The Ultimate Preppy College Books

Our eight most cherished novels set in the hallowed halls of the world’s preppiest universities.

THIS SIDE OF PARADISE F. SCOTT FITZGERALD: PRINCETON

In the novel that shot Fitzgerald to the limelight, he fictionalises his Princeton youth with the social-climbing misadventures of Amory Blaine, a greedy undergraduate who strongly desires to live in the fast lane. Come for the novel’s august reputation, but stay for the prose—this is Fitzgerald at his lyrical best. (Dover Publications, $4.50)

BRIDESHEAD REVISITED BY EVELYN WAUGH: OXFORD

In the post-war swan song written to the English aristocracy by Waugh, architectural student Charles Ryder falls totally in love with the blue-blooded Flyte family during a debauched, illusion-shattering summer. What started just as a two Oxford co-eds degrades into a thorny web of Catholic guilt. Before everything goes sour, things were very sweet. (Bay Back Books, $16)

ON BEAUTY BY ZADIE SMITH: HARVARD

With a charming setting like Harvard, On Beauty is a modern opus of family dysfunction, tenure war and class war at its finest. In pulling and pushing the Belsey family, Smith explores hallmark classroom themes—generational change, multiculturalism and how identity and love are subject to the passage of time. (Penguin, $16)

WONDER BOYS BY MICHAEL CHABON: UNIVERSITY OF PITTSBURGH

Underneath a haze of pot, Chabon an American dreamer and satire explores how youthful promise and artistic ambitions grow amiss with age. Expect to fall in love with this novel’s trio of wonder boys: a student obsessed with Hollywood self-destruction, a professor entrapped by his interminable second book and his randy editor. (Random House, $15)

THE GROVES OF ACADEME BY MARY MCCARTHY: BARD

At McCarthy’s Jocelyn College (a reinterpretation of Bard), The College Groves sees literature lecturer Henry Mulcahy run off the rails upon the termination of his tenure. Only a handful of writers have refashioned the obscure trappings of university faculty quite as faithfully as McCarthy, who skillfully crafts an interdepartmental witch hunt like no other. (Mariner, $24)

SMALL BLESSINGS BY MARTHA WOODROOF: SOUTHERN LIBERAL ARTS SCHOOL

Veteran essayist Martha Woodroof in her first novel focusses her attention to a lonesome literature professor charged with the care of his withdrawn mother-in-law. When his friendship with the new-in-town bookstore clerk brought about life-changing news, Woodroof cleverly steers, penetrating narrative about life’s changing directions. (St. Martin’s, $26)

THE BROOM OF THE SYSTEM BY DAVID FOSTER WALLACE: AMHERST

If you don’t like novels with Infinite Jest plot, Wallace’s seminal doorstopper, takes on The Broom of the System first. Written as an undergraduate thesis at Amherst, where the novel intermittently dallies, Wallace tackles talking cockatiels, disappearing nursing home residents and American society on a rampage. What could be more collegiate? (Penguin, $17.00)

THE SECRET HISTORY BY DONNA TARTT: BENNINGTON

As an undergraduate, if you like your fiction bloody and intoxicating, you’ll like Donna’s cerebral page-turner about a cultish group of classics students who break with conventional morality under the influence of their smooth-talking professor. While following the students’ example by taking up Greek if you like, we advise you steer clear of murder. (Vintage, $16)

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