At our last CPAC meeting, the topic of us starting up a WLUSA book club in 2018 came up. We’re going to consider it, but it did also get me thinking and made me want to share something about books with you all in the September newsletter. So in honour of the start of the 2017/18 academic year here at Laurier, I have (with the fantastic help of Facebook’s Library Think Tank group) built a list of 10 novels that are set on university or college campuses. The novels I picked for this list specifically have a decided staff orientation as opposed to being about professors or students. Either through having the main character or a major supporting character in a support staff role, or being specifically set in an administrative unit.
Admission by Jean Hanff Korelitz – about an Admissions Officer
“Admissions. Admission. Aren’t there two sides to the word? And two opposing sides…It’s what we let in, but it’s also what we let out.”
For years, 38-year-old Portia Nathan has avoided the past, hiding behind her busy (and sometimes punishing) career as a Princeton University admissions officer and her dependable domestic life. Her reluctance to confront the truth is suddenly overwhelmed by the resurfacing of a life-altering decision, and Portia is faced with an extraordinary test. Just as thousands of the nation’s brightest students await her decision regarding their academic admission, so too must Portia decide whether to make her own ultimate admission.
Admission is at once a fascinating look at the complex college admissions process and an emotional examination of what happens when the secrets of the past return and shake a woman’s life to its core.
On Turpentine Lane Hardcover by Elinor Lipman – about a Stewardship Officer
An endearing romantic comedy from the beloved best-selling author of The Family Man and The View from Penthouse B
At thirty-two, Faith Frankel has returned to her claustro-suburban hometown, where she writes institutional thank-you notes for her alma mater. It’s a peaceful life, really, and surely with her recent purchase of a sweet bungalow on Turpentine Lane her life is finally on track. Never mind that her fiance is off on a crowdfunded cross-country walk, too busy to return her texts (but not too busy to post photos of himself with a different woman in every state). And never mind her witless boss, or a mother who lives too close, or a philandering father who thinks he’s Chagall.
When she finds some mysterious artifacts in the attic of her new home, she wonders whether anything in her life is as it seems. What good fortune, then, that Faith has found a friend in affable, collegial Nick Franconi, officemate par excellence . . .
Elinor Lipman may well have invented the screwball romantic comedy for our era, and here she is at her sharpest and best . On Turpentine Lane is funny, poignant, and a little bit outrageous.
Enter the Janitor (The Cleaners #1) by Josh Vogt – one of the major characters is a Custodian
Clean-freak college student Dani Hashelheim never imagined she’d discover her latent magical ability in, of all places, a bathroom. But when she ducks into the ladies’ room at the library, she’s put in the crossfire between an elderly janitor and a ravenous muck-monster that emerges from the sink. Dani’s previously unknown power manifests in self-defense, and she floods and burns down the library—at the same time. Enter Ben, the janitor, who works for the Cleaners, a supernatural sanitation company that keeps reality tidy and safe…and a company Dani now works for as well, whether she wants to or not. This puts a significant crimp in her dream to attend med school and become a doctor. Nor is Ben happy, since it’s his duty to help Dani adapt to the job and learn to control her chaotic talent before it kills them both. Dani barely has time to try on her new company uniform before she and Ben are hunted down by a cult that wants to cleanse all life from the planet, and believes her power provides the means to do so. While fighting to survive the cult’s increasingly violent recruitment attempts, the pair must battle dust devils, navigate a maze of mystical sewers, face down trash golems—and scrub the occasional toilet.
Straight Man by Richard Russo – set in the office of an English Department
In this uproarious new novel, Richard Russo performs his characteristic high-wire walk between hilarity and heartbreak. Russo’s protagonist is William Henry Devereaux, Jr., the reluctant chairman of the English department of a badly underfunded college in the Pennsylvania rust belt. Devereaux’s reluctance is partly rooted in his character–he is a born anarchist– and partly in the fact that his department is more savagely divided than the Balkans.
In the course of a single week, Devereaux will have his nose mangled by an angry colleague, imagine his wife is having an affair with his dean, wonder if a curvaceous adjunct is trying to seduce him with peach pits, and threaten to execute a goose on local television. All this while coming to terms with his philandering father, the dereliction of his youthful promise, and the ominous failure of certain vital body functions. In short, Straight Man is classic Russo–side-splitting and true-to-life, witty, compassionate, and impossible to put down.
My Latest Grievance by Elinor Lipman – set in a dorm, one of the major characters is a Residence Officer
My Latest Grievance stars the beguiling teenager Frederica Hatch, the Eloise of Dewing College.
Born and raised in the dormitory of this small women’s college and chafing under the care of “the most annoyingly evenhanded parental team in the history of civilization, Frederica is starting to feel that her life is stiflingly snug.
