The Campus Novel: Why Is It So Bad & Hated

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Or is it? Seems like I remember some good ones but am wary nowadays when I receive an alert to a new one.

Through with “What’s the Buzz” (James Redd and the Blecchs), Thursday, 28 October 2021 19:19 (one month ago) link

I can think of a couple I love and maybe one I didn’t like enough to finish it.

Which books are you thinking of? Are we defining this as “college”/“university” only, or are boarding schools in the mix?

Legalize Suburban Benches (Raymond Cummings), Thursday, 28 October 2021 20:07 (one month ago) link

lucky jim is pretty good iirc

adam, Thursday, 28 October 2021 20:48 (one month ago) link

It's pretty slight but I liked "Changing Places" by David Lodge. Kind of reminds me of Mad Men's California episodes.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Changing_Places

Especially relevant to me in that I studied at the two universities it's based on.

reggae mike love (polyphonic), Thursday, 28 October 2021 20:54 (one month ago) link

Loved Changing Places and Small World, Nice Work not so much. Also enjoyed Lodge's friend Malcolm Bradbury's book The History Man. Of course Lucky JIm, although read that ages ago. There's also that one Randall Jarrell novel I never got around to, Pictures from an Institution. No doubt forgetting some famous ones, read and unread. Today I received a recommendation for something called The Shakespeare Requirement: A Novel, by Julie Schumacher with a cover illustration of a bust of The Bard in some kind of Joe Cool drag, don't know if I will bite.

Through with “What’s the Buzz” (James Redd and the Blecchs), Thursday, 28 October 2021 21:08 (one month ago) link

The campus novel typically has problems caused by its very restrictive and parochial setting. It's hard to introduce characters who are not either academics or students, and these are typically drawn from a very narrow demographic group. If you, as author wish to break out of this prison of predictability and introduce characters with atypical personalities, problems or desires the easiest way is to write a campus farce, where reality is entirely disregarded, or else just ditch the campus setting altogether and not write a campus novel.

more difficult than I look (Aimless), Thursday, 28 October 2021 21:10 (one month ago) link

Hmm. Seems like a previous novel in a similar vein by Julie Schumacher, Dear Committee Members, received really good review,s sold well and won her the Thurber Prize for American Humor, making her the first woman to receive this award.

Through with “What’s the Buzz” (James Redd and the Blecchs), Thursday, 28 October 2021 21:24 (one month ago) link

It's hard to introduce characters who are not either academics or students, and these are typically drawn from a very narrow demographic group.

Only because "campus novels" are typically drawn from experiences on a very narrow range of campuses!

Guayaquil (eephus!), Thursday, 28 October 2021 21:25 (one month ago) link

Been a long time, but thought Geronimo Rex was pretty good, and one of my friends from high school went to a college that he said was just like that (although he was in his late thirties by then, which might have helped).
Oh yeah, and Drive He Said, though---standard 60s topical farcical extrapolations aside---mainly because of the hipster jock: descriptions of playing basketball actually got me doing that--which, if you'd known me in high school, was highly, highly unlikely---
(And a friend of mine was in the Jack Nicholson-directed adaptation of that, filmed at Oregon State, I think: he was only an extra, but got to witness an early countercultural transition from golden grass ["you guys want to go sit by the pool?"] to Quaaludes ["Sumbitch was lookin at me funny!"])

dow, Thursday, 28 October 2021 21:26 (one month ago) link

The traditional campus novel relies on a well-worn set of very hacky stock characters (the kooky student radical! The lecherous and/or alcoholic humanities prof! The wacky foreign student!) and that is why it is bad and hated. Dear Committee Members is good because it actually swaps those out for new jokes.

Guayaquil (eephus!), Thursday, 28 October 2021 21:27 (one month ago) link

Campus novels that are actually weird and new, like Don DeLillo's END ZONE, are usually not thought of as campus novels.

Guayaquil (eephus!), Thursday, 28 October 2021 21:28 (one month ago) link

xxpost But even high school me could tell that Been Down So Long It Looks Like Up To Me was hipster sexist---intro by Pynchon, Farina's own Cornell roommate, made it worth getting, though (and maybe a few other things).

dow, Thursday, 28 October 2021 21:30 (one month ago) link

Will have to check Delillo's, if he does something different w the setting etc.

dow, Thursday, 28 October 2021 21:32 (one month ago) link

Pnin is cool.

I liked Pictures from an Institution, but I am a Jarrell stan so that makes sense.

Are The Secret History and The Magicians campus novels? What about Mysteries of Pittsburgh?

gin and catatonic (Ye Mad Puffin), Thursday, 28 October 2021 21:33 (one month ago) link

Didn't get very far w that last.
"Franny" 's collegiate connections v. pointed, apt.

dow, Thursday, 28 October 2021 21:35 (one month ago) link

Good subject.

I'd count The Secret History and The Mysteries of Pittsburgh for sure. The latter's one of my favorite debuts.

Also: Jarrell's Pictures from an Institution and Fitzgerald's This Side of Paradise.

So who you gonna call? The martini police (Alfred, Lord Sotosyn), Thursday, 28 October 2021 21:36 (one month ago) link

BTW I am on record as hating Secret History pretty intensely. Mostly meh on the rest except for Pnin, which is really hard to hate imo.

gin and catatonic (Ye Mad Puffin), Thursday, 28 October 2021 21:37 (one month ago) link

Even Lucky Jim?

