The Atlantic

A Brief Taxonomy of Fictional Academics

The most amusing pleasure of a campus novel is a particular sort of reveal: the topic of a character’s book or dissertation.
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Readers of detective fiction look forward to a big reveal: Whodunit? Readers of campus fiction hold out for a quieter pleasure. If a character is an academic, at some point the author will divulge the topic of the character’s book or dissertation. Generally speaking, writers don’t let this opportunity go to waste. You know how dogs look like their owners? The bouncy, athletic guy matches his golden retriever, and the tall, skinny lady with a long nose, her greyhound? Likewise, fictional academics resemble their work.

Perhaps because creative writers have reductive opinions of their scholarly counterparts, though, the question tends to yield one of only two answers. Many works in progress expose

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