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Book Recommendations: Campus Novels

Stack of Books | Photo by Karolina Grabowska |

Campus novels are books that follow the perspective of college students or set at a school. Below are a handful of recommendations from a wide range of tones and atmospheres of books in an academic setting. 

“The Secret History” by Donna Tartt 

This is possibly one of the most well-known books on this list, so it was only appropriate to recommend it first. A book that defined what is known as “dark academia,” this modern classic follows Richard as he transfers to a New England university and gets drawn into a tight-knit and eclectic group of Classics students. After the murder of one of its members, we follow Richard’s unreliable narration to uncover how and why they did it. If you have not read this yet, be sure to put this on the top of your list.  

“The Idiot” by Elif Batuman  

This semi-autobiographical campus novel will transport you to 1995 as you follow Selin, the daughter of Turkish immigrants, during her freshman year at Harvard. Email and the internet are brand new, so when Selin accidentally emails someone in Hungry, this leads Selin down a path of first love and heartbreak. With brilliant and insightful writing, Batuman will draw you right from the start. 

“Never Let Me Go” by Kazuo Ishiguro 

This unsettling novel follows Kathy reflecting on her life growing up at Hailman, a boarding school. As more layers of their story are peeled back, readers learn and sympathize with the characters as the true intentions of Hailman are revealed. Ishiguro weaves a haunting and beautiful story that will keep you up late into the night. 

“On Beauty” by Zadie Smith 

If you are looking for something a bit more comedic, “On Beauty” follows two rival academic families: the atheist liberal Belseys and the Christian conservative Kipps. As several events lead the families to come together, Smith explores race, religion and politics in this delightful and tongue-in-cheek campus novel. Smith also takes inspiration from E.M. Forster’s “Howard’s End,” though it is not required to read to enjoy this book. 

Ariel Parker

Contributing Writer