So who you gonna call? The martini police (Alfred, Lord Sotosyn), Thursday, 28 October 2021 21:40 (one month ago) link

I still need to read Stoner (right? Big bone of contention on ILB from time to time).

dow, Thursday, 28 October 2021 21:40 (one month ago) link

I kind of liked David Lodge books once upon a time but I feel pretty confident I would not like them now. (At the time, they were the absolutely prototypical "campus novel," though maybe they've been forgotten now.)

Guayaquil (eephus!), Thursday, 28 October 2021 21:41 (one month ago) link

Oh yeah, those Lodge books feature another type of hacky stock character, the feuding academics who are ridiculous because they care so much about stakes that are so small.

Guayaquil (eephus!), Thursday, 28 October 2021 21:42 (one month ago) link

For a campus novel to be any good, it has to recognize that both academics and students are engaged in a project of real importance and that scholarship is actually profound and important, not a status game of competing trivialities. (And if you think scholarship is a status game of competing trivialities you shouldn't write campus novels, you should write about something you actually think matters.)

Guayaquil (eephus!), Thursday, 28 October 2021 21:43 (one month ago) link

As a reader, if it matters to the characters, it matters to me, if the writing's good enough---which for me means there should be a sense of justice, not just taking the piss (justice can incl. *some* ttp, latter, though)

dow, Thursday, 28 October 2021 21:48 (one month ago) link

(meant to take out "latter," sorry)

dow, Thursday, 28 October 2021 21:49 (one month ago) link

The one David Lodge book I know is about OCD, I think?

Anyway White Noise is pretty much a campus novel in my view, and it is arguably one of the good ones!

1. It takes place in and around a college campus in the northeastern United States.

2. The protagonist is a middle-aged white male professor with a tinge of horniness.

BUT

2a. Thankfully he does not, so far as I know, direct his horniness at nubile coeds or impoverished adjuncts.

3. It satirizes late-20th-century academic hyperspecialization for comic effect, in much the same way as Jarrell does. To the extent that I sometimes don't remember in which novel I read a particular bit of said skewering. Viz:

Is it White Noise that has the PhDs who have only ever read cereal boxes? Or is it chewing-gum wrappers?

One novel (I forget which) has a cocktail-party argument between one professor whose specialty is philosophy of history, and another whose specialty is the history of philosophy. The line is something like "a soap bubble is as significant as an empire."

gin and catatonic (Ye Mad Puffin), Thursday, 28 October 2021 21:52 (one month ago) link

And the same sort of joke permeates Nabokov too

gin and catatonic (Ye Mad Puffin), Thursday, 28 October 2021 21:55 (one month ago) link

Have we talked about “A Separate Peace” or “The Rules of Attraction” yet?

Legalize Suburban Benches (Raymond Cummings), Thursday, 28 October 2021 23:11 (one month ago) link

Gaudy Night is good imo, if you can put up with its being a Lord Peter Wimsey mystery.

Lily Dale, Thursday, 28 October 2021 23:17 (one month ago) link

^ yes

Ross Macdonald's The Chill comes to mind too ... sometimes the campus novel is improved by murders

Brad C., Thursday, 28 October 2021 23:26 (one month ago) link

Is Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets a campus novel y/n

gin and catatonic (Ye Mad Puffin), Friday, 29 October 2021 00:14 (one month ago) link

i recall richard russo's 'straight man' being v. funny and good

mookieproof, Friday, 29 October 2021 00:27 (one month ago) link

Characters in Small World, some of whom had appeared in the campus novel Changing Places, maintain that the campus novel is obsolete.

alimosina, Friday, 29 October 2021 03:53 (one month ago) link

at the more fantastic end of campus novels: loved giles goat-boy in my teens, really not sure what i'd make of it now in the unlikely event of ever revisiting. only other barth i've read is end of the road, also a campus novel from my vague recollection of it.

trying to remember if there was a chapter on this subject in fiedler's waiting for the end? they definitely get covered to some degree there in any case.

also re: pnin, yes!

no lime tangier, Friday, 29 October 2021 04:43 (one month ago) link

Gaudy Night is good imo, if you can put up with its being a Lord Peter Wimsey mystery.

in the same realm, a number of michael innes (a.k.a. professor j.i.m. stewart) novels are set on campus. can remember a good one based at a circa 1950s so-called red brick university.

no lime tangier, Friday, 29 October 2021 04:57 (one month ago) link

Well there's Hangsaman...

abcfsk, Friday, 29 October 2021 08:34 (one month ago) link

xp I just started reading that! It's called Old Hall, New Hall

Critique of the Goth Programme (Neil S), Friday, 29 October 2021 08:40 (one month ago) link

In a similar vein, many of the Gervaise Fen mysteries by Edward Crispin are set on or around campus

Critique of the Goth Programme (Neil S), Friday, 29 October 2021 08:41 (one month ago) link

my takeaway here: campus novels are less bad and hated when characters are regularly being killed off

mark s, Friday, 29 October 2021 12:38 (one month ago) link

Nobody gets killed off in Gaudy Night though, it's a murder-free mystery.

Lily Dale, Friday, 29 October 2021 13:25 (one month ago) link

Seem to be having a campus novel year: have read Stover at Yale, Pnin, and Cather's The Professor's House this year, and just looked at my unread copy of The Art of Fielding (put it back on the shelf). Also watched The Group last night, though not enough time on campus to make that a campus movie/novel (read the book years ago and gave it to my sister as a questionable graduation present).

bulb after bulb, Friday, 29 October 2021 13:45 (one month ago) link


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