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 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 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.
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.
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.
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 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.
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 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 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.