Three Books: Academic Fiction

straightmanThe Chronicle of Higher Ed’s Ms. Mentor has asked readers to recommend new academic novel titles and Erin O’Connor responded.

NPR invites listeners to recommend three books on a single theme. 

I’ve decided to combine the two requests and beg you, dear readers, to submit OTHER titles to me since my towering pile of summer reading just needs to grow a bit more before it hits the ceiling. Below is my recent submission to NPR in response to their call for Three Titles:

I teach at a community college, a setting rarely seen in the academic fiction genre (at least until I write my own!), yet the usually humorous foibles of professors and students depicted in the typical college novel crosses institutional boundaries.

Each June, after (ok, sometimes even before) submitting final grades, I dig up my what I (and many others) consider to be The. Best. Academic. Novel. Ever. Richard Russo’s Straight Man.  It’s laugh out loud funny, and it never goes out of style: the chair of the English department (a required character in these novels) threatens to kill a duck a day if his budget is not approved (as he holds up a goose).

A.S. Byatt’s Possession is another favorite, more mystery than riotous, but dripping in those insider literary references that remind us literature professors how much we love our novels.

Finally, although I could cite many more than three, I must mention one of the first college novels I read: Mary McCarthy’s The Groves of Academe.  McCarthy’s novel, while still being quite snarky, is an early attack on political correctness. It’s more focused, as is McCarthy’s style, on ideas and ethics rather than the amusing tale, like Russo’s novel, or the romance of literary mystery, as Byatt’s, but it was my first academic novel, the one that made me want so desperately to join the, albeit dysfunctional, club of the professoriate.

5 responses to “Three Books: Academic Fiction

  1. AnnieEm, we definitely must have been BFFs in an alternate universe. I adore academic novels. Have you ever read Book: A Novel by Robert Grudin? OMG, awesome.

  2. YES, I own “Book: A Novel”! Amazing: I need to reread that. A friend gave it to me 15 years ago, and that’s probably the last time I read it.

    Thank you for the reminder—someday we must share a martini (gin?) in an alternate universe!

  3. Ooh, let’s toast in an alternative universe right now. Here you go. Clink!

    What are some of your other academic novels you like? (I also adore Possession, btw, but haven’t ever read Russo. Just bought it on your recommendation!)

    Do you like academic mysteries, too? I like Joanne Dobson’s and Amanda Cross’s/Carolyn Heilbrun’s). Also Publish or Perish. Oh, and Murder at the MLA!

  4. Straight Man is the best. I have to re-read it about once a year, not just because it’s funny and real and moving but because the writing is terrific.

  5. I agree Bev: I’ve been a Richard Russo fan for ages. I love rereading “Empire Falls” for the same reason: its humor, humanity and just amazing writing.

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