Tag Archives: Old School

Book Club Reflection: Old School by Tobias Wolff

4 Dec

I was so excited to discuss Old School by Tobias Wolff with my book club. I was delighted to find many loved the book as much as I did!

Wolff would be just about the same age as the narrator in the time period given so we wondered how autobiographical this book might have been. One of our members commented that Tobias Wolff is a Jewish name so the main character might have been a reflection of Wolff. However, our biographical note included that Wolff has a sister named Mary Elizabeth. That’s not a very Jewish name at all. Wolff also moved to Washington state with his mother. The cover image of the copy we had was supplied by the author and consisted of boys in matching uniforms sitting at rows of tables with their heads bowed in prayer. Reading the legal notices also told us that many of the short stories in the novel were previously published in the New Yorker. We’re assuming this is Wolff’s work. It all points to a fairly autobiographical work.

It was strange that the protagonist didn’t have a name. One of our readers picked the name Arthur for him while reading and we used this for him while we discussed him. Arthur seemed to have some strange ideas about how someone became a great writer. He talked about wanting to be anointed by Frost when he visited as if a touch could transfer his greatness. He later copied Hemingway’s stories, word for word, as if he could learn how to write his own by copying these. He needed to live to have his own ideas on how to write. Later in life, we hear he is a great writer but we’re not sure how he learned to write. The process of becoming a great writer seems to also involve becoming yourself and being unique. There was a danger that Arthur walked in copying those he admired without trying to be original.

A few commented that the kids seemed very well read and mature for high school students. We understood that this book was written in hindsight, but he made his high school self very mature. Arthur talks about the strong literary community at his school but we only see a few people who are involved in it or who Arthur agrees are ‘good.’ It seemed a stretch that high school students would produce writing that was good enough that the likes of Frost, Rand, and Hemingway would want to read it. We find out later they only send a few, but it still seemed a bit odd.

Ayn Rand did not get a good representation in the book. We were surprised she agreed to come at all. She was quite radical, and the school seemed very conservative and traditional. I wouldn’t think she would agree to do something like speak at a private high school, but it did help make a strong point.

A lot of us felt the ending was out of place and that it could have been cut or shortened. It circled back to questions the boys asked Makepeace at the beginning about Hemingway but most of us forgot that had even happened. Focusing on such a different character made it seem like a separate story instead of the ending of a novel.

However, it shared similar themes to the rest of the book. We identified honesty, identity, and insecurities as major themes. Arthur and Makepeace must deal with not being honest about something and pretending it’s true. Arthur is searching for his identity as many teenagers do. He has a lot of insecurities about being Jewish and about being less well off than his peers. This book does an amazing job of telling his story and we all just loved it.

We’re taking December off and have our next meeting at the end of January. We’ve got a 900 pager to keep us busy until then.

You can follow me on Goodreads, Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, and Instagram. I’m available via email at SamAStevensWriter@gmail.com. And as always, feel free to leave a comment!

Advertisements

WWW Wednesday, 21-November-2018

21 Nov

Welcome to WWW Wednesday! This meme was formerly hosted by MizB at A Daily Rhythm and revived here on Taking on a World of Words. Just answer the three questions below and leave a link to your post in the comments for others to look at. No blog? No problem! Just leave a comment with your responses. Please, take some time to visit the other participants and see what others are reading. So, let’s get to it!IMG_1384-0

The Three Ws are:

What are you currently reading?
What did you recently finish reading?
What do you think you’ll read next?

Note: For users of Blogspot blogs, I’m unable to comment on your posts as a WordPress blogger unless you’ve enabled Name/URL comments. This is a known WordPress/Blogspot issue. Please consider enabling this to participate more fully in the community. 


Currently reading: I made small progress with The Poe Shadow by Matthew Pearl and I think I’ll devote a little more time to it, but I might put it aside again soon. Honestly, it’s failing to grasp me and I can tell already that this will be a Two or Three Star book for me. It’s just not going anywhere.
I really dropped off my reading of Treasure Island by Robert Louis Stevenson after moving so far with it last week. I’ve had busy lunches at work and not a lot of time outside to read it. I have to finish by the end of the year and I know I’ll make that though it may be a bit closer than I’d anticipated.
I’m already a third of the way through The Gilded Hour by Sara Donati. It’s hard not to think that I could have listened to a normal-length book in this same time. I’ll be on this one for a while, to be sure.
I’m enjoying People of the Book by Geraldine Brooks though I no longer think it will be my 1600s book for When Are You Reading? The timeline isn’t firmly set then and I want to get a book that better fits the period.

