It's that time of year again: Sultry heat punctuated by thunderstorms, back-to-school charity drives at church . . . and the publication of endless "college survival guides" for incoming freshmen.
At first glance, this clichéd phrase might seem a bit overstated. College isn't exactly the ascent of Everest, is it? And advice like, "Don't sleep through your classes" and, "Pack a selection of warm- and cold-weather clothes" does not really seem to warrant the drama of the word "survival."
But I've been on a year-long kick of reading college novels, both novels about professors and novels about students. And in among the themes I expected to find -- the attempted creation and inevitable defeat of a tolerant, liberal utopia, for example; or the humiliation of reason by forces ranging from sex (Philip Roth's hysterical short novel The Breast) to ancient religion (Donna Tartt's sublime, lurid Secret History) -- one entirely unexpected theme emerged.