Letting go of my fiction habit was one of the hardest things about entering academia. I had read voraciously in my professional life, but found myself in a PhD program with no emotional energy to pick up a piece of fiction. But in the past year, thanks to some quality time on airplanes, I've been able to read a good book here and there. Here, in no particular order, are a few. I commend them to you.
A. S. Byatt, Possession.
Do scholars possess their subjects, or are they possessed by them? Can one human being ever truly possess another? Byatt follows two young scholars as they trace the careers of a pair of Victorian poets in a work that's part detective story, part love story, and part meditation on the interaction between scholars and their topics. There's a reason this novel won the Booker Prize. Don't skip the poetry.
Dorothy L. Sayers, Gaudy Night.
Speaking of part detective story and part love story, this is the classic. Throw in a love letter to Oxford of the 1930's and some musing about the role of women in the academy, plus Sayers' biting wit, evocative setings, and deft diction, and you have one of my favorite novels. Really. It's not a perfect novel, but it's damn close, and returning to it always feels like returning home to a dear friend.
Carlos Eire, Waiting for Snow in Havanna.
This is the odd one out, really, as it's neither fiction nor set in academia, but it's one of the more compelling things I've ever read and it's beautifully written. This memoire of a childhood in Cuba on the eve of the revolution won the National Book Award, and for good reason.
Any other suggestions to add? Please chime in.