“In reading great literature I become a thousand men and yet remain myself. Like the night sky in the Greek poem, I see with myriad eyes, but it is still I who see. Here, as in worship, in love, in moral action, and in knowing, I transcend myself; and am never more myself than when I do.” – C.S. Lewis, An Experiment in Criticism
Book lovers know that great literature can provide the soul with a vast range of human experience and emotion, and nothing can unite different people and cultures like a good book. Described in this article are 30 great small colleges for book lovers. The book-loving students at these top schools might argue that in order to fully understand our own world, we must also understand former worlds and other cultures in a way that can only be described by the soul of a writer. While some of these schools make the list because of their extraordinary libraries or other resources for book lovers, others are included for their unique dedication to the Great Books, or because they are home to a highly sought-after English and Literature department. But what they all have in common is an environment where books are cherished and book lovers will feel right at home.
1. St. John’s College
Santa Fe, New Mexico
One of the many small colleges on this list with a curriculum that focuses on the Great Books, St. John’s College in Santa Fe traces its origins back to King William’s School, the famed British institution founded in 1696. Students at St. John’s work towards a bachelor’s degree in Liberal Arts by reading and discussing the Western Civilization and its most acclaimed works. Book lovers will love that their homework literally consists of reading. Textbooks are English, French, Greek, and Roman classics, but also include important authors beyond the Great Books list, such as Gabriel Garcia Marquez and Wallace Stevens.
2. St. John’s College
The sister institution to the above listed school, St. John’s College in Annapolis, Maryland follows the same curriculum focusing on the Great Books. Like its Santa Fe counterpart, students work towards a bachelor’s degree in Liberal Arts by reading great books and participating in lively and unmediated conversation with one another and even “with the books themselves.” Even in classes like foreign languages, mathematics, science, and music, course materials are all primary documents, a unique characteristic that stresses the importance of books and the timelessness of classical thinkers.
3. Thomas Aquinas College
Santa Paula, California
Set against a beautiful, hill-covered backdrop, Thomas Aquinas College, a Roman Catholic college, is the perfect setting in which to dive into the Great Books. Students study using only primary sources and texts, meaning book lovers will have plenty of opportunity to read all of the classics, including Homer, Shakespeare, Plato, Euclid, St. Augustine, Descartes, and Newton, to name a few. Even better, students have the opportunity to discuss the Great Books with each other and their professors, most of whom are some of the foremost scholars in their fields. The 4-year program at Thomas Aquinas leads to a BA in Liberal Arts.
4. Emerson College
If your love of reading extends to writing and publishing, Emerson College might just be the place for you. Emerson has an entire academic Department of Writing, Literature, and Publishing, in which students can explore the great works of literature from a number of genres, plus refine their own writing talent and gain the necessary skills required to navigate today’s evolving literary industry. Plus, you’ll be learning from the best, as Emerson’s faculty includes award-winning authors, poets, scholars, and successful publishing industry professionals.
5. Williams College
Ranked by U.S. News and World Report as the #1 Liberal Arts college in the country, Williams College is perhaps best known for their top-ranked English department. Each year, the department hosts a series called “Lit:,” in which modern writers such as Claudia Rankin and Dean Young visit the Williams campus for readings, discussions, and guest lectures. Book lovers will also be pleased to know that William’s English curriculum includes a wide variety of modern and historical books, and offers students a taste of classics from all three of the American, British, and Anglophone traditions.
6. Wellesley College
Being an English major at Wellesley College is like taking the grand tour through the history of great literature. As freshmen in the English department, book lovers dive right into the great books, taking an exciting course load that includes Reading/Writing Short Fiction, Introduction to Shakespeare, and Great Works of Poetry. Book lovers especially look forward to the required Studies in Fiction class, in which students read a variety of books ranging from Ian McEwan’s Atonement, to Bram Stoker’s Dracula, to Richard Wright’s Native Son, in an attempt to better understand the world in which we live.
