examines a lost generation of young adults post-World-War-I.

The Groves of Academe. This 1951 entry by Mary McCarthy is satire drawn from the author’s time on the faculty at Bard and Sarah Lawrence.

Lucky Jim. This 1954 academic satire by Kingsley Amis centers on a medieval history scholar at a provincial British university.

The Group.This 1963 Mary McCarthy work firmly established Vassar as the archetypal Northeast women’s college.

Rules of Attraction. From Bret Easton Ellis, a meditation on decadent college life at yet another northern liberal arts school, circa 1987.

The Secret History. Published in 1992 and set at a fictionalized Bennington College, Donna Tartt’s book tells of dark deeds by students at an insular liberal arts school.

The Human Stain. (2000) Political correctness run amok at a Northern liberal arts school, courtesy of Philip Roth.

I Am Charlotte Simmons. Tom Wolfe’s 2004 best-seller, probably based on Duke, got a lukewarm critical reception but had considerable impact on public perceptions of collegiate debauchery.

On Beauty. Zadie Smith’s 2005 novel examines ethnic, cultural and political differences at a campus possibly based on Harvard.

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