After an entire school year spent poring over textbooks and doing academic research, summer vacation offers students the chance to catch up on their non-curriculum reading. The best literary works allow readers to unwind from their own personal lives, while also enriching their minds. For college students, campus novels can offer new and unexplored narratives in a familiar setting. The books always take place in and around universities, but the genre features a variety of stories from a diverse group of authors.
Reading a campus novel can be both an imaginative and reflective experience, as students compare and contrast their collegiate worlds with that of fictional academic characters. If you’re interested in literature that is entertaining and relatable, consider adding one or more of these five captivating books to your summer reading list:
White Noise by Don DeLillo
White Noise is a postmodern classic from one of America’s greatest living authors, Don DeLillo. The wonderfully humorous and thought-provoking novel revolves around Jack Gladney, a professor of “Hitler Studies” at a liberal arts college in the Midwest. Through Jack’s absurd profession and family life, DeLillo explores many important themes relevant to American culture: consumerism, excessive dependence on media, and the fear of dying in a disastrous event. It’s an insightful, must-read for college students across the country.
Wonder Boys by Michael Chabon
Another fantastic novel with an engrossing professor as the main character is Michael Chabon’s Wonder Boys. The pot-smoking, creative writing teacher Grady Tripp can’t seem to finish, or edit down, his epic 2,000 plus page manuscript. However, he does manage to get entangled in a slew of hectic and ridiculous adventures throughout Pittsburg, alongside his editor and an oddball young student. The novel’s comedic pace never takes away from its more emotional beats, which mediate on love, aging, and literature. It’s a great read for writers and non-writers alike.
On Beauty by Zadie Smith
The less comedic but highly enjoyable Zadie Smith novel On Beauty features a large cast of ethnically and ideologically diverse characters. Set in a college town outside of Boston, the plot revolves around the Besleys, an educated, bi-racial family. Their drama unfolds slowly at first and then escalates more quickly, much like the impact of Smith’s skillfully constructed prose. As the story builds momentum, Smith manages to eloquently relate her characters’ personal struggles to greater sociological issues like race, beauty standards, and familial conventions.
The Marriage Plot by Jeffrey Eugenides
Pulitzer Prize winning author Jeffrey Eugenides’ third novel also tackles personal relationships and cultural constructs. Set at Brown University, The Marriage Plot features Madeleine, an English major focusing on semiotics, the study of signs and symbols and how they’re interpreted and used. As she falls in love with Leonard, a philosophy student, Madeleine struggles to align her own romantic feelings with her ideas on conventional romance. The clash between intellect and desire, schoolwork and social life, is something many college students will appreciate while reading this stimulating book.
Dear Committee Members by Julie Schumacher
Both a campus and epistolary novel, Dear Committee Members was published last year to rave reviews. Julie Schumacher’s new novel features a series of recommendation letters, written by a disgruntled Professor Jason Fitger. Through his comedic rhetoric, readers get a glimpse of the main character’s lost ambition and cynicism toward higher education. The satirical book is sure to be a hit with academics who are invested in college life, but also don’t mind laughing at its shortcomings.
Take the time to ruminate on your own collegiate experiences by reading about the academic lives of several fantastic fictional characters. During your summer vacation, the engrossing campus novels on this list will help you stay intellectually stimulated and incredibly entertained.
Javaher Nooryani is a writer based in Denver, CO. She has a BA in American Literature & Culture from UCLA and a Masters in English & American Literature from NYU. As a former tutor, Javaher is passionate about higher education and is glad to share her knowledge on CollegeFocus, a website that helps students deal with the challenges of college.