10 Books That Will Make You Nostalgic For Back-To-School Season

Grace Astrove is an avid bibliophile who currently resides in New York City. With more than 900 books in her apartment, she definitely is someone we feel comfortable turning to for book suggestions. Read on to find out what 10 books she believes will leave you feeling nostalgic for back-to-school season.

The air is getting crisp, the nights are getting longer, and, just like Nora Ephron famously wrote, this is the season that “makes me want to buy school supplies,” especially books. This time of year has always been my favorite for curling up with a good book and I particularly love reading stories with academic settings that make me nostalgic for the back-to-school experience.

Here are 10 of my favorite books, some new and some modern classics, that will have you longing for cozy fall days on campus, too.

The Secret History by Donna Tartt

Set in New England at a small, elite liberal arts college, Donna Tartt’s first novel is the epitome of the dark academia novel. The story follows a closely knit group of six classics students and their charismatic professor who influences them to become increasingly isolated from the rest of campus, forming their own little secret society filled with rules and rituals inspired by the ancient texts they study. Swirling with romance, mystery, self-discovery and tragedy, the enigmatic characters and captivating writing will stay with you for long after you finish the last page. 

Catherine House by Elisabeth Thomas

Elisabeth Thomas’s gothic novel is set at Catherine House, an experimental school of higher learning hidden deep in the woods of rural Pennsylvania. With an exceedingly selective admissions policy and formidable endowment so that tuition, room and board are free, Catherine House produces some of the world’s best minds. Students must follow strict rules and demanding schedules, are completely isolated from the outside world and cannot leave campus for three years, but in return, the school promises its graduates that they can become anything or anyone they desire. The novel follows Ines over the course of her time at Catherine House as she enjoys the sanctioned revelry of campus, builds relationships with her elite and diverse classmates, and uncovers the happenings of a mysterious and exclusive course of study. 

The Opposite of Loneliness: Essays and Stories by Marina Keegan

Published after the promising young author’s tragic death just days after graduating from Yale University, Mariana Keegan’s posthumous collection of essays, stories and poems is insightful, heart-wrenching, and revelatory. While the entire collection encapsulates the fleeting feelings of college years, the title essay, which she delivered as her class’s graduation speaker, gets at the heart of those emotions and experiences. She writes, “We don’t have a word for the opposite of loneliness, but if we did, I could say that’s what I want in life… It’s not quite love and it’s not quite community; it’s just this feeling that there are people, an abundance of people, who are in this together. Who are on your team. When the check is paid and you stay at the table. When it’s four a.m. and no one goes to bed. That night with the guitar. That night we can’t remember. That time we did, we went, we saw, we laughed, we felt.”

All Girls by Emily Layden

Emily Layden’s coming-of-age novel takes place over the course of one year at Atwater, a prestigious all-girls boarding school in Connecticut, as nine students, each a narrator of the story, navigate their friendships, ambitions and desires against the backdrop of a sexual assault scandal the administration desperately wants to silence. An immersive, nuanced, and unflinching portrait of modern adolescence in a physically and emotionally claustrophobic environment, All Girls follows the young women as they discover their voices and their power and try to understand their place in the world.

All’s Well by Mona Awad

Mona Awad is known for her uniquely sharp prose and darkly funny stories, often set in the world of academia, and her newest novel, All’s Well, will not disappoint those who have loved her previous work and theater kids who have never forgotten the chaos and irresistible draw of the stage. The book follows a theater professor suffering chronic pain, who is in the process of staging a very troubled production of Shakespeare’s “All’s Well that Ends Well.” One night she meets three strange benefactors who have an eerie knowledge of her past and a tantalizing promise for a future where the play is a success and the invisible, doubted pain that’s kept her from the spotlight is not only finally recognized, but disappears. 

On Beauty by Zadie Smith

A family drama set at Wellington, a small artsy college located outside Boston, Zadie Smith’s novel is a modern classic that addresses racial and cultural issues and the clash between liberal and conservative academic values. The story centers around two families and their different yet increasingly intertwined lives: the Belsey family—university professor Howard, a white Englishman and a scholar of Rembrandt, his African-American wife Kiki, and their three children—and the Kipps—Monty, Howard’s professional, his wife Carlene, and their two children. Infidelity, death and secrets set in motion a chain of events that force everyone to examine the unarticulated assumptions of their lives.

The Gilded Years by Karin Tanabe

Soon to be adapted for film, starring and produced by Zendaya, Karin Tanabe’s book is a historical novel based on the true story of Anita Hemmings, who was the first black student to attend Vassar by successfully passing as white. A bright, beautiful senior in the class of 1897, her secret threatens exposure when she grew too close with her charismatic roommate, the heir of one of New York’s most prominent families. A compelling story, with themes as relevant today as ever, the book pays tribute to one woman who dared to risk everything for the chance at an education and a better life.

Prep by Curtis Sittenfeld

Curtis Sittenfeld’s first book is a coming-of-age story that offers an insightful dissection of class, race and gender. Rife with adolescent angst, the book follows Lee Fiora, an ambitious and intelligent scholarship student from the Midwest, as she attends a prestigious boarding school in Massachusetts and experiences equal parts intimidation and fascination around her other-worldy classmates. Sittenfeld’s writing perfectly captures the confusion, heartache, longing and pressure of high school years as Lee, like many teenagers, struggles to understand herself. 

The Truants by Kate Weinberg

A thrilling debut that pays homage to Agatha Christie, Kate Weinberg’s novel centers on English university student Jess Walker, as she studies under the mesmerizing and rebellious literature professor, Dr. Lorna Clay. Not too long into her time at university, Jess becomes entangled in a murder mystery, a love affair, tragedy and scandals as she, her professor and her group of eccentric friends break actual and societal rules in the hopes of creating extraordinary lives. 

Sleepwalking by Meg Wolitzer

Written while she was still a university student and published soon after graduating, Sleepwalking marks the beginning of Meg Wolitzer’s career. The book focuses on three notorious “death girls,” so-called on the Swarthmore campus. Their friendship becomes strained when one of the girls, Claire Danziger, builds a relationship with an upperclassman, Julian, who pushes her to consider to what degree her “death girl” identity is really who she is. As Claire grapples with her feelings for Julian, she begins to take drastic measures to confront the facts about herself that she has been avoiding for years.


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About Grace:

Grace is an avid reader, obsessive organizer and coffee connoisseur living in New York City. She has an MA in Art History and works in arts fundraising. When Grace is not reading (or scouring used bookshops), she serves on young patron museum boards, swims as often as she can get to the nearest beach, lake, or pool, and constantly takes photos of her friends, her cat George and the world around her.
featured + main image via our interview with Grace Astrove
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