Share 11 Novels Set in the Hallowed Halls of Academia

11 Novels Set in the Hallowed Halls of Academia

Julianna Haubner joined the editorial team at Simon & Schuster in September 2014. A lifelong reader, she is most drawn to literary fiction, biography, cultural history, and narrative non-fiction; it’s her firm belief that every human should own a copy of Cheryl Strayed’s TINY BEAUTIFUL THINGS, and EMPIRE FALLS is the book that changed her life. When Julianna’s not reading and reviewing, she’s downloading podcast episodes as if there are more than 24 hours in a day, watching Bravo, baking, and running the Off the Shelf Instagram. You can follow her on Twitter @jhaubner2.

For years, authors have found inspiration in the ivy-covered halls of American colleges, resulting in fascinating and often humorous portrayals of academic life. In honor of the back-to-school season, we’ve gathered the books that best capture the drama and intrigue of these cloistered worlds. Sharpen your pencils—you will be tested!


The Secret History
by Donna Tartt
Although THE GOLDFINCH won the Pulitzer, many consider this to be Donna Tartt’s greatest triumph. Set at an elite New England college, it centers on a group of misfits who fall under the spell of a charismatic classics professor.
The Secret History
Donna Tartt

If your favorite character is Jonathan Byers

The misunderstood, unhappy kid who yearns for an East Coast college where he can forget his modest upbringing and meet sufficiently interesting friends? Sounds like Richard Papen, the narrator of Donna Tartt’s first novel, THE SECRET HISTORY.

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11 Novels Set in the Hallowed Halls of Academia

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Wonder Boys
by Michael Chabon
This novel introduces one of modern American literature’s greatest pairs: Grady Tripp, a pot-smoking English professor, and his student James Leer, a budding writer. Grady is stuck on his second novel while James commits a hilarious crime that Grady helps him cover up. Cue the campus hijinks!
Wonder Boys
Michael Chabon

A campus comedy classic, WONDER BOYS centers around Grady Tripp, a former publishing prodigy who has a bad case of writer’s block and an even worse case of marital strife, and his student James Leer, whose obsession with self-destruction and soul-searching puts both of them into harrowing and humorous situations. If you’re looking for the best book to begin your love of the Chabon canon, look no further.

Read the full review of WONDER BOYS here.

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Straight Man
by Richard Russo

A satire that focuses on the bureaucratic and behind-the-scenes side of academia, this uproarious novel is set at the fictional West Central Pennsylvania University. William Devereaux, chair of the English department, is nearing fifty and stuck in a creative rut. When layoff season comes, the whole place goes crazy with budget concerns and tenure arguments, resulting in a laugh-out-loud read.

Straight Man
Richard Russo

A satire that focuses on the bureaucratic and behind-the-scenes side of academia, this uproarious novel is set at the fictional West Central Pennsylvania University. William Devereaux, chair of the English department, is nearing fifty and stuck in a creative rut. When layoff season comes, the whole place goes crazy with budget concerns and tenure arguments, resulting in a laugh-out-loud read.

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11 Novels Set in the Hallowed Halls of Academia

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The Marriage Plot
by Jeffrey Eugenides

This smart and thought-provoking story focuses on Madeleine Hanna, an English major obsessed with Austen and Eliot and their use of the “marriage plot” device in literature. As she studies the classics, her love life becomes complicated when her old friend Mitchell Grammaticus and the intense intellectual Leonard Bankhead compete for her affections.

The Marriage Plot
Jeffrey Eugenides

This smart and thought-provoking story focuses on Madeleine Hanna, an English major obsessed with Austen and Eliot and their use of the “marriage plot” device in literature. As she studies the classics, her love life becomes complicated when her old friend Mitchell Grammaticus and the intense intellectual Leonard Bankhead compete for her affections.

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Dear Committee Members
by Julie Schumacher

Another comic look at college life, this time through a series of letters and emails sent by the fictional Jason Fitger, a creative writing professor at a small liberal arts college in the Midwest. His professional and personal lives are a disappointment, and the only thing people seem to need him for are letters of recommendation. Each one is passive-aggressive, startlingly honest, and all-around hysterical.

Dear Committee Members
Julie Schumacher

Another comic look at college life, this time through a series of letters and emails sent by the fictional Jason Fitger, a creative writing professor at a small liberal arts college in the Midwest. His professional and personal lives are a disappointment, and the only thing people seem to need him for are letters of recommendation. Each one is passive-aggressive, startlingly honest, and all-around hysterical.

