From the hallowed halls of prestigious universities to the manicured lawns of elite social circles, preppy books offer a glimpse into a world of tradition, refinement, and intrigue. These captivating tales are populated by characters who embody the quintessential preppy aesthetic: crisp button-downs, pleated skirts, and loafers polished to a gleaming shine.
But beneath the veneer of polished exteriors lies a world of hidden depths, where ambition, rivalry, and forbidden love simmer just beneath the surface. Preppy books explore the complex dynamics of social hierarchies, the challenges of navigating a world of privilege, and the allure of forbidden desires.
Whether you’re drawn to the allure of old-school glamour or simply enjoy a good story, preppy books are sure to transport you to a world of intrigue and sophistication. So grab a copy of one of these classic tales, settle into a comfortable armchair, and prepare to be swept away by the allure of preppy life.
This Side of Paradise by F. Scott Fitzgerald (Princeton)
In the novel that catapulted Fitzgerald to fame, he fictionalizes his own Princeton days through the lens of Amory Blaine, a socially ambitious undergraduate yearning for a life of glamour and excess. While the novel’s reputation precedes it, Fitzgerald’s lyrical prose is sure to leave a lasting impression.
Brideshead Revisited by Evelyn Waugh (Oxford)
In Waugh’s elegiac ode to the English aristocracy, architectural student Charles Ryder becomes enamored with the aristocratic Flyte family during a hedonistic summer that shatters illusions. What begins as a seemingly innocent friendship between two Oxford undergraduates soon devolves into a thorny web of Catholic guilt and forbidden love.
On Beauty by Zadie Smith (Harvard)
Set against the backdrop of Harvard University, On Beauty is a modern masterpiece that delves into the complexities of family dysfunction, academic rivalries, and class struggles. Through the interwoven stories of the Belsey family, Smith explores themes of generational change, multiculturalism, and the ever-shifting nature of identity and love.
Wonder Boys by Michael Chabon (University of Pittsburgh)
In a haze of marijuana smoke, Chabon’s satirical novel explores the collision of youthful idealism and artistic ambition with the realities of aging. Readers will find themselves drawn to the novel’s trio of “wonder boys”: a student obsessed with Hollywood self-destruction, a professor struggling to complete his second novel, and his randy editor.
The Groves of Academe by Mary McCarthy (Bard)
At McCarthy’s fictional Jocelyn College (a thinly veiled stand-in for Bard), literature lecturer Henry Mulcahy spirals out of control following the denial of his tenure. Few writers have captured the obscure world of academia with such fidelity as McCarthy, who masterfully crafts a tale of interdepartmental intrigue and academic backstabbing.
Small Blessings by Martha Woodroof (Southern liberal arts school)
In her debut novel, veteran essayist Martha Woodroof turns her attention to a lonely literature professor caring for his withdrawn mother-in-law. When he forms an unlikely friendship with a new bookstore clerk, Woodroof skillfully navigates the unexpected twists and turns that life can take.
The Broom of the System by David Foster Wallace (Amherst)
If you’re not quite ready to tackle Wallace’s mammoth Infinite Jest, The Broom of the System is a great place to start. Written as an undergraduate thesis at Amherst, where the novel is partially set, Wallace tackles a wide range of topics, from talking cockatiels to disappearing nursing home residents to the absurdity of American society.
The Secret History by Donna Tartt (Bennington)
If you enjoy your fiction with a dash of murder and mayhem, you’ll love Tartt’s cerebral thriller about a group of classics students who become entangled in a web of deceit and violence under the influence of their charismatic professor. While you may be tempted to follow the students’ lead and take up Greek, we strongly advise against committing any felonies.
Ellis’s darkly comic novel follows a group of wealthy, amoral college students as they navigate the treacherous waters of sex, drugs, and betrayal. Set against the backdrop of a fictional New England liberal arts college, The Rules of Attraction is a scathing indictment of the excesses of privilege and the emptiness of consumerism.
Messud’s Pulitzer Prize-nominated novel follows the intertwined lives of four Brown University graduates as they grapple with the disillusionment of adulthood. As they pursue their ambitions in New York City, they find themselves haunted by the choices they made during their college years.
These are just a few of the many great books that have been inspired by the world of academia. So next time you’re looking for a good read, be sure to check out one of these preppy must-reads.