• The cover of the book Straight Man

    Straight Man

    This classic satire by Pulitzer Prize-winner Richard Russo is hilarious and beautifully written. Straight Man’s narrative begins with, “When my nose finally stops bleeding and I’ve disposed of the bloody paper towels” and takes off at full speed from there. Finding out how Professor Hank Devereaux’s nose has been bloodied is worth the price of the book.

     
  • The cover of the book Changing Places

    Changing Places

    David Lodge’s Changing Places belongs in the hall-of-fame of campus novels, along with Kingsley Amis’s Lucky Jim, Vladimir Nabokov’s Pnin, and Robertson Davies’s The Rebel Angels. This is a bawdy transatlantic satire, with British and American academics coming in for an equal skewering.

     
  • The cover of the book White Noise

    White Noise

    In White Noise (winner of the 1985 National Book Award), Don DeLillo’s protagonist chairs a department of Hitler Studies. Satire, social critique, and family drama come to a head during an Airborne Toxic Event that sends Professor Jack Gladney and his spouse and children on the move. The portrayal of Jack and Babette’s marriage is unforgettable.

     
  • The cover of the book The Female Persuasion

    The Female Persuasion

    Lest one begin to think that all academic satires feature male protagonists as well as male authors (hello, Mary McCarthy, Jane Smiley, Donna Tartt, and Francine Prose!), here’s Meg Wolitzer with The Female Persuasion, which hinges on a campus lecture by a sort of fictional Gloria Steinem. Has any other novel so insightfully examined female friendships, mentorships, and changing concepts of feminism? I love this book.

     
  • The cover of the book The Nix

    The Nix

    It’s almost impossible to believe The Nix is Nathan Hill’s first book: this is a hugely ambitious novel that succeeds on so many fronts. Disillusioned professor Samuel Andresen-Anderson is roused from his video-game addiction when his mother, who abandoned him when he was a child, makes the national news by throwing rocks at a Presidential candidate. What else can he do but write a book about her?

     
  • The cover of the book Elizabeth Costello

    Elizabeth Costello

    Brilliant Nobel laureate J. M. Coetzee takes the academic novel in an entirely original direction in Elizabeth Costello. Fictitious author Costello embarks on a series of campus lectures that baffle and enrage her audience. Coetzee takes on animal rights, literature, history, religion, philosophy—and the tedium of the post-lecture meal.

     
  • The cover of the book 84, Charing Cross Road

    84, Charing Cross Road

    Every list should include an outlier or exception, so let me end with Helene Hanff’s 84, Charing Cross Road—which isn’t a novel, and isn’t strictly about academia, but its portrayal of the love of books and the way literature creates relationships is unparalleled. If you didn’t read it in 1970, don’t worry: there’s still time to enjoy it now.