7. Hillsdale College
Book lovers will feel right at home at Hillsdale College, a small liberal arts school in rural Michigan. All freshmen, regardless of major, must take a two-semester Great Books course, in which classics such as The Iliad, The Odyssey, Pride and Prejudice, Crime and Punishment, Hamlet, and others are all read. In fact, students at Hillsdale tend to be such book lovers that even each story of the three-story library is named after a book of Dante’s Divine Comedy (“We’re studying in Purgatory tonight!”). Speaking of the library, students have the privilege of studying in the impressive Heritage Room, where they are surrounded by an incredible collection of rare books and first-editions.
8. Gutenberg College
Another Great Books college, Gutenberg College in Eugene, Oregon, hosts a whopping 38 students. Considering that the school is named after one of the most important figures in book-publishing history, it’s safe to say that every one of Gutenberg’s 38 students is a book lover. The curriculum is based upon the primary texts of Western Civilization, and students read the Great Books chronologically during their first two years. Students also study classical Greek and German, even reading some of the greats in their original languages.
9. Shimer College
Shimer College, a small liberal arts college in Chicago, is another school where book lovers will dive into the Great Books. The basic core courses for any major include classes in the humanities, natural and social sciences, and integrative studies, and each of those classes is taught using primary sources and textbooks. For example, imagine learning mathematics and logic through Euclid and laws and chemistry models through Aristotle, or learning about government and human nature by comparing the works of Karl Marx and W.E.B. Du Bois.
10. Saint Olaf College
Book lovers who can’t get enough of writers like Jane Austen will feel right at home in the English department of Saint Olaf College in Minnesota. As English majors, students focus on reading, discussing, comparing, and making a deep connection between traditional British and American literature. Jane Austen, William Shakespeare, William Faulkner, and Emily Dickinson are all read, along with an appealing smattering of the new classics by Toni Morrison, Michael Ondaatje, and Zadie Smith. Book lovers will also enjoy the Language & Literature Group, which brings faculty and staff together to socialize on a variety of topics, many of which include great books and reading.
11. Finlandia University
Finlandia University in Hancock, Michigan is the only private university in the Upper Peninsula. Book lovers will find Finlandia’s English department a liberating place, as most of the major can be tailored to a student’s own interests. Basically, students choose from three overlapping categories. The Cultural Literacy track focuses on literature of various nations and ethnicities to prepare for an increasingly global literary field, while the Cross-Disciplinary track means reading books across every genre and developing an appreciation for the minute similarities of great literature. Finally, the Genres/Forms category of classes focuses on the various modes of literature, and includes reading novels, poetry, and drama.
12. Rollins College
Winter Park, Florida
Being a book-loving English major at Rollins College means four exciting years of reading, writing, and immersing oneself in great literature. Students read a variety of books and authors, ranging from Shakespeare to Cormac McCarthy, and then focus on developing keen skills in analysis, synthesis, and communication. Most of the English department faculty are published writers, while all of them are experts in various genres. Book lovers who enjoy writing will also like the fact that Rollins College offers minors in both Creating Writing and Professional Writing, both of which are designed to be paired with an English major.
13. Bennington College
Fans of the popular novel Rules of Attraction may be intrigued — if not a little wary — of Bennington College, the inspiration for Rules’ fictional Camden College. Book lovers will find book heaven in Bennington’s Literature department, in which students learn from professors who are all renowned novelists, nonfiction writers, essayists, poets, and playwrights. Every two weeks, the department holds a Literature Evening during which both students and faculty read samples of their work, discuss new and great books, and listen to guest readings and lectures. Bennington’s many successful alumni include The Goldfinch author Donna Tartt and Rules of Attraction author Bret Easton Ellis.
14. Amherst College
Amherst College’s English department is a wonderful place for book lovers with a passion for storytelling, as the major requires a close study of various genres of literature, as well as poetry, drama, and even film. Classes range from the author specific (The Age of Emerson, Shakespeare, Spike Lee’s Joints), to literary themes (Realism, The Nonhuman World, Black Feminism), and to the development of one’s own writing skills (Fiction Writing, The First Person, Film and Video Curation).
