I’ve long thought college life to be a great subject for fiction writing, but until recently I never knew that there is a recognized “college novel” genre. It was first brought to my attention two weeks ago when a library patron asked me for an old book called The College Novel in America by John O. Lyons. Unfortunately, after she pried it from my hands she checked it out, so I can’t tell you much more about it. However, I found a recent reference work on the subject at neighboring Hillman Library called The American College Novel by John E. Kramer, and I can tell you about that one and some of the hidden treasures it reveals.
Kramer provides annotations for 648 American college novels divided into two sections: student-centered and staff-centered. Some student-centered titles include End Zone by Don Delillo; The Paragon by Jon Knowles; Rules of Attraction by Bret Easton Ellis; Big U by Neal Stephenson; Continuing Education by Dorothy Weil; and Hippies by Peter Jedick. In the staff-centered category you’ll find The Human Stain by Philip Roth; The Temptation to Do Good by Peter Ferdinand Drucker; Straight Man by Richard Russo; Japanese by Spring by Ishmael Reed; Intimate Enemies by Caryl Rivers; Unholy Loves by Joyce Carol Oates; and Breakers by Martin Walser.
If you don’t want to sift through 648 books to decide where to begin your college novel reading, no worries, Kramer provides a top 50 recommendation list that includes Fanshawe by Nathaniel Hawthorne; The Women’s Room by Marilyn French; Fall Quarter by Weldon Kees; Rookery Blues by Jon Hassler; The Groves of Academe by Mary McCarthy; A Friend in Power by Carlos Baker; Stepping Westward by Malcolm Bradbury; and Wonder Boys by Michael Chabon.
Kramer also supplies an index that allows you to find titles based on a character’s staff position at their respective college setting, and yes, there are some that include librarians and archivists as main characters. Four to be exact: Alamo House by Sarah Bird; Lusts by Clark Blaise; The Devil in Texas by Wolf Mankowitz; and The Archivist by Martha Cooley.
Anglophiles, fear not: There is another book I stumbled across here at CLP called The English University Novel, by Mortimer Robinson Proctor, that features critical interpretations of Thomas Hardy’s Jude the Obscure, Angus Wilson’s Anglo-Saxon Attitudes, Dorothy Sayers’s Gaudy Night, and many more.
PS. You might have noticed that some of the titles in this post weren’t linked to the catalog. That’s because those titles aren’t available within our library system and will need to be obtained through our Interlibrary Loan service. Unfortunately, Interlibrary Loan was drastically affected by this year’s state budget cuts to library services, resulting in less access to materials by patrons, and increased costs to deliver those materials. Let’s not forget that in 2010 we need to sustain our advocacy efforts to ensure an increase in library funding in next year’s state budget.
5 responses to “The College Novel”
I’m surprised you didn’t recognize it; the college novel is not just a genre, it’s a VERY popular genre, even here in India, where Chetan Bhagat’s Five Point Someone is still selling like hotcakes.
Insert librarian joke here: we don’t KNOW everything….we just know where to FIND it…
Seriously, though, I’ll be taking up Bhagat, on your recommendation. And while I was a little more familiar than Wes with the genre, I have to admit I learned something from this post. It’s one of the most humbling (in a good way) things about our profession: no matter how much you know, there’s always more to learn…
Aside to Wes: See also David Lodge, who writes scathingly funny satires on academe. Nice post, sir!
Two of my favorite staff-centered college novels are Small World by David Lodge and Moo by Jane Smiley, both of which are available at the library.
I adored SOPHOMORE SWITCH by Abby McDonald–a fantastic college novel.
Sarah, Melissa, thanks for the suggestions! I love what happens when one of us writes on a theme, and our audience chimes in – more good books for everybody!