The Official Preppy Handbook: A Reading List

preppy handbook smallOne thing to remember as you’re working on your Prep status, is that it’s a lifestyle, not just a fashion trend. It has to be incorporated into every facet of your life, including your reading material. According to the Handbook, some safe bets are books about Prep schools or classics assigned to be read in Prep schools, books about Preppies and books about the joys and miseries of being a Prep.

I’ll tell you what’s not on the list: anything by Dan Brown or Stephanie Meyer. You can forget reading such common fodder (unless you hide it in the bathroom for reading on the throne).

You’ll want to read:
The Catcher in the Rye – J.D. Salinger
A Separate Peace – John Knowles
A Good School – Richard Yates
The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie – Muriel Spark
Good-bye, Mr. Chips – James Hilton
Anything by F. Scott Fitzgerald
Anything by John Cheever
Anything by John Irving
Anything by John Updike

If you must read something that is more… populist in taste, there’s Candace Bushnell. Not so much Sex In the City but Bergdorf  Blondes or One Fifth Avenue. Or anything by Bret Easton Ellis, Jay McIneray or Curtis Sittenfeld (her first novel, appropriately named Prep, kills several preppy reading birds with one stone).

Don’t be too quick to read every book recommended by Oprah. Remember, she doesn’t really speak for Preps. She’s the voice of the suburbs. She wants suburban soccer moms to read the classics; she doesn’t hold sway over Preppy moms who read all of Hemingway, Cheever, Waugh and Les Misèrables (in French) while in prep school and the works of Jean-Paul Sartre while studying abroad in Paris. I mean, honestly, the work of Faulkner is so sophomore year (of high school).

Tom Wolfe is now acceptable Prep reading. He had his fun with Bonfire of the Vanities, but let’s be honest, the man is far away from the days of The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test.

The Elegance of the Hedgehog by Muriel Barbery is a book high on the Prep list right now, mostly because it’s a French novel full of French quirks, ruminations on nature and beauty and death and the meaning of life. It’s borderline too touchy-feely but with just enough French disdain thrown in.

Most chick lit is written by Preps, so it’s fine to read if you’re on vacation.

If in doubt, play it safe with French poetry, Profiles in Courage by John F. Kennedy (really, anything by or about the Kennedys is fine) or Out of Africa.

To see if you’ve got a firm grasp on Prep reading, take the following quiz. For each book listed, decide if it’s a YES or a NO. Answer key is below the portrait of John Cheever.

Preps would read and greatly enjoy:

1. Paper Lion by George Plimpton
2. The Color Purple by Alice Walker
3. What’s Eating Gilbert Grape by Wally Lamb
4. Tales of the Jazz Age by F. Scott Fitzgerald
5. The Girls Guide to Hunting & Fishing by Melissa Bank
6. Act Like  A Lady, Think Like A Man – Steve Harvey
7. Anything by Anne Tyler
8. Inherent Vice by Thomas Pynchon
9. Anything by Stephen King
10. True Compass, A Memoir by Edward M. Kennedy


Answers: 1. YES 2. NO 3. NO 4. YES 5. YES 6. NO 7. YES 8. YES 9. NO 10. YES

2 thoughts on “The Official Preppy Handbook: A Reading List

  1. Great post! I compiled a list of “preppy” reading too. I’d love to share it with you if you are at all interested. Of course I have some that you have. xoxo


  2. Beth,
    Yes, please share! I’d love to have more preppy reading selections and also, I’m wondering how closely our lists coincide.


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