Labor Day is on its way, and for many students and teachers, this is the most agonizing time of the year: time for summer vacation (or the more relaxing summer semester) to wind down, and the fall semester to begin. Though we鈥檙e not quite in PST yet (Pumpkin Spice Time), for those still in school (or those who never left), it feels like a new year and a new beginning. To help you actually look forward to those upcoming days of learning, this week鈥檚 book club presents three fascinating novels about professors and students trying to find their way. Call it literature class; call it research鈥 just don鈥檛 call it homework.


1. The Lesser Bohemians by Eimear McBride ($21): In Irish author Eimear McBride鈥檚 new novel, 18-year-old Eily moves to London in 1994 to study drama. (This may appeal to fans of 鈥90s nostalgia鈥 just try not to think about how today鈥檚 incoming freshmen weren鈥檛 born for another four years.) She gets more drama than she bargained for when she meets a significantly older actor in a bar, and is quickly seduced by a man full of pretensions, neuroses and demons.

McBride鈥檚 first novel, 2014鈥檚 A Girl Is a Half-Formed Thing, won all sorts of awards (like the Bailey鈥檚 Women鈥檚 Prize for Fiction and the Goldsmith鈥檚 Prize) for its unusual narrative style, and this sophomore effort is anything but sophomoric, following directly in its footsteps. The narrative is written almost like a play or a poem, with the characters鈥 scattered and fragmented thoughts on display: 鈥淒ampened to fresh-cheeked I go up the stone steps, in amid the already-belonged. Laughing and smoking they verve from the start. Darling! Coifs flying. Surveying each other. One welcome enough to point the Registrar out鈥is lassitude and longitude like rebuke to my nerves. Thanks. No worries, hey you鈥檒l be alright. One of them now just the same.鈥

Readers will spend most of the book inside Eily鈥檚 head, which most of us would probably admit is a pretty accurate depiction of being eighteen. Like in any good college experience, Eily doesn鈥檛 just learn about the theatre; she learns a great deal about herself and her sexuality, as well. 鈥淵es I鈥檒l be fired glass where stray sand has been,鈥 she thinks. 鈥淪ifted and lit. Here you鈥檒l make what you鈥檒l be.鈥


2. Triple Love Score by Brandi Megan Granett ($15): If the dramatic affair of Eily and her actor leaves you in the mood for more romance, you might enjoy a lighter, frothier read about love and Scrabble, in this book that鈥檚 full of poetry in motion (and notion). Miranda is a poetry professor at a small college. She鈥檚 in her late 20s and her life seems pretty solid, if sedate. Her excitement comes from creating anonymous Scrabble social media poetry that might make her a better living than the strictly 鈥渓iterary鈥 route she鈥檚 expected to pursue. Miranda soon faces a parallel tough dilemma in her career and romantic lives: Should she 鈥渟ell out鈥 and live without attachment, or pursue something more difficult, but perhaps more rewarding?

The dilemma in Miranda鈥檚 life comes in the form of two tempting options: an old friend and crush named Scott Cramer who comes mysteriously back into her life with a daughter in tow and six unaccounted-for years in between, versus an equally exciting but potentially explosive relationship with Ronan, a graduate student who resembles 鈥渁 regular Irish Rob Lowe.鈥 (And here you thought writing a syllabus was the most difficult problem of the semester.) In the meantime, she continues to deal with the psychological repercussions of her mother鈥檚 untimely death from cancer during Miranda鈥檚 childhood, and her increasing dispassion for her chosen field.

鈥淪he read her colleagues鈥 work because she had to, but she didn鈥檛 let poetry seep into her. She didn鈥檛 let it touch her soul. With her advisor鈥檚 words, poetry joined the long list of things that failed her, things that couldn鈥檛 be trusted to remain the same.鈥 Pictures of Miranda鈥檚 Scrabble poetry sculptures adorn the pages of the novel. Miranda鈥檚 thoughtful dilemma might be familiar to anyone going back to school and choosing between following a passion or security, but the steamy romance might just get your mind off that philosophical impasse for a few hours.


3. Haylow by Gray Stewart ($19): Moving on from drama and literature, we reach the all-important history class (after all, those who don鈥檛 learn from history are bound to repeat it, and those who fail history class are too). Travis Hemperly ensconced himself in the study of Viking history, rather than deal with his brother鈥檚 death. Leaving his Southern roots behind for a job as a Viking reenactor in Canada, he soon becomes bored and tries his hand at a tenure track professorship in Atlanta. It鈥檚 a dream achieved 鈥 except for the fact that the historically African American college makes Travis confront the racism, hidden and less hidden, in his own (white) family鈥檚 history.

Travis鈥 discomfort at suddenly being a minority in his work environment forces him to uneasily think about race (author Stewart himself spent 10 years on the faculty of historically African-American Morehouse College, among other schools). He thinks himself disconnected from his people鈥檚 unsettlingly racist roots, but can鈥檛 completely put them aside, particularly as his own father hosts a talk radio program on WCTR (Confederate Talk Radio). There鈥檚 also a nagging rumor about a horrifying incident in which his family may have been involved. What did happen in the small town of Haylow?

Haylow encourages us to question our history, beliefs and values, and to grow from this questioning, which we think is a pretty good description of the point of education.

What books take you back to school? Tag us in your next collegiate read @BritandCo.

(Feature photo via Getty)