The best books about the college campus and its craziness

Why am I passionate about this?

I’m a professor myself who writes novels, so am especially drawn to novels about campus life! I really do value the life of the mind, but am also aware of just how strange a life that is within contemporary culture. At the same time, campuses are hotbeds of ideas, ranging from the deep and the true to the shallow and the crazy, and young passionate impressionable students simmer in those ideas for several years and then go on to shape our future. What could be more important than novels which bring all that to light? 


I wrote...

Nevergreen

By Andrew Pessin,

Book cover of Nevergreen

What is my book about?

A chance encounter—if it is by chance—gives J. the opportunity of a lifetime. A physician in a midlife funk, he is invited to speak at a small college. But when he arrives at the secluded island campus of Nevergreen College he gets a lot more than he bargained for. No one actually shows up for his talk, but that doesn’t stop it from becoming the center of a firestorm of controversy—with potentially fatal consequences. Nevergreen—a smart, fast, funny, and incisive portrait of today’s liberal arts college scene, cancel culture, and more.

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The books I picked & why

Book cover of Lucky Jim

Andrew Pessin Why did I love this book?

Start with the classic, this legendary British satire about cloistered college life and the darker side of the academic way of life. The story of a hapless lecturer in medieval history trying to secure his job (and get his dream girl), the book works for me on every level: it’s funny, it’s insightful, it can be scathing, and it manages to simultaneously value this strange way of life (what can be stranger than dedicating your life to study within the bubble of the academy?) while also skewering its foibles and flaws. Come for the comedy; stay for the insight and skewering. As an academic myself, this book hits very close to home.

By Kingsley Amis,

Why should I read it?

4 authors picked Lucky Jim as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Penguin Decades bring you the novels that helped shape modern Britain. When they were published, some were bestsellers, some were considered scandalous, and others were simply misunderstood. All represent their time and helped define their generation, while today each is considered a landmark work of storytelling.

Kingsley Amis's Lucky Jim was published in 1954, and is a hilarious satire of British university life. Jim Dixon is bored by his job as a medieval history lecturer. His days are only improved by pulling faces behind the backs of his superiors as he tries desperately to survive provincial bourgeois society, an unbearable…


Book cover of Changing Places

Andrew Pessin Why did I love this book?

We move up a generation to the next “classic,” an equally entertaining satire that now sets the American university against the British. Two professors exchange roles for an academic year, swapping not only courses but eventually also students, colleagues, and (spoiler alert!) spouses. You get to look at each place through the eyes of the other—starting with the sunny American campus (based on Berkeley) against the damp British one—which is as jarring as it is revealing. Lodge beautifully melds the academic, the intellectual, and the personal, so the story grips you personally even as it stimulates and entertains. I read this as a graduate student and somehow stayed in the business anyway!

By David Lodge,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked Changing Places as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

When Philip Swallow and Professor Morris Zapp participate in their universities' Anglo-American exchange scheme, the Fates play a hand, and each academic finds himself enmeshed in the life of his counterpart on the opposite side of the Atlantic. Nobody is immune to the exchange: students, colleagues, even wives are swapped as events spiral out of control. And soon both sundrenched Euphoric State university and rain-kissed university of Rummidge are a hotbed of intrigue, lawlessness and broken vows...


Book cover of The Secret History

Andrew Pessin Why did I love this book?

You wouldn’t normally think of the college campus as an ideal setting for a riveting psychological murder mystery thriller, until of course you read The Secret History and then can’t imagine the campus as being anything but. Creator (or at least popularizer) of the “dark academia” literary sub-genre, Tartt gets inside the ideas-filled heads of a group of classics students at a small liberal arts college and shows how a little wisdom can take you to some strange and disturbing places. You’ll want to start studying some of those really deep ideas on your own even as she spells out the steps from studying classics to committing murder. Definitely must read before sending your child off to a liberal arts college…   

By Donna Tartt,

Why should I read it?

17 authors picked The Secret History as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

THE BESTSELLER THAT DEFINED AN AGE

'Everything, somehow, fit together; some sly and benevolent Providence was revealing itself by degrees and I felt myself trembling on the brink of a fabulous discovery, as though any morning it was all going to come together---my future, my past, the whole of my life---and I was going to sit up in bed like a thunderbolt and say oh! oh! oh!'

Under the influence of a charismatic classics professor, a group of clever, eccentric misfits at a New England college discover a way of thought and life a world away from their banal contemporaries.…


Book cover of Dear Committee Members

Andrew Pessin Why did I love this book?

I don’t think I’ve ever laughed out loud as much at any book, much less one about the academic life. Consisting of a series of recommendation letters (the bane of a professor’s existence!) written by a professor that somehow manages to capture every aspect of the professorial life in a brutal and hilarious way. The lead character will grab you by his personality and wit, his letters the perfect blend of curmudgeonly passive-aggression that really is appropriate when dealing with much of the crap (excuse the French!) that clogs up what ought to be the life of the mind. Mildly cliché to say this, but if the book weren’t so funny it would have made me cry. 

By Julie Schumacher,

Why should I read it?

6 authors picked Dear Committee Members as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Finally a novel that puts the "pissed" back into "epistolary."

Jason Fitger is a beleaguered professor of creative writing and literature at Payne University, a small and not very distinguished liberal arts college in the midwest. His department is facing draconian cuts and squalid quarters, while one floor above them the Economics Department is getting lavishly remodeled offices. His once-promising writing career is in the doldrums, as is his romantic life, in part as the result of his unwise use of his private affairs for his novels. His star (he thinks) student can't catch a break with his brilliant (he…


Book cover of Campusland

Andrew Pessin Why did I love this book?

And then there was Campusland… Fast, funny, and brutal in its satirical account of today’s campuses, with their “safe spaces” and identity politics and administrators and students alike running amok, this is a book with an agenda (be forewarned) but which executes that agenda extremely well. Johnston really nails certain character types present on many liberal arts colleges and elite campuses, as well as the dynamics as those characters execute their own agendas. If you share the author’s agenda you will lap it up; if not, you will be enraged; but either way you will be entertained. And if you haven’t been paying attention to the campus scene for a while—prepare to be shocked.  

By Scott Johnston,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked Campusland as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Eph Russell is an English professor up for tenure. He may look and sound privileged, but Eph is right out of gun-rack, Bible-thumping rural Alabama. His beloved Devon, though, has become a place of warring tribes, and there are landmines waiting for Eph that he is unequipped to see. The cultural rules are changing fast.

Lulu Harris is an entitled freshman - er, first year - from Manhattan. Her singular ambition is to be a prominent socialite - an "It Girl." While most would kill for a place at Devon, to her college is a dreary impediment. She is pleasantly…


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By Lisa Darcy,

Book cover of The Pact

Lisa Darcy Author Of The Pact

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Why am I passionate about this?

Author Cat lover Traveler Reader Amateur tennis player Foodie

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What is my book about?

The Pact is a contemporary fiction novel about Australian sisters, Samantha and Annie, who are doubles tennis champions. This story amplifies the usual sibling issues and explores their professional partnership and personal relationships – similarities, differences, motivation, competition, abandonment, and grief – and how they each respond to the stress of constantly being under the media spotlight.

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With dreams shattered and egos destroyed, how do they cope?

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