Recently finished: I wrapped up The Nick Adams Stories by Ernest Hemingway late last week. I’m not a bit fan of short story collections but I enjoyed this one more than I thought I would. Nick is very much like Hemingway, as are many of his characters, but I enjoyed reading about his time in Northern Michigan. I posted a review Monday so please check that out for more opinions. I gave it Three out of Five Stars.

I posted a review of Old School by Tobias Wolff last week. I liked this one a lot and it reminded me of some other books I’ve read and enjoyed before. I gave it Four out of Five Stars.

Reading Next: I have a bit of freedom here at the end of the year as my book clubs take time off for us to be with our families. I’ll probably start on the January book to get it out of the way. Our next one is Before the Fall by Noah Hawley. As is my preferred method of reading, I know nothing about this one and I’ll just hope for the best.


Leave a comment with your link and a comment (if you’re so inclined). Take a look at the other participant links in the comments and look at what others are reading.

Have any opinions on these choices?

Until next time, write on.

You can follow me on GoodreadsFacebookTwitterPinterest, and Instagram. I’m available via email at SamAStevensWriter@gmail.com. And as always, feel free to leave a comment!

Book Review: Old School by Tobias Wolff (4/5)

15 Nov

Here’s yet another example of a book club book I never would have picked up but because someone else picked it, I read it and enjoyed it. If you don’t have a group that pushes your reading, I really recommend it.

Cover image via Goodreads

Old School by Tobias Wolff

Summary from Goodreads:

The protagonist of Tobias Wolff’s shrewdly—and at times devastatingly—observed first novel is a boy at an elite prep school in 1960. He is an outsider who has learned to mimic the negligent manner of his more privileged classmates. Like many of them, he wants more than anything on earth to become a writer. But to do that he must first learn to tell the truth about himself.

The agency of revelation is the school literary contest, whose winner will be awarded an audience with the most legendary writer of his time. As the fever of competition infects the boy and his classmates, fraying alliances, exposing weaknesses, Old School explores the ensuing deceptions and betrayals with an unblinking eye and a bottomless store of empathy. The result is further evidence that Wolff is an authentic American master.

I was instantly reminded of a favorite of mine, A Separate Peace so I started off inclined to like this book. I liked the setting and the premise. I enjoyed how being a good writer made a boy popular the same way being a star athlete can. The idea that intellect was celebrated made me happy. I’m contemplating sending potential future children to a New England boarding school. I’ll bet this doesn’t last long.

I felt the protagonist was credible. I could understand how he wanted to prove himself and show that he could do well and didn’t need to be pitied as a scholarship recipient. I almost understood his decision to be untruthful. Almost. I wouldn’t have gone to such extremes, but I understood it. His procrastination bothered me, but I know people who would have done the same thing.

I liked the narrator. Most of the other boys seemed to run together but the narrator, because we were in his head, I understood and liked. He was smart and he had his priorities in the right places. Well, most of the time. With one major exception, he was a good student and stayed out of trouble. He admired the great writing and aspired to get through learning and school. That’s pretty admirable. He also learned some hard lessons along the way about people he idolized and I think that must have been very humbling.

I had flashbacks to the high school literary magazine when I was reading the scenes where the boys talked about their own. I remember certain people appearing more than others, letting someone’s piece in because they were a Senior and the sense of entitlement that came with being an editor. I felt these were hit spot on.

Tobias Wolff
Image via the Paris Review

I thought the scenes with Ayn Rand were pretty great. The way she was characterized and the take-aways the narrator had from the encounter were very realistic of meeting one’s heroes. I loved how Wolff characterized her (and really shared an opinion!). I’ve never read her books but I’m familiar with the movement she was a part of and how polarizing they could be.

Spoilers here so skip this if you don’t want the ending ruined. I didn’t like that the narrator plagiarized, but I disliked it more when he ran away to New York. It seemed like he was so afraid of returning home to a father we know little about. I didn’t understand why he didn’t feel he could face his father except that he didn’t want to disappoint him. It didn’t feel like strong enough motivation to run away. This character had been so level-headed leading up to this point and the change seemed too much and too sudden.

The narrator is always searching for greatness. At first, in others. He wants to see Ayn Rand as great and Hemingway. Then he wants to be great himself. He’s desperate for achievement and recognition. And it bites him hard. In the end, he humbles himself but is able to achieve something great (or so it’s implied). Greatness is never easy. It was good that the narrator had to struggle to see that.

