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25 Terrific Novels for Journalism Students


Considering how much journalism and literature have in common, it's startling how infrequently they hook up — or, at least, weld themselves together in compelling ways. Students really should explore this bizarre, beautiful and wholly logical relationship before embarking on a journalism career. Even though the industry's shape changes considerably along with inevitable technological upgrades, the lessons to be learned in history remain the same.

For the sake of diversity, the novels listed here cover both fiction and literary nonfiction/narrative journalism. Please don't get all huffy over inclusions and exclusions. By no means is literature a terribly objective art, so everyone's own personal list will — of course — look different.

  1. Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas by Hunter S. Thompson: Easily considered the quintessential work of gonzo journalism, this classic novel transports readers to the darkest pockets in the "American Dream." Part memoir, part fiction, Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas makes for an essential read when exploring different literary movements.

  2. Miss Lonelyhearts by Nathanael West: "Miss Lonelyhearts" is actually a frustrated newspaper columnist ashamed with his advice column and foolhardy boss. Pitch-black comedy ensues, including horrifically, hilariously misjudged sex with both the boss' wife as well as a pushy regular reader.

  3. Harriet the Spy by Louise Fitzhugh: Louse Fitzhugh's most beloved read might target young adult audiences, but can still delight students looking for a little nostalgia. Harriet M. Welsch makes more than her fair share of mistakes, but her pluck, determination and attachment to her spy notebook make her a fun, fictional investigative journalist.

  4. Bel Ami by Guy Maupassant: Former military man Georges Duroy manages to land a career in journalism, from which he begins professionally ascending. Unfortunately, he does so through manipulation, charm and other means of a scoundrel, preying mostly on successful women.

  5. Bunker 13 by Aniruddha Bahal: Despite debuting to worldwide acclaim, Bunker 13 still won the 2003 Bad Sex in Fiction Award, given by Literary Review. Journalism students with a love of spy action, sex and drugs might want to check out this tale of a magazine reporter serving as a double agent between Indian and Pakistani intelligence.

  6. Psmith, Journalist by P.G. Wodehouse: Throughout four novels, one of P.G. Wodehouse's most memorable creations, Rupert Psmith, adroitly navigates his way through adventure and light-hearted fun. Here, his gift of gab serves him well as a journalist shedding light on some oft-overlooked societal ills.

  7. In Cold Blood by Truman Capote: In Cold Blood is often touted as the finest example of both literary nonfiction and narrative journalism — so much so, many mistake it for the first. Truman Capote worked in such genres in order to convey the visceral tale of a small-town quadruple murder with more detail and insight than a short article.

  8. One True Thing by Anna Quindlen: At the center of this narrative sits a promising young journalist working in the magazine industry, although it focuses more on her family life than career. She comes home to tend to a mother dying of cancer and learns some incredible lessons about love in the process.

  9. The Shipping News by E. Annie Proulx: E. Annie Proulx earned both a Pulitzer and a National Book Award for her compelling tale of a struggling newspaper reporter and his horrific life. But relocating to Newfoundland, his father's home, and taking up a job tracking shipping news helps him rebuild everything.

  10. Scoop by Evelyn Waugh: This acclaimed novel pulled directly from author Evelyn Waugh's experience working as both a foreign and war correspondent with Daily Mail. He mercilessly satirizes the way British newspapers and tabloids operated at the time, producing what is often hailed as one of the greatest fictional works ever published about journalism.

  11. New Grub Street by George Gissing: London's infamous literary circles comes alive in the intriguing New Grub Street, which actually drew from the author's own interactions with them. Protagonist Jasper Milvain represents a generation of journalists and writers more concerned with profit than artistry.

  12. Lost Illusions by Honore de Balzac: Although this novel focuses on a poet and his search for meaning and truth, one of the writers with whom he contrasts happens to be a journalist. Students dabbling in multiple media or befriending those in other genres will probably enjoy dissecting their exchanges.