That all changes with the arrival on campus of a new dorm mother, the glamorous Laura Lee French, the frenetic centre of her own universe.
Gaudy Night (Lord Peter Wimsey #12) by Dorothy L. Sayers – some of the major characters are Dons at a college
Gaudy Night (1935) is a mystery novel by Dorothy L. Sayers, the tenth in her popular series about aristocratic sleuth Lord Peter Wimsey, and the third featuring crime writer Harriet Vane.
The dons of Harriet Vane’s alma mater, the all-female Shrewsbury College, Oxford (a thinly veiled take on Sayers’ own Somerville College), have invited her back to attend the much anticipated annual ‘Gaudy’ celebrations. However, the mood turns sour when someone begins a series of malicious pranks including poison-pen messages, obscene graffiti, the destruction of a set of proofs and crafting vile effigies. Desperate to avoid a possible murder in college, Harriet eventually asks her old friend Wimsey to investigate.
A Piece of Justice (Imogen Quy #2) by Jill Paton Walsh – about a College Nurse
Biography is usually a safe profession. Even rather sedate. But more than one biographer has found that writing about the late great mathematician Gideon Summerfield leads to a hasty retreat. Or something more deadly…
Imogen Quy, the coolly competent college nurse at St. Agatha’s College, Cambridge, first notices the pattern when her enthusiastic lodger Fran becomes the latest Summerfield biographer. Before she realises how deadly the Summerfield secret is, Fran’s life is in danger. And Imogen may be her only hope.
The Devil and Webster by Jean Hanff Korelitz – set in the office of a University President
From the New York Times bestselling author of You Should Have Known and Admission, a twisty new novel about a college president, a baffling student protest, and some of the most hot-button issues on today’s college campuses. Naomi Roth is the first female president of Webster College, a once conservative school now known for producing fired-up, progressive graduates. So Naomi isn’t surprised or unduly alarmed when Webster students begin the fall semester with an outdoor encampment around “The Stump”-a traditional campus gathering place for generations of student activists-to protest a popular professor’s denial of tenure. A former student radical herself, Naomi admires the protestors’ passion, especially when her own daughter, Hannah, joins their ranks. Then Omar Khayal, a charismatic Palestinian student with a devastating personal history, emerges as the group’s leader, and the demonstration begins to consume Naomi’s life, destabilizing Webster College from the inside out. As the crisis slips beyond her control, Naomi must take increasingly desperate measures to protect her friends, colleagues, and family from an unknowable adversary. Touching on some of the most topical and controversial concerns at the heart of our society, this riveting novel examines the fragility that lies behind who we think we are-and what we think we believe.
Size 12 Is Not Fat (Heather Wells #1) by Meg Cabot – about an Assistant Dorm Director
Heather Wells Rocks!
Or, at least, she did. That was before she left the pop-idol life behind after she gained a dress size or two — and lost a boyfriend, a recording contract, and her life savings (when Mom took the money and ran off to Argentina). Now that the glamour and glory days of endless mall appearances are in the past, Heather’s perfectly happy with her new size 12 shape (the average for the American woman!) and her new job as an assistant dorm director at one of New York’s top colleges. That is until the dead body of a female student from Heather’s residence hall is discovered at the bottom of an elevator shaft.
The cops and the college president are ready to chalk the death off as an accident, the result of reckless youthful mischief. But Heather knows teenage girls . . . and girls do not elevator surf. Yet no one wants to listen — not the police, her colleagues, or the P.I. who owns the brownstone where she lives — even when more students start turning up dead in equally ordinary and subtly sinister ways. So Heather makes the decision to take on yet another new career: as spunky girl detective!
But her new job comes with few benefits, no cheering crowds, and lots of liabilities, some of them potentially fatal. And nothing ticks off a killer more than a portly ex-pop star who’s sticking her nose where it doesn’t belong . . .
Moo by Jane Smiley – set in various administrative units in a small rural University
Nestled in the heart of the Midwest, amid cow pastures and waving fields of grain, lies Moo University, a distinguished institution devoted to the art and science of agriculture. Here, among an atmosphere rife with devious plots, mischievous intrigue, lusty liaisons, and academic one-upmanship, Chairman X of the Horticulture Department harbors a secret fantasy to kill the dean; Mrs. Walker, the provost’s right hand and campus information queen, knows where all the bodies are buried; Timothy Nonahan, associate professor of English, advocates eavesdropping for his creative writing assignments; and Bob Carlson, a sophomore, feeds and maintains his only friend: a hog named earl Butz. In this wonderfully written and masterfully plotted novel, Jane Smiley offers us a wickedly funny comedy that is also a darkly poignant slice of life.