MENTIONED IN:

11 Novels Set in the Hallowed Halls of Academia

By Julianna Haubner | September 15, 2015

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The Rules of Attraction
by Bret Easton Ellis

Set at a small liberal arts college at the height of the Reagan era, this startlingly funny novel follows three students with no real plans for the future, except which party they plan to attend. Bolstered by drugs and alcohol, Lauren, Sean, and Paul drift in and out of one another’s lives, determined not to get attached—or at least show it.

The Rules of Attraction
Bret Easton Ellis

Set at a small liberal arts college at the height of the Reagan era, this startlingly funny novel follows three students with no real plans for the future, except which party they plan to attend. Bolstered by drugs and alcohol, Lauren, Sean, and Paul drift in and out of one another’s lives, determined not to get attached—or at least show it.

MENTIONED IN:

11 Novels Set in the Hallowed Halls of Academia

By Julianna Haubner | September 15, 2015

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Stoner
by John Williams

A beloved modern classic, John Williams’s tale follows William Stoner, born at the end of the nineteenth century to a poor farming family. In college, he falls in love with English literature and embraces the academic life.

Stoner
John Williams

A beloved modern classic, John Williams’s tale follows William Stoner, born at the end of the nineteenth century to a poor farming family. In college, he falls in love with English literature and embraces the academic life.

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11 Novels Set in the Hallowed Halls of Academia

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I Am Charlotte Simmons
by Tom Wolfe

When sheltered freshman Charlotte Simmons arrives at the fictional Dupont University, she’s expecting a real college experience: insane frat parties, a privileged roommate, politics within the athletic department, and the misguided intellectual endeavors of the campus newspaper staff. This sharp-eyed and witty novel immortalizes the early-twenty-first-century college experience.

I Am Charlotte Simmons
Tom Wolfe

When sheltered freshman Charlotte Simmons arrives at the fictional Dupont University, she’s expecting a real college experience: insane frat parties, a privileged roommate, politics within the athletic department, and the misguided intellectual endeavors of the campus newspaper staff. This sharp-eyed and witty novel immortalizes the early-twenty-first-century college experience.

MENTIONED IN:

11 Novels Set in the Hallowed Halls of Academia

By Julianna Haubner | September 15, 2015

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The Groves of Academe
by Mary McCarthy

In this behind-the-desk look at college politics, Professor Henry Mulcahy is informed that his position will not be continued. Convinced that he’s the victim of a witch hunt, he plots vengeance and battles against the higher-ups, revealing his true nature and determination to succeed.

The Groves of Academe
Mary McCarthy

In this behind-the-desk look at college politics, Professor Henry Mulcahy is informed that his position will not be continued. Convinced that he’s the victim of a witch hunt, he plots vengeance and battles against the higher-ups, revealing his true nature and determination to succeed.

MENTIONED IN:

11 Novels Set in the Hallowed Halls of Academia

By Julianna Haubner | September 15, 2015

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The Rule of Four
by Ian Caldwell and Dustin Thomason

Before The Da Vinci Code, there was The Rule of Four. Tom and Paul, two friends at Princeton University, are studying the mysteries of a Renaissance text that has baffled scholars for centuries when a vital clue is unearthed: a long-lost diary that may prove to be the key to decoding it at last. But when a longtime student of the book is murdered just hours later, a chilling cycle of death and revelations begin.

The Rule of Four
Ian Caldwell and Dustin Thomason

Before The Da Vinci Code, there was The Rule of Four. Tom and Paul, two friends at Princeton University, are studying the mysteries of a Renaissance text that has baffled scholars for centuries when a vital clue is unearthed: a long-lost diary that may prove to be the key to decoding it at last. But when a longtime student of the book is murdered just hours later, a chilling cycle of death and revelations begin.

MENTIONED IN:

11 Novels Set in the Hallowed Halls of Academia

By Julianna Haubner | September 15, 2015

Close

Small Blessings
by Martha Woodroof

Tom Putnam, an English professor at a small and sleepy college town, is in a slump when he meets Rose, the local campus bookstore’s new employee. A heartwarming story with a charmingly imperfect cast of characters to cheer for, this wonderfully optimistic novel reminds us that sometimes, when it feels like life has veered irrevocably off track, the track shifts in ways we never can have imagined.

Small Blessings
Martha Woodroof

Tom Putnam, an English professor at a small and sleepy college town, is in a slump when he meets Rose, the local campus bookstore’s new employee. A heartwarming story with a charmingly imperfect cast of characters to cheer for, this wonderfully optimistic novel reminds us that sometimes, when it feels like life has veered irrevocably off track, the track shifts in ways we never can have imagined.

MENTIONED IN:

11 Novels Set in the Hallowed Halls of Academia

By Julianna Haubner | September 15, 2015

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