15. Carleton College
Carleton College’s highly respected English department prides itself on being the unpretentious alternative to the stereotypical academic atmosphere. As the department’s website states, “Although we work hard and value deep thinking, we like to think we’re unpretentious, preferring irony to pomposity, wit to portentousness, clarity to cant–a stance illustrated by our department mascot, the chimney-sweep or ‘imp.’” The major itself includes everything from medieval English classics to African, Caribbean, and South Asian literature. Book lovers will also enjoy the frequent student-faculty trivia contests and the fun Marathon Readings.
16. Bard College
Annandale on Hudson, New York
While book lovers at most other colleges must settle for an English major, those who attend Bard College have the option of attaining a Bachelor of Arts in Literature itself. The comprehensive major covers a wide variety of genres and themes. Uniquely, students pair literature classes with various humanities courses like Asian, Classical, Medieval, and Victorian Studies in an attempt to even better understand the world and themes of any particular novel. The Literature major is under the umbrella of the Department of Languages and Literature, which also includes majors on the Written Arts and Foreign Languages, Cultures, and Literature.
17. U.S. Military Academy at West Point
West Point, New York
Book lovers attending the United States Military Academy at West Point aren’t likely to complain about having to study in a library as beautiful as the one on the West Point campus. Centered in Jefferson Hall, the library is one of the best examples of Central Area architecture in the state of New York, if not the country. Entry arches, limestone window surrounds, and multi-paned windows are prevalent, and cadets study at wooden tables and chairs that were hand made in Wisconsin.
18. Lehigh University
Speaking of amazing libraries, Lehigh University in Bethlehem has two! Both the Linderman Library and the Fairchild-Martindale Library are located on campus and offer an extensive collection that includes digital periodicals. Students even have access to the libraries’ computer research capabilities. In terms of an English department, Lehigh has a unique one. Most of the curriculum seeks to cultivate questions of justice via literature. Therefore students have the opportunity to interact more than typically with interdisciplinary programs like Africana Studies, Classics, Women and Gender Studies, and American Studies.
19. Middlebury College
Middlebury College offers book lovers a unique Comparative Literature program and major. Students work towards the degree by focusing on a comparative study of national literatures, and are even trained to read at least two of these in their original languages. Before students choose the national literature they want, they embark on a variety of core courses that include several classic examples of world literature. An added benefit for book lovers is Middlebury’s five special book collections housed in its four-library system.
20. Hamilton College
Clinton, New York
The English major at Hamilton College allows book lovers to concentrate on either English literature or creative writing, the latter of which offers courses and workshops in poetry, fiction, and creative non-fiction. Students even have the unique opportunity of writing and staging their own one-act play. Regardless of which concentration one chooses, book lovers are sure to get the high-quality education for which Hamilton is well known. Students will especially appreciate Hamilton’s writing center — one of the best in the nation.
21. Washington University in St. Louis
St. Louis, Missouri
Book-loving writers at Washington University in St. Louis are part of a long tradition of an excellent writing program. The department offers a variety of courses, most of which are taught by talented Master’s faculty and second-year MFA students. Unlike so many other creative writing programs, in which students take traditional poetry and fiction classes, Wash U students take unique classes on topics such as The Short-Short, Sudden Fiction and Microfiction, Literary Journalism, and Stories From the Suburbs, to name a few. Critical reading is a priority of the curriculum, and workshops with professors, writers, and successful authors are frequent.
22. Christendom College
Front Royal, Virginia
Christendom College’s Department of English Language and Literature strives to usher students through the “pursuit of the human heart and soul which is the essence of literary study.” Christendom’s Literature students begin the pursuit with Literature of Western Civilization, a class designed to run in tandem with the required History of Western Civilization. Over the next four years, literature students read many of the Great Books. In fact, Christendom is unique in that students read and master complete works, as opposed to large anthologies and mere snippets of the greats.
