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College Lit: 10 Great Books Set on Campus

October is National Book Month. It's also that time of the year when college students everywhere are settling back into school. What better way to mark this serendipitous timing than by digging into a campus novel? Here are 10 great reads about academic life that are definitely worth checking out.

Carter New England White book cover image humanities campus

New England White by Stephen L. Carter

If you're into mysteries, think about picking up a copy of New England White. Although the book is thrilling, it's not without substance. Set at an Ivy League university in the Northeast, New England White explores class structures, racial identities and other weighty issues through a narrative that features two murders - one from the present and another from the past.

Disgrace Coetzee book cover image humanities campus

Disgrace by J.M. Coetzee

Winner of the Booker Prize in 1999, this novel features a college professor whose world changes drastically after he has an affair with one of his students. In addition to examining one man's fall from grace, the book also paints a stark portrait of life in post-apartheid South Africa.

Wonder Boys Chabon book cover image humanities campus

Wonder Boys by Michael Chabon

If you're looking for reading material with some lighter moments, Wonder Boys might be just the read for you. English professor Grady Tripp has a once-promising, now sputtering career as a novelist and spends much of his time under the influence of drugs. When Tripp and a college friend attend a writing festival together, hijinks ensue.

Smith On Beauty book cover image humanities campus

On Beauty by Zadie Smith

On Beauty features an academic rivalry between Monty Kipps and Howard Belsey at fictional Wellington College. Satirizing the more superficial aspects of academia, the book also features commentary on political ideas and cultural differences of the day. Smith's book won the 2006 Orange Prize for Fiction, a respected United Kingdom award recognizing literary contributions by female writers.

Smiley Moo book cover image humanities campus

Moo by Jane Smiley

Another campus novel with a flair for poking fun at the seedy and petty aspects of academia, Smiley's novel is set at Moo University. This fictitious Midwestern college is full of characters of all kinds, including a researcher willing to alter data for profit and a dean who believes his self-serving actions are God's will. Egomaniacs and hypocrites abound in this classic novel on academic life.

Roth The Human Stain book cover image humanities campus

The Human Stain by Philip Roth

This novel from Roth features the fall of another college professor. This time it's Coleman Silk, a septuagenarian who has an affair with a janitor at fictitious Athena College, the Massachusetts school where he teaches. As the story unfolds, it becomes clear that Silk has many secrets, including one that forms his entire identity.

Straight Man Russo book cover image humanities campus

Straight Man by Richard Russo

Straight Man is another novel that doesn't allow academics to take themselves too seriously. Set at the fictional West Central Pennsylvania University, the book follows Hank Devereaux as he jokes his way though a lackluster career. Things become marginally more serious when budget cuts leave many at the school worried for their jobs.

Byatt Possession book cover image humanities campus

Possession by A.S. Byatt

For those who like their literature served with a large dose of romanticism, this book could be just the thing. British academics Roland Michell and Maud Bailey seek to uncover the love affair of two writers from the Victorian period. As a scholastic mystery unfolds, so too does an intense personal relationship.

The Secret History Tartt book cover image humanities campus

The Secret History by Donna Tartt

A small, elite private college in sleepy, snowy Vermont is the setting for this novel. At the school, a group of friends, all of whom are studying the classics, become embroiled in drama far more immediate than the works of art that they're analyzing. Tartt provides a story that is both suspenseful and brainy.

White Noise Delillo book cover image humanities campus

White Noise by Don Delillo

This novel, winner of the National Book award in 1985, features the story of an academic who has made a living researching the life of Adolf Hitler. Jack Gladney's personal life, though, has not been as successful as his professional one. Personal failings have left him with multiple ex-wives and various regrets, and things do not improve when a chemical spill threatens his health and way of life.

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