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Old School by Tobias Wolff

Old School (original 2003; edition 2004)

by Tobias Wolff

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1,937673,530 (3.78)86
Title:Old School
Authors:Tobias Wolff
Info:Vintage (2004), Edition: Reprint, Paperback, 195 pages
Collections:Literature, Your library
Tags:prize, wite-a-thon, wolff, american, new england, humour, coming of age, vintage, fiction, faulkner award, northern california book award, random house, vignettes, reviewed, inscribed

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Old School by Tobias Wolff (2003)


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Showing 1-5 of 64 (next | show all)
Scholarship boy at elite prep school plagiarizes a story to get to meet Hemingway. Short but very well written and intellectual discusses Hemingway, Frost and Rand as writers in depth. ( )
  mgriel | Aug 23, 2016 |
A novel of refinement and precision, about a boy's final years in a prestigious prep school. The story particularly concerns our young narrator's circle of literary-minded classmates, some who help edit the school mag, Troubadour. A central focus is the annual writing contest, whose winner earns an "audience" with a famous author or poet. Jealousies and thoughts unspoken are common. School traditions and austerity well told. Drama unfolds for our narrator in his final term, the peak event, for me, in the book. Wolff loses his touch afterward, hurrying our boy through the next decade, and ending with an ill fitting postscript. I understand Wolff is best known for the short form, and in some ways this novel feels like an extended short that ran a bit long for his competence. Worth the read. ( )
  JamesMScott | Aug 19, 2016 |
I found this book interesting. I would have liked to have learned more about the main character between the time he was writing the book and the time he left school; I felt that was glossed over and could have really enhanced the story. Mainly I liked this book because it talked about so many other literary works! ( )
  KimKimpton | Jul 14, 2016 |
You'll come to this for the poisonously funny take-down of Ayn Rand. She is one tough capitalist cookie, as Wolff presents her to us. See her stare down her college-aged detractors, the harsh squint of her steely eye, the almost muscular nature of that harsh squint. Wolff shows better than I can describe here that the essence of Rand's philosophy of so-called Logical Positivism is that of a rather noxious weed wholly and ridiculously dismissive of the very substrate it grows from. Logical Positivists claim to perceive life and its pageantry with clearer vision than that of any other philosophy. They claim to experience life directly as it really is; i.e., they claim to grab on and handle the "dings an sich" of quote-unquote real life without subjecting those objects to the filtering fog of thought or physical sensation. Which is utter nonsense, right? We experience objective and outside life *only* through our five senses, and we experience any and all coherent mental phenomena in the same way we express it: through language. Anyway, that foregoing rant was dull and probably unclear. But Wolff's chapter on Rand is seriously funny, and, again, shows Rand as she is better than I can explain it. ( )
  evamat72 | Mar 31, 2016 |
A vivid semi-autobiographical novel about a writer-to-be at an exclusive and competitive New England prep school where literature is everything, and student writers compete for the right to personal audiences with visiting celebrities including Robert Frost, Ayn Rand, and Ernest Hemingway. Questions of race and class bubble more or less gently under everything before the theme of the book resolves into the question of honesty, honor, and the way a writer's path inevitably creates tension with both. Understated, nuanced, and thought-provoking. ( )
  john.cooper | Jan 27, 2015 |
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Robert Frost made his visit in November of 1960, just a week after the general election.
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Amazon.com Amazon.com Review (ISBN 0375701494, Paperback)

Tobias Wolff's Old School is at once a celebration of literature and delicate hymn to a lost innocence of American life and art. Set in a New England prep school in the early 1960s, the novel imagines a final, pastoral moment before the explosion of the Civil Rights movement, the Vietnam War, the assassination of John F. Kennedy, and the suicide of Ernest Hemingway.

The unnamed narrator is one of several boys whose life revolves around the school's English teachers, those polymaths who seemed to know "exactly what was most worth knowing." For the boys, literature is the center of life, and their obsession culminates in a series of literary competitions during their final year. The prize in each is a private audience with a visiting writer who serves as judge for the entries.

At first, the narrator is entirely taken with the battle. As he fails in his effort to catch Robert Frost's attention and then is unable--due to illness--to even compete for his moment with Ayn Rand, he devotes his energies to a masterpiece for his hero, Hemingway. But, confronting the blank page, the narrator discovers his cowardice, his duplicity. He has withheld himself, he realizes, even from his roommate. He has used his fiction to create a patrician gentility, a mask for his middle class home and his Jewish ancestry. Through the competition for Hemingway, fittingly, all of his illusions about literature dissolve.

Old School is a small, neatly made book, spare and clear in its prose. Each chapter is self-contained and free of anything extraneous to the essentials of plot, mood, and character. Near the end of the novel, the narrator, now a respected writer, imagines that he might one day write about his school days. But he is daunted. "Memory," he says, "is a dream to begin with, and what I had was a dream of memory, not to be put to the test." Old School enters this interplay between dreams and the adult interrogation of memory. Risking sentimentality, Wolff confronts a golden age that never was. From the confrontation, he distills a powerful novel of failed expectations and, ultimately, redemptive self-awareness. --Patrick O'Kelley

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:22:39 -0400)

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Determined to fit in at his New England prep school, the narrator has learned to mimic the bearing and manners of his adoptive tribe while concealing as much as possible about himself. His final year, however, unravels everything he's achieved, and steers his destiny in directions no one could have predicted. The school's mystique is rooted in Literature, and for many boys this becomes an obsession, editing the review and competing for the attention of visiting writers whose fame helps to perpetuate the tradition. Robert Frost, soon to appear at JFK's inauguration, is far less controversial than the next visitor, Ayn Rand. But the final guest is one whose blessing a young writer would do almost anything to gain.… (more)

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