Book of the Week: Back-to-School Fiction

These four novels about college life make for great summer reads and might even make you wish you were back in class. 

It’s been a long summer, and the Purchase College Library misses you!  And though you might not admit it, we bet you miss us too. To get you back in the college mindset (and round out your beach reading list), here are three recent novels that take place at colleges and feature collegiate protagonists.  These books are almost guaranteed to make you nostalgic for campus, whether you’re about to start your senior year or your freshman year.

1. The Marriage Plot (2011) by Jeffrey Eugenidies

Call Number:  Shelved under Eugenides in the  POPULAR COLLECTION.

Summary:  Taking place at Rutgers in the 1980s, this novel by the acclaimed author of “Middlesex” and “The Virgin Suicides” presents a love triangle between Madeleine the English Lit major, Leonard the Biology major, and Mitchell the Religious Studies major. While most of the action takes place in Cape Cod and Europe, the heightened level of the characters’ conversations as well as spot-on scenes depicting classroom discussions on semiotics and post-modernism make this a great back-to-college book.  In the age of the post-modern, Madeleine questions whether it’s possible to fall madly in love like the heroes of the Victorian Literature that she adores– until she meets Leonard, a brilliant but troubled scientist who literally throws her words back at her.

2.  The Art of Fielding : a novel (2011) by Chad Harbach

Call Number: Request It Via ILL

Summary: Based on the dust jacket, you might think this first novel by Chad Harbach is all about baseball.  Baseball is a major vehicle for the plot, but the book is at heart an ode to small liberal arts colleges, the people they attract, and the hold they have on alums and undergraduates alike.  Henry Skrimshander, is a phenom shortstop at Westish College in Wisconsin who lives only for baseball– until an errant throw shakes his confidence and sets off a chain of events in the lives of people connected to him including his best friend Mike Schwartz, his roommate Owen Dunne, the college’s President Guert Affenlight, and the President’s daughter Pella.  This book skillfully captures the clubhouse dynamic of playing on a college sports team as well as the psychological tribulations of individuals struggling to find their place in the world.

3. Caleb’s Crossing  (2011) by Geraldine Brooks

Call Number: PR9619.3.B7153 C36 2011.

Summary:  Brooks, who also authored “People of the Book” and “March: A Novel” is known for writing well-researched historical fiction told through engaging, three-dimensional characters. Set in the 1660s, this novel, inspired by true events, tells the tale of Caleb, a young man from Massachusetts who became the first Native American to graduate from Harvard.  Through his friendship with Bethia, a young pioneer woman, and her Puritan minister father (who aims to convert the Wampanoag people to Christianity), Caleb finds his way to Harvard where he studies the Classics and navigates life among the colonial elite.  Bethia, the narrator, longs for an education denied to her because of her gender but follows Caleb to Cambridge where she works as an indentured servant.  This is a perfect book for the last month of summer because it unites the theme of education with travelogue-quality descriptions of Martha’s Vineyard and New England.

4. Old school : a novel (2004) by Wolff, Tobias

Call Number:  PS3573.O558 O43 2004

Summary:  Although it takes place at an Eastern prep school in the 1960s, this lean novel has a collegiate feel with its many literary allusions, accurate portrayals of in-class and out-of-class social dynamics, and personification of iconic authors like Robert Frost, Ayn Rand, and Ernest Hemingway.  The protagonist is an aspiring writer–and a bit of an outsider– at an elite high school where the written word reigns supreme. The most sought-after prize is winning the school’s literary competition and getting a chance to meet a world-famous author.  But the narrator’s desire to live up to his idols–including Frost and Hemingway who appear as guest speakers on campus– leads him down a dangerous, perhaps unethical path.


Posted on July 31, 2013, in book of the week. Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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