15 Campus Set Novels For Readers Who Miss Back-To-School Season
Fall is nearly upon us once again, which means its time for new school supplies, cozy scarves, leaf piles, and pumpkin spice everything. I've picked out 15 campus set novels for people who love back-to-school season, so you can get your TBR in the autumn mood.
Also called "academic novels," campus novels are a special subset of fiction that romanticizes and skewers the university experience. Prominent examples include Kingsley Amis' Lucky Jim, Don DeLillo's White Noise, and Jane Smiley's Moo, among others. If you're currently in the strange world that is college, or if you just want to remind yourself what academic life was all about, a great campus novel will be your perfect fall read.
The campus novels on the list below range from lighthearted pop fiction to dark, literary mysteries. No matter what kind of novel you want to read this fall, you'll find something to go on your nightstand here. I've selected a blend of new releases, award-winning classics, and overlooked gems, so chances are good that, even if you're a fan of the campus novel, you haven't read every title on this list.
Check out the campus novels I've picked out for fall lovers below:
'The Incendiaries' by R.O. Kwon
Two young lovers find their lives spiraling out of control in this deeply affective debut novel. Set on the campus of Edwards University, The Incendiaries follows Will, a transfer student from a Bible college, as he reckons with both his faith and his feelings for Phoebe — a fellow Edwards student who has fallen in with a violent cult.
'The Secret History' by Donna Tartt
A whydunnit set on the grounds of the elite Hampden College, Donna Tartt's The Secret History centers on a group of Classics students who form their own secret society, only to have their friendship end in a murder and a suicide.
'On Beauty' by Zadie Smith
Weaving its way between two multiracial families in the U.S. and UK, Zadie Smith's On Beauty centers on the Belseys, a blended English and African-American family living outside of Boston, and the Kippses, a Trinidadian-British family living in the U.K. The families' patriarchs are academic arch-nemeses, but thankfully they're kept separated by the Atlantic. That is, they were, until the Kippses moved to the Belseys' neighborhood.
'Dear Committee Members' by Julie Schumacher
An epistolary novel set at Payne College, Julie Schumacher's Dear Committee Members follows creative writing professor Jason Fitger, a man whose creative productivity is in the toilet, as he attempts to help one of his favorite students launch a writing career of their own.
'My Education' by Susan Choi
Graduate student Regina knows about Nicholas Brodeur, a professor who has questionable relationships with his students, but nothing prepared her to meet his wife. One kiss from Regina is enough to send Martha, a new mom struggling to keep her life in a precarious balance, teetering over the edge. Fifteen years later, all involved parties are still dealing with the fallout of the affair.
'Possession' by A.S. Byatt
In this 1990 Booker Prize winner, two academics working on biographies of overlooked Victorian poets discover that their subjects were deeply in love — as they begin to fall for one another.
'Three Daughters of Eve' by Elif Shafak
When a random encounter with a mugger uncovers an old Polaroid from her days at Oxford, Turkish socialite Peri finds herself pitched backward into her memories. Through the course of one evening, Peri relives her friendship with Mona and Shirin, their association with an unorthodox professor, and the events that severed contact between them.
'The Devil and Webster' by Jean Hanff Korelitz
When a popular professor is denied tenure at the progressive Webster College, students mount a series of protests to pressure the senior faculty and academy brass into reconsidering. As Webster's first female president looks on, proud of students taking a stand and worried about how far they will go, she holds onto the secret behind the tenure denial.
'Sorority Sisters' by Tajuana "TJ" Butler
Cajen, Tiara, Chancey, Stephanie, and Malena have very little in common, aside from the fact that they've all pledged the same sorority. Forced together as they navigate their college experience, these young women will have to learn to rely on each other if they hope to meet their brave new world head on.
'Commencement' by J. Courtney Sullivan
Four years after their college graduation, three best friends and former roommates reunite at the wedding of a fourth. Celia, Bree, Sally, and April shared a dorm at Smith College, where they learned to buck patriarchal traditions and count on one another. April's career has become fraught with challenges since college, however, and she may need her friends more now than ever.
'Chemistry' by Weike Wang
An unnamed Chinese-American graduate student facing both a contentious marriage proposal and a failed research endeavor leaves university to try to find herself in this brilliant debut novel.
'The Mind-Body Problem' by Rebecca Newberger Goldstein
When Renee, an Orthodox Jewish college student, marries a genius mathematician named Noam, she feels as if she has attached herself to someone far out of her intellectual league. As Renee tries to sort out her feelings of unworthiness, she begins a series of affairs with her oblivious husband's colleagues.
'Falling Together' by Marisa de los Santos
When they receive emails from their old friend Cat, asking them to reconnect at their college reunion, Pen and Will eagerly accept. Instead of Cat, however, the former roommates meet her husband, Jason, who tells them his wife has been missing since her father's death.
'Special Topics in Calamity Physics' by Marisha Pessl
During her senior year of high school, Blue, the daughter of a troubled college professor, settles in a small North Carolina town with her father. There, she attends an elite prep school, where she falls in with a group of students known as the Bluebloods. But when the Bluebloods' favorite instructor dies mysteriously, it's up to Blue to find out why.
'All Is Forgotten, Nothing Is Lost' by Lan Samantha Chang
Two writing students, Roman and Bernard, try to win the affections of poet and professor Miranda Sturgis in this compelling novel. But as Roman's career takes off, Bernard's stalls, and the two men find themselves changed and challenged by their relationships with Miranda.