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School Daze: The Best Novels About The Campus

“I expect you’ll be becoming a schoolmaster, sir. That’s what most of the gentlemen does, sir, that gets sent down for indecent behavior.”

– Evelyn Waugh, Decline and Fall, 1928

Those were the days. A novelist could teach for a year or two and emerge with enough satire to fill a library. Alas, the Academy has grown more ludicrous and exaggerated with each succeeding generation and is now almost beyond parody. Today, all a smart writer has to do, in Emily Dickinson’s memorable phrase, is tell the truth but tell it slant.

This melancholy observation was brought to mind by Roger Rosenblatt’s comic tale Beet, the story of a professor who fatuously assumes that college is a place for colloquy and intellectual adventure. Instead, he finds an arena rife with faculty politics and political correctness, with courses like Little People of Color and Postcolonial Women’s Sports. The administration is even worse than the staff: eyeing the Internet, the chairman of the board of trustees demands, “Why couldn’t we run the whole college online? From one building? From a Quonset hut! From a lean-to, for Chrissake! An outhouse!”

Funny stuff. But the fact is that colleges are falling all over themselves to hustle dollars from the Net. Google has more than six million references to courses you can take without bothering to enter a classroom. As for PC, the very real Occidental College offers The Unbearable Whiteness of Barbie?; Oberlin has a seminar called She Works Hard for the Money: Women, Work and the Persistence of Inequality; and UCLA makes much of Queer Musicology, exploring the ways in which “sexual differences and complex gender identities in music and among musicians have incited productive consternation” during the 1990s. I could cite hundreds more.

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