Fall semester is here. Time to spend sunny afternoons in the quad, late nights at the library and Saturday mornings pregaming at the tailgate. Just kidding! But while you’re sitting up in your bed, attending GEOL 211 via Zoom, here are five college novels to keep you sane.
1. The rules of attraction by Bret easton ellis
Set in the Fall of 1985 at fictional Camden College, Rules follows three students entangled in a love triangle—Sean, Lauren, and Paul—who do everything to excess except attend class (something we curiously never see happen).
Often overlooked, the novel is bookended by the two most infamous of Ellis’s novels—Less Than Zero (1985) and American Psycho (1991). Rules is a casual, easy read, although the subject matter can get somewhat heavy. However, these heavy moments are mostly met with shrugs from the hedonistic, narcissistic characters Ellis creates. Here’s a glimpse at the book’s opening chapter (which, yes, opens mid-sentence):
and it’s a story that might bore you but you don’t have to listen, she told me, because she always knew it was going to be like that,
After reading the book, be sure to check out its underrated film counterpart, directed by Roger Avary and starring 90s teen icons James Van Der Beek and Jessica Biel.
2. Broom of the system by david foster wallace
Another book that’s overlooked by its authors more-famous work (in this case, Wallace’s monolithic Infinite Jest), Broom of the System is follows Lenore Beadsman as she attempts to locate her grandmother who has vanished from her nursing home. Of course, in typical Wallace fashion, this explains only a small portion of the ever-expanding plot, which comes to include an obsessive boyfriend, a talking cockatiel, and a Gilligan’s Island themed bar. The college connection comes from the aforementioned boyfriend, Rick Vigorous, who narrates large sections of the book and revisits his alma mater, Amherst, where he laments taking his years at university for granted, claiming:
I was always either so unreasonably and pointlessly happy that no one place could seem to contain me, or so melancholy, so sick and silly with sadness that there was no place I could stomach the thought of entering. I hated it here. And I have never been as happy as when I was here. And these two things together confront me with the beak and claws of the True.
Broom was written by Wallace and published while he was still an undergraduate student at Amherst, and is a great starting point for those looking to experience his fiction without committing to the daunting page count of his other works.
3. Blue angel by francine prose
I’ve often heard of readers rolling their eyes at books about writers. Here, Prose makes it work. Her novel Blue Angel centers on Swenson, a middling novelist and creative writing professor at Euston College, who (surprise, surprise) falls in love with his nineteen-year-old student, and Manic Pixie Dream Girl deluxe, Angela Argo. The characters are richly drawn and Prose manages to elicit sympathy for her deeply-flawed protagonist, which is no easy task considering how much he manages to screw up over the course of the novel. Here’s a quick look from the opening chapter:
He glances around the seminar table, counts nine; good, everyone’s here, then riffles through the manuscript they’re scheduled to discuss, pauses, and says, ‘Is it my imagination, or have we been seeing an awful lot of stories about humans having sex with animals?
4. The corrections by jonathan franzen
Finally, a book on this list that’s not overlooked or underrated. If anything, The Corrections is a book that has received too much attention, mostly garnered from the controversy surrounding Franzen sticking his nose up at the book being tagged for Oprah’s Book Club.
Although there are many plot lines weaving through The Corrections—which paints a beautifully sad picture of the modern American family—one follows Chip, a college professor who falls in love with his young student. (Guys, seriously, stop doing this.) The book spends only a brief slice of its page count actually on campus, but this storyline alone is worth the price of admission.
Chip had co-chaired the committee that drafted the college’s stringent new policy on faculty-student contacts. Nothing in the policy prevented a student from helping a professor clear snow off his car; and since he was also sure of his self-discipline, he had nothing to be afraid of. And yet, before long, he was ducking out of sight whenever he saw Melissa on campus.
5. White noise by don delillo
image via wiki
Hilarious, thought-provoking, and perhaps a bit too relevant to the madness of 2020, White Noise is, arguably, DeLillo at his most accessible. The books centers on Jack Gladney, a professor at College-on-the-Hill and pioneer of the university’s newest major, Hitler studies. Published in 1985, White Noise covers a broad spectrum of themes (mainly centered around advertising and mass hysteria), many of which are hauntingly accurate to modern day. Also, fun fact, this is the novel from which the band The Airborne Toxic Event derives its name. Here’s a quick excerpt:
Department heads wear academic robes at the College-on-the-Hill. Not grand sweeping full-length affairs but sleeveless tunics puckered at the shoulders. I like the idea. I like clearing my arm from the folds of the garment to look at my watch. The simple act of checking the time is transformed by this flourish. Decorative gestures add romance to a life.