Friday, June 15, 2012

Best Academic Novels

Summer reading for academics. Each year at the Chronicle of Higher Education, Ms. Mentor  lists  and grades  the  best  academic  novels—novels bearing  some  relationship to academia.  Here are the novels that received the grade of “A+” or "A."  Novels receiving a lower grade are listed here.

  • Foundation, by Isaac Asimov. When a galaxy-spanning civilization collapses, a single planet-sized university is a bastion against the coming darkness. Subsequent administrators must cope with the onrush of barbarian hordes. Unbelievably timely. Grade: A+.
  • The Red Squad, by E.M. Broner. A literature professor of a certain age gets a mysterious package of documents from her 1960s life as an A.B.D., composition instructor, and antiwar activist—one of whose colleagues went underground, while another turned police informant. Self-important administrators and whining students are skewered, while moments of real teaching and learning are celebrated. Grade: A.
  • The Corrections, by Jonathan Franzen. In this sprawling, tragicomic story, Chip is a promising young assistant professor of "textual artifacts" whose life spirals out of control after a sexual adventure with a former student. Freed from academe, Chip is like a domestic animal released into the wild—who turns his rage into a biographical screenplay, borrows heaps of money, and gets swept up into an international money scam. Grade: A.
  • The Art of Fielding, by Chad Harbach. At a college championship game, a superstar shortstop makes a devastatingly wild throw, leading to a crisis of confidence and faith. There are encounters with a charming dean, his errant daughter, and a stoic baseball captain, all in a closely knit small college. What seem to be clichés—mythic baseball history, allusions to Melville, and scandalous academic affairs—finally produce a coming-of-age soufflé light enough to be easy to read and rich enough to be satisfying. Grade: A.


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