  13. The Quiet American by Graham Greene: Thomas Fowler, an older journalist assigned to the First Indochina War, and Alden Pyle, a na–ve American flitting about Vietnam, form a strange sort of friendship. The former takes on a mentor role and begins chipping away at his newfound companion's idealism.

  14. Transmetropolitan by Warren Ellis and Darick Robertson: Violent, foulmouthed Spider Jerusalem serves as a futuristic analogue for Hunter S. Thompson, and despite his more unsavory characteristics, he still works diligently to expose injustices. Along with two "filthy assistants," Jerusalem engages in some frenetic, bizarre and wholly entertaining gonzo journalism.

  15. Towards the End of the Morning by Michael Frayn: A newspaper worker assigned the fluffier, more mundane writings pines severely for open television gigs instead. Along with his other unfulfilled drones, they wait out the Fleet Street boom with heavy sighs and dreams of something hopefully better.

  16. The Jungle by Upton Sinclair: Iconic muckraking journalist Upton Sinclair used fictionalized accounts of real social ills to open readers up to worker mistreatment and exploitation. However, most people tended to focus on the visceral food production scenes — even passing legislation in the proves — and missing the point entirely.

  17. Floater by Calvin Trillin: In the eponymous position, journalists must flit back and forth between an eclectic selection of assignments. One week makes all the difference for a magazine professional slapped with that label, when a hot tip lands straight into his life.

  18. The Truth by Terry Pratchett: Even journalism students unfamiliar with the amazing Discworld novels can still very much appreciate the wacky fun times to be had with The Truth. When moveable type and newspapers finally make their way into Ankh-Morpork, a hilarious satire of the British media ensues.

  19. All the President's Men by Carl Bernstein and Bob Woodward: As one can probably imagine, not all of the facts included here were necessarily identical to how things went down in reality, but Carl Bernstein and Bob Woodward's inside look at Watergate stands as one of the most infamous journalistic novels ever published. Students into investigative reporting, politics and history — or just looking for a twisted true story — must definitely pick this gripping read up.

  20. The Kansas City Milkman by Reynolds Packard: Based on the author's real experiences, The Kansas City Milkman paints an intimate portrait of wire service and newspaper careers. Its title stems from a directive to write articles so "a Kansas City milkman could understand [them]."

  21. Everyone's Gone to the Moon by Philip Norman: Step into London at the height of the mod trend and read a wonderfully wicked satire of its magazine scene. Despite landing an enviable position with a top-notch publication, the protagonist finds himself frustrated with dwindling scoops and a requisite love triangle.

  22. Operacion Masacre by Rodolfo Walsh: In Cold Blood may be the most popular work of narrative journalism, but it has Operacion Masacre to thank for creating the genre in the first place. Rodolfo Walsh uses his investigative skills to expose the realities of Argentina's Leon Suarez Massacre in 1956, the volatile year after Revolucion Libertadora, and the capture and assassination of Peronist rebels.

  23. The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test by Tom Wolfe: Tom Wolfe is often hailed as a pioneer of New Journalism, and one of his most notable literary nonfiction works follows One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest author Ken Kesey and his Merry Pranksters on a legendary, infamous road trip. They travel across the country with the hopes of achieving some sort of unity and discovering an ultimate truth through LSD use.

  24. The Imperfectionists by Tom Rachman: Like many novels about newspaper journalism, this one pulls straight from the author's own life to shine a light on its nuances. Tom Rachman fictionalized the history of The International Herald Tribune, populating it with familiar characters riffing on the industry.

  25. The Honourable Schoolboy by John le Carre: Journalism and espionage collide in this thrilling Cold War classic about spying and writing in China and Hong Kong. Although embellished in many expected ways, it does provide a neat look at journalism history and the lengths many foreign correspondents would take to pick up a great scoop.

June 1st, 2011 written by Staff Writers

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