23. Northeast Catholic College
Warner, New Hampshire
Northeast Catholic College, formerly known as the College of St. Mary Magdalen, is another Great Books school at which students read only primary sources and textbooks, as opposed to edited compilations. Book lovers will love Northeast’s Literature Major, in which students journey through a number of literary genres and themes including Southern literature, the Russian Novel, Literary Criticism, the English Poetic Tradition, Romanticism, and Modernism. Authors discussed include Goethe, Keats, Byron, Shakespeare, Tolstoy, Dostoevsky, Tate, and Warren, to name a few.
24. Oberlin College
Oberlin College is a top-ranked liberal arts college located in Ohio. Literature and, especially, Creative Writing are two of Oberlin’s specialties in the English department. Students begin their degree with traditional classes on poetry, fiction, and nonfiction topics. After satisfying the core requirements, they also have a number of options with which to tailor their literary interests, and can take classes in translation, screenwriting, short stories, and even travel writing. Incoming freshman poets will also be happy to hear about the Emma Howell Poetry Prize, which is awarded to an Oberlin student poet.
25. Colorado College
Colorado Springs, Colorado
With one of the best English departments in the country, Colorado College places a heavy emphasis on its English and Creative Writing majors. Students begin their degree by learning the foundations of classic literature, even taking a class on the Bible as literature. As they progress, the major gradually turns into strenuous writing workshops, in which students are challenged to sharpen their writing skills over a variety of genres and themes. Uniquely, Colorado College encourages its students to participate in art, as opposed to solely analyzing it. Thus, English department students are frequently found photographing Colorado’s beautiful landscapes, participating in a music class, or even performing in a student-led production.
26. Bowdoin College
English majors at Bowdoin College are able to approach the study of literature by combining the pleasure of reading with the academic rigor of a top program. Students especially focus on the evolution of English writing across a variety of historical periods and cultures. British, American, Scottish, Irish, and Caribbean literature are all read extensively, and can even be studied in association with other Bowdoin programs such as American Studies, African Studies, Gender & Women’s Studies, etc. As an added bonus for book lovers, Bowdoin is home to the Peucinian Society, one of the oldest literary and intellectual societies in the country.
27. Davidson College
Davidson, North Carolina
Davidson College, a small Liberal Arts school in North Carolina, seeks to provide their students with intellectual independence through classes that stress creative and critical thinking. English majors at Davidson have plenty of opportunity for extensive reading and discussion, and focus on a variety of time periods, authors, genres, and regions. There is a fascinating course list to choose from, including classes on Medieval, Monsters, and Magic; Lit of the American South; Representations of HIV/AIDS; Arthurian Masculinities; and Modern Drama, to name a few.
28. Imago Dei College
Oak Glen, California
Book lovers itching for a near-complete experience with the Great Books will be pleased with the curriculum offered at Imago Dei College. From the freshmen year, students begin on a chronological path through the most ancient works to the more contemporary. Courses include Readings in the Christian Theology, the Great Literary Works of Western Civilization, Logic and Rhetoric, Film Studies, and Natural Philosophy. As with other Great Books colleges, students at Imago Dei read only primary texts.
29. Swarthmore College
Swarthmore College is a top-ranked Liberal Arts school in Pennsylvania, which book-loving students will be pleased to know offers an English Literature major. As the name of the major suggests, most of Swarthmore’s classes are rooted in the great literary tradition of Great Britain. Options for classes include Comedy, Modern British Poetry, Tolkien and Pullman and Their Literary Roots, Victorian Literature and Culture, and Marxist Literary and Cultural Studies, among many others. As with any major at Swarthmore, strong writing skills are necessary so students also have ample opportunity to strengthen their writing through workshops, creative writing classes, and seminars.
30. Emory University
Emory University is best known for its stellar reputation in the realms of technology and research, but it is also unique in that it encompasses a setting more typical of a liberal arts school. Book-loving Emory students will feel right at home in the English and Creative Writing major, where poetry, fiction, play writing, screenwriting, and creative nonfiction are all read, studied, and attempted extensively. Emory professors are some of the best in the nation, and include Nobel Prize winners, Pulitzer Prize winners, and Guggenheim fellows.