16 April 2009

Your Assistance Please: Fiction about college (for the non-jaded)

The trauma of the month of April for high school seniors is unbearable at the time but fades gradually with the years. This year I got to relive the nail-biting all over again as my younger brother and sister waited for their letters, but at long last the decisions are in, the commitments sealed. I'm so proud of them, not that I was surprised when the shadowy folks in admissions were impressed.

As a potential graduation present, I wanted to recommend them some fictional books about college, which take place in college or somehow reflect the "college experience," but I'm coming up a little short. To appreciate a great academic satire like LUCKY JIM, they'll probably have to spend some time in a department or at least get to know some grad students, good and otherwise. Donna Tartt's THE SECRET HISTORY is awesomely moody, and has twins in it to boot, but also a plot twist which would be inappropriate under the circumstances. And I was only in high school when I read JOE COLLEGE, so maybe it wasn't as stellar as I remembered.

All of this is to say that maybe the great American twenty-first-century liberal-arts college novel has not been written yet. Well, at least I'll know to whom to dedicate it. But I must be missing something! Got any great fictional books about college to praise?


Wade Garrett said...

I really enjoyed Joe College - in part because I am a Tom Perrotta fan of long-standing, and in part because, having gone to Yale, I think he nailed some subtle things about the school and its students, particularly being a middle class kid from a less-than-glamorous hometown, which is something to which I can relate.

A Yale student named Sandra Chwialkowska made a documentary about being a Yale student a couple of years ago, called "Its About College," and that was really good.

Wade Garrett said...

Michael Chabon's Wonder Boys is one of my favorite novels, and it is set on a college campus, but its really about the college experience.

I Am Charlotte Simmons is a surprisingly perceptive book about the college experience, but it has a lot of flaws as a novel.

I'm sure there's something obvious out there that just isn't coming to mind at the moment.

Ellen said...

WONDER BOYS is good but also more about Grady Tripp's personal drama than his university (although the English department party is very funny).

I AM CHARLOTTE SIMMONS might work -- it is a deeply flawed book in some respects but does at least attempt to capture the flavor of going to college today.

8yearoldsdude said...

i find perotta's novels to be enjoyable but then forgettable.

geez, whether to give IASS to a HS student? I was originally aghast at the idea, but I guess it depends on what you want to tell them.

I might vote for Zadie Smith's "on beauty" which isn't exactly about college, but gets the tone of college just right when it does.