Welcome to my first blog post/reflection/collection of random thoughts regarding what I just read! Following our first class discussion of how college and university life are presented through various forms of media, I read a review essay by Professors Christian Anderson and John Thelin of John E. Kramer’s The American College Novel: An Annotated Bibliography. This book review summed up the importance of examining novels to understand why people think the way they do in regards to higher education. The purpose of this essay is to teach readers how to use Kramer’s novel. When reading the opening, my initial thoughts were, “Woah! Who on earth reads and carefully annotates that many books about college?” Before publishing his book, John Kramer reviewed 648 academic novels set at universities and centered around college students, employees, or professors. Also, Kramer was incredibly exclusive regarding which genres he would include in his bibliography in order to provide the most accurate information about the representation of college life through books. Kramer solely included fictional novels, which immediately had me wondering how fiction could be more informative than nonfiction. I then discovered that the authors of fictional collegiate novels are scholars themselves. The people writing these books are the ones that are the most immersed in the world of higher education. Also, the people reading these books are typically connected to higher ed in some form or fashion, reading as a means of escape or just to take a trip down memory lane.
Using an appeal to logic, Anderson and Thelin broke down the importance of college to the everyday citizen. Everyone pays taxes, and taxes fund state universities. Therefore, in a way, everyone earning a paycheck is connected to higher education, whether you went to college or not. Anderson and Thelin make a very logical point, using the importance of higher education to capitalize on their purpose (which is of course, examining how novels portray college life). There are no published studies explaining how people form their opinions on the higher education system, so why did Anderson and Thelin choose to focus on Kramer’s compilation of novels? Well, people believe what they read. However, I found the selection of novels as the most important portrayal of college to be somewhat biased. As the rise of technology continues, people read less novels and watch more movies or listen to more podcasts. I found it very interesting that Anderson, Thelin, and Kramer highlighted a common bias in setting throughout a majority of higher ed-focused novels. Universities along the East Coast (the Ivy Leagues in particular) are FAR MORE represented than those along the West Coast or any of the big state schools. Anderson and Thelin hypothesized that this is because “historic colleges located on the East Coast have advantages of longevity, prestige, and proximity to the editorial offices of leading publishing houses, most of which have been located in New York City and Boston.” Their explanation of the bias made so much sense because location and convenience can play a major role in the publishing process.
Why study college novels? Anderson and Thelin believe that there are endless possibilities in which novels can be used to further make sense of society’s opinion regarding higher education. Higher ed novels can explain disciplines of study, professions, or just life on campus in general. The authors point out that Kramer’s bibliography is a starting point for further analyzing higher education opinions, not the analysis itself. The representation of Kramer’s novel is accurate and without bias. This review showed me that there are so many ways novels can be used to interpret higher education. Instead of providing a direct path to understanding college life, Anderson and Thelin suggested that Kramer’s work be a starting point. By examining a compilation of every fictional novel that utilizes a university setting, one should have the tools necessary to begin to understand the shaping of society’s views.