Writers of all different eras have been fascinated by the secrecy of what goes on in some of the most prestigious universities around the world. From underground societies to exclusive eating clubs, colleges have always possessed a mysterious and captivating aura. The following list of “classic” college books is guaranteed to give readers a behind-the-scenes tour of the cruel, brutal, yet beautiful reality of what takes place behind closed doors.
- “This Side of Paradise” by F. Scott Fitzgerald
Amory Blaine, the novel’s ambitious and egocentric protagonist, embarks on a quest for self-knowledge that begins and ends at Princeton. Fitzgerald’s debut work is one of the finest portraits of American adolescence ever published and a chilling study of an individual’s yearning for status, power, and love.
- “The Rule of Four” by Ian Caldwell and Dustin Thomason
This book combines the best of murder mysteries, puzzles, and coming-of-age novels, as four Princeton seniors try to crack the secret behind a rare and beautiful Italian manuscript: the Hypnerotomachia Poliphili.
- “Joe College” by Tom Perrotta
Danny, a junior at Yale, drinks beer, smokes pot, feasts on kimchee, and then wonders whether he might be wasting his parents’ money. Told through an uncompromising internal monologue, Perrotta captures the best and worst of his hero’s idiosyncrasies and self-deprecating conflicts.
- “The Sound and the Fury” by William Faulkner
Quentin Compson, a freshman at Harvard University, walks the streets of Cambridge while contemplating death and his sister’s sexual promiscuity. He finally commits suicide by jumping off a bridge over the Charles River. Faulkner’s fourth novel, this intensely complex work is a must-read for the flawless technique of its construction in four parts and the psychological density of its myriad of unforgettable characters.
- “Stover at Yale” by Owen Johnson
The novel follows Dink Stover, a freshman, as he struggles to comprehend the real values of life and his own self-worth as a man beyond the glitter of social status and secret societies at Yale.
- “Admission” by Jean Hanff Korelitz
Portia Nathan, a 38-year-old admissions officer at Princeton University, confronts painful secrets from her past which may endanger her reverential place as gatekeeper of one of the world’s most discriminating and elitist institutions.
- “The Final Club” by Geoffrey Wolff
Nathaniel Clay experiences the dark side of college paradise when he is expelled from one of Princeton’s most prestigious eating clubs. He faces the hypocrisy of adolescents who preach the university honor code while treating classmates of lower social pedigree with contempt and even cruelty. “The Final Club” is a most telling and sharp-witted study of privilege and abuse of power at the hands of the young.
- “I Am Charlotte Simmons” by Tom Wolfe
The fictional Dupont University – a combination of Stanford, Duke, and U. Penn – accepts only the best, brightest, and most well-manicured of America’s youth. Wolfe skillfully covers all the racy subjects of everyday college life – sports, fraternities, sex, coeds, alcohol, and drugs – in a funny, if not stereotypical, overview of campus values.
- “A Staircase in Surrey” by J. I. M. Stewart
A sequence of five novels, “A Staircase in Surrey” discusses playwright Duncan Patullo’s return to his fictional Oxford college where he looks up old friends, classmates, and first loves.
- “Jill” by Philip Larkin
John Kemp, a poor student with a blue-collar background, wishes he could be his roommate, Christopher Warner, a rich southerner. During his painful time at Oxford, Kemp invents a younger sister named Jill who writes consoling letters to him and keeps a diary. The anger and depression of Kemp’s character is bound to shake readers awake, as he spirals dangerously towards paranoia and madness.
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