Books Set in College Towns

College towns are known for a smart, engaged populace, a fondness for team sports, and often, lots of music and bars. But what do books set in university towns tell us about the culture? Here is a sampling of books set in towns like our own.


Compiled by:
Dory Lynch
Amherst: a Novel

William Nicholson
Nichols

A young woman ad executive takes a leave from her work in London to research the love affair of Emily Dickinson’s brother, Austin, with faculty wife, Mabel Loomis Todd. While in Amherst the modern day Dickinson (no relation) also begins an affair with a married man. Both playful and serious this novel presents a historically accurate picture of Amherst in the famous poet’s day as well as our own. Emily’s poems add an authentic literary bend to the novel, but the story will appeal to non-poetry lovers as well.


The Devil Went Down to Austin

Rick Riordan
MYS Riordan

Tres Navarre, part-time professor, part-time private eye, is hoping for a laid-back teaching holiday in Austin as a visiting professor, when his brother, Garrett is accused of killing his best friend. Garrett, who loves Jimmy Buffett and navigates around town in a wheelchair has mortgaged the Navarre family ranch. This tense, action-packed mystery shows the high-tech world of Austin through a fascinating cast of characters.


The Dive from Clausen's Pier

Ann Packer
Packer

A dive off a pier outside Madison, Wisconsin becomes a life-changer for a student at the University of Wisconsin. Carrie Bell must confront the fact that her fiancé is now paraplegic. Whereas before, Carrie’s life seemed to have a trajectory of marriage, career and children now everything has changed. This novel captures the ambience of Madison and the difficult choices that a young woman must make.


Giles Goat-Boy, or, the Revised New Syllabus

John Barth
Barth

This metaphysical romp became a cult classic in the 60s and has remained so. Based on a mythical town, similar to State College, Pa., it tells the story of George Giles, a boy raised as a goat who rises to become the Great Leader. This novel plays with Cold War stereotypes and fears. It showcasess a noted technological unease, for example, when Giles tries to eliminate the Wescac computer system which threatens to destroy the community. It shows the world of academia as a microcosm of life where great tragedies often happen.


The Girls from Ames: a Story of Women and a Forty Year Friendship

Jeffrey Zaslow
305.42 Zas

This nonfiction book is a tribute to women’s friendships, in particular those of a group of eleven girls, who still keep in touch after four decades. After writing a newspaper column on this subject, the author received so many letters that he joined the women from Ames on a retreat and through interviews and photographs reconstructed their stories.


The Habit of Art: Best Stories from the Indiana University Fiction Workshop

Tony Ardizzone
Habit

Every summer when the mulberries come out, Indiana University hosts a nationally renowned writers conference. This collection of twenty-one stories includes the best work from over 25 years of the conference. The stories are widely divergent and include work by Barbara Bean, Clint McCown, Brian Leung and Dana Johnson. A collection to dive into and be inspired.


Missoula: Rape and the Justice System in a College Town

Jon Krakauer
362.883 Kra

Krakauer has turned his attention from wilderness Alaska, Mormonism, and Mt. Everest to an investigation of rape in this beautiful western college town. The federal Department of Justice investigated 350 cases of sexual assaults reported to the police in Missoula from 2008-2012. A number of the reported suspects belonged to the well-loved Grizzlies, the U. of Montana football team. Besides making enemies in this football-obsessed town, Krakauer shows why it is so difficult for women to report rape, and for many to find justice.


Moo: a novel

Jane Smiley
Smiley

A large Midwestern university gets nicknamed Moo for its love of agriculture. This literary novel spoofs the male-dominated hierarchy of many modern state universities, in particular the one in Ames, Iowa where Smiley taught for many years. This very satirical academic farce follows the fates of two dozen people during one academic year. It’s full of devious plots, lust and sex, and faculty members plotting to become top dog (or cow) while leaving others in the dust beneath them.


Murder in the Stacks, Penn State, Betsy Aardsma, and the Killer Who Got Away

David DeKok
364.1523 Dek

On the day after Thanksgiving in Nov. 1969, Aardsma, a young, intelligent literature grad student was brutally murdered in the Penn State library stacks. The library was not empty that day and several students heard the thud as her body fell to the floor. This crime story examines the young woman’s life, the crime itself, and possible suspects. The case has not been solved to this day, but DeKok makes a convincing case for one suspect.  


The Salinger Contract

Adam Langer
Langer

This literary mystery features a narrator, also named Adam Langer, who is a stay-at-home dad and currently blocked in his writing. As his wife maneuvers through campus politics on IU’s campus, Adam meets up with Connor Joy, a famous author, Adam once profiled while working as a journalist in New York City. Soon Connor has an offer to “write” some material for a private collector of Salinger, Pynchon, and Norman Mailer. Soon things turn dark and Adam must prove himself an investigator as well as writer and parent.


Subversives: the FBI's War on Student Radicals, and Reagan's Rise to Power

Seth Rosenfeld
378.1523 Ros

What do a future president, a controversial director of the FBI, and an activist student body have in common? A controlled and very harsh reaction to student protestors at the University of California’s campus in Berkeley in the 1960s. The chapter headings give you hints about just what happened to Mario Salvo and many other students who felt strongly about the Vietnam War, the direction of campus life, our entire American culture. Here is a sampling of them: The FBI on Campus, Spies in the Hills, The Undertaker, An Angry Young Man, Obey the Rules, Landside, and finally, the innocent sounding, The Essay Question. This book provides a fascinating read on a significant series of events that changed the course of academic life, and our politics and culture.