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Old School
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3 of 4 people found the following review helpful
VINE VOICEon April 21, 2004
Format: Hardcover
Tobias Wolff's novel, "Old School", has a lot of levels to it. It's a gentle satire of elite New England prep schools and the unacknowledged class system they represent. It's a touching coming-of-age story about how one comes to terms with human fallibility. It's a funny probing of teen-age faddishness and pretension. It's crafted in some of the most beautiful, terse prose you can find (I doubt there's a single word out of place.) The chapter on the visit of Ayn Rand to the prep school, "Ubermensch", is falling-down funny. Wolff also provides marvelous parodies of Randian sci-fi, Robert Frost and Ernest Hemingway (Frost and Rand make appearances in the story; the presence of Hemingway broods over it like a fallen god.) But fundamentally the book is about two themes: how do you use memory to make sense of your life? (And how books can aid you and fail you in this.) It's also Wolff's version of "the most beautiful story ever", Jesus' parable of the prodigal son. This novel is written in the spirit of a love letter to literature, with an intimate and sympathetic knowledge of the loved-one's failings. Don't miss this book if you love American fiction.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on June 13, 2008
Format: PaperbackVerified Purchase
This is an excellent story, it is a excellent book and something the I will stop by the bookshelf, pull out, and read a passage at random. I won't comment on Wolff's writing ability, that is well established, but he does everything that helps bring you into a story and keep you there until the end.

I don't know the technical difference between a short story, a novella, or short novel but this book is on the shorter side and you can probably read this through in a couple of hours. It is well worth it.

Though I attended boarding school and can relate to the experiencesI have no trouble recommending this to anyone because Wolff brings the color and texture of that era (1960), of boading school, and of the narrator seemlessly.

It amazes me that there is no 'Search Inside the Book' feature for this book, the first paragraph itself is just magnificent.

The Poison Pen of Aberdeen Prep: A small rebellion against law and good will.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on April 24, 2008
Format: Hardcover
Early in Tobias Wolff's novel, Old School, the never-named first person narrator introduces the tradition of a literary contest that poses as the text's central line of suspense. But bubbling beneath this contest is a clutter of additional themes, tensions, and perturbations that converge in a three-chapter swirl in the middle of the novel to comprise the text's climax.

You will feel the living presences of Robert Frost, Ernest Hemingway, and Ayn Rand in this book. At the same time Wolff draws in and excites readers who are familiar with these authors, he employs the famous authors huge personalities to interest and inform less familiar readers as well.

The book is an exploration of gender and sexuality, Judaism, truth to one's self, the value of scholarship, literature, and the struggle to create, and like a masterful conductor, Wolff expertly manages these themes towards a beautiful convergence in the climax of the novel.
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3 of 4 people found the following review helpful
on December 13, 2004
Format: Hardcover
For those who love "great books" and literature, I highly recommend Tobias Wolff's Old School. Old School is the story of what perhaps can never be again -- an old fashioned, boarding school where love of books, not sports, gets everyone's hearts pounding. Set in the fifties, Old School is a place where, if you could magically make available to its students all the gadgetry that is the mainstay of modern youth (cell phones, game boys, computers, ipods, etc), they wouldn't be bothered with them, and would look upon anyone who was as a Philistine or a fool. These are serious students who spend their time reading books, talking and writing about them, and, as special rewards, meeting best-selling, literary writers. Elements of class and youthful indiscretions drive this story of flawed but honorable characters making their way in a lost age.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on December 7, 2004
Format: Hardcover
"Old School" is Tobias Wolff's first novel. It seems strange for such a revered author to have just accomplished this, but it was worth the wait. The majority of this novel, dealing with a New England boarding school, and three writing competitions, which bring to the school Frost, Rand, and Hemingway, is a joy. It conjures up the days when writing was cool, and the novel was America's most respected form of art. The book is a great examination of the trials, anxieties, and pitfalls of wanting to be a writer. Unfortunately, Wolff misses out on creating a classic, because of a couple chapters at the end that seemed almost like add-ons. The narrator, also, is a bit of a tabula rasa.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on October 19, 2005
Format: Paperback
I liked the Old School because of Tobias Wolff's mastery of the english language. He weaves words and phrases together like an artist weaves an intricate tapestry. Most of the enjoyment i recieved from reading this book was from observing the language, from the clever word play to the romantically descriptive imagery. I did not fully appreciate the detail and layers of Old School until I was familiarized with the facts of Tobias Wolff's life. To fully understand this book, it is necessary to reasearch the life of the author, the writers the author mentions in the book, and, of course, to reread the book.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on February 5, 2004
Format: Hardcover
I was surprised that Old School was Wolff's first novel. The intrigue of this book lies in its look at writing as an occupation, as a way of living. Beyond that, Wolff's look at the socioeconomic tensions that typified boarding schools like his narrator's unnamed school is excellent. If you love good literature and like reading about the love of literature, I highly recommend this book. The end is a little slow and not quite as attention-grabbing as the first three quarters of the book, however.
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5 of 7 people found the following review helpful
Format: Hardcover
A wonderful, low keyed novel. A must read for lovers of books, lovers of a good story and lovers of good writing. I was not disappointed with one single paragraph in the entire work. I think that many readers, like myself, will indeed suddenly find themselves examined in a delightful way... if they can remember when they were young, or, if like me, has only distant memories of youth, will find their memories refreshed. Mr Wolff's wonderful syntax and insights are sharp and actually quite remarkable. You will want to purchase this one as it is worth a periodic rereading. I highly recommend!
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on April 21, 2004
Format: Hardcover
Tobias Wolff's Old School is a heartfelt love song to a bygone age that never becomes trite or dusty. You'll want to be a writer yourself by the time you've inhaled the bookish spirit of the unnamed narrator, who wants to be an author so badly he cuts a few corners along the way. I'd rank this up there with A Separate Peace as one of the best books on prep school ever.
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Format: Paperback
For the first 10 pages or so I was underwhelmed. Yet another semi-autobiographical novel about a young boy's coming of age at an exclusive prep school? Featuring yet another young male protagonist who aspires to become a writer? In this outing, the plot of the story revolves around a yearly literary competition in which the winner gets to meet a major author - Hemingway, Frost, Rand. But all the obligatory subplots are there: the privileged schoolmates who see the world as their oyster, scholarship students seeking to conceal their bourgeois origins, competition, cruelty, sports/games, noisy dining halls, inscrutable dons, faculty politics.

Except that that's not really what this novel is about.

Underneath the familiar trappings, this is a moving and authentic evocation of that time in everyone's life when we must figure out who and what we will become. A time during which, by the way, literature assumes an awesome power to mold and shape us. What young girl of the 1900s didn't want to grow up to be independent and strong-minded like Jo in Little Women? What young boy of the 1950s didn't pick up their ideas on duty and honor from Hardy Boys books? What young person of the 1960s didn't experience the world through the eyes of Hunter S. Thompson? During the course of this novel, our protagonist finds his worldview shaped by each of the literary figures noted above, on a journey that ultimately culminates in finding his authentic voice. His path - like ours - is peppered with misjudgments and missteps, some minor, others appalling; but in the end those mistakes prove as important as successes in shaping our protagonist into the man he is to become.

Wolff's prose is gorgeous and his word portraits of the academy so evocative, I could practically smell the brick dust and leaf mold as the boys walked between classes.

Not the best choice if you're looking for light reading, perhaps, but a dense, thoughtful book designed to inspire reflection and an appreciation for the role that literature, values, and experiences assume in shaping our lives and characters.
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