Writer’s Takeaway: I struggled in my historical fiction book with bringing in real-life figures. I ultimately decided not to but I respect how Wolff did it in this book. Giving life to Frost, Rand, and Hemingway must have been a challenge. You want to be true to who they were but also treat them as a character. That balance is what led me away for it but I found this to be a good example of how to do it well.

A fun, quick read and a work showing a love of literature. Four out of Five stars.

Until next time, write on.

You can follow me on GoodreadsFacebookTwitterPinterest, and Instagram. I’m available via email at SamAStevensWriter@gmail.com. And as always, feel free to leave a comment!

Related Posts:
Old School, by Tobias Wolff | KevinfromCanada
Old School, by Tobias Wolff | Philo on Books
Old School –  Tobias Wolff | Lizzie’s Literary Life
Tobias Wolff’s Old School: Truth, Tangent, and Return | Take Away the Takeaway
Tobias Wolf | Don’t Need a Diagram

WWW Wednesday, 14-November-2018

14 Nov

Welcome to WWW Wednesday! This meme was formerly hosted by MizB at A Daily Rhythm and revived here on Taking on a World of Words. Just answer the three questions below and leave a link to your post in the comments for others to look at. No blog? No problem! Just leave a comment with your responses. Please, take some time to visit the other participants and see what others are reading. So, let’s get to it!IMG_1384-0

The Three Ws are:

What are you currently reading?
What did you recently finish reading?
What do you think you’ll read next?

Note: For users of Blogspot blogs, I’m unable to comment on your posts as a WordPress blogger unless you’ve enabled Name/URL comments. This is a known WordPress/Blogspot issue. Please consider enabling this to participate more fully in the community. 


Currently reading: I started The Poe Shadow by Matthew Pearl again! I’m excited to get back to it and finish this one so I can start on some new books.
I’ve made decent progress on Treasure Island by Robert Louis Stevenson. I’m going to have to watch the Muppet version of this when I’m done. I wonder how much they kept the same.
I was proud of how much of The Gilded Hour by Sara Donati I’ve listened to but then I was reminded that it’s 31 hours long and I’ll be listening to this for the better part of a month. I’m in for the long haul.
I’ve enjoyed some of The Nick Adams Stories by Ernest Hemingway more than others. Some are so short I’m not sure what I’m supposed to get out of them. I’m not sure how much Hemingway meant for them to be put together in a collection. They seem to be in chronological order which I don’t think is how they were written. Maybe they’d make more sense in another order.

Recently finished: I finished Old School by Tobias Wolff on Sunday as I recovered from a half marathon. I needed to sit, haha. It was a nice, short book. I was reminded of A Separate Peace which is a favorite of mine so it was almost nostalgic.

I was able to post two reviews, though. Monday I posted about Not Me by Michael Lavigne. The book wasn’t a favorite and the ending upset me so I rated it Three out of Five stars.
I also reviewed That Night by Chevy Stevens. This one was the complete opposite. It grabbed me from the beginning and kept me listening as often as I could. I gave it Five out of Five Stars.

Reading Next: I’ve got to get through one more book to finish my When Are You Reading? Challenge. I picked People of the Book by Geraldine Brooks. I read another Brooks book for this time period last year as well (1600s) and it’s getting hard to find some. I may have to re-define my time periods going forward to make it a bit easier! I’ll be starting this when I finish Hemingway.


Leave a comment with your link and a comment (if you’re so inclined). Take a look at the other participant links in the comments and look at what others are reading.

Have any opinions on these choices?

Until next time, write on.

You can follow me on GoodreadsFacebookTwitterPinterest, and Instagram. I’m available via email at SamAStevensWriter@gmail.com. And as always, feel free to leave a comment!

WWW Wednesday, 7-November-2018

7 Nov

Welcome to WWW Wednesday! This meme was formerly hosted by MizB at A Daily Rhythm and revived here on Taking on a World of Words. Just answer the three questions below and leave a link to your post in the comments for others to look at. No blog? No problem! Just leave a comment with your responses. Please, take some time to visit the other participants and see what others are reading. So, let’s get to it!IMG_1384-0

The Three Ws are:

What are you currently reading?
What did you recently finish reading?
What do you think you’ll read next?

Note: For users of Blogspot blogs, I’m unable to comment on your posts as a WordPress blogger unless you’ve enabled Name/URL comments. This is a known WordPress/Blogspot issue. Please consider enabling this to participate more fully in the community. 


Currently readingThe Poe Shadow by Matthew Pearl should get attention again soon. Really, I swear! I want to get back to it soon and I’m feeling like I will. Eventually…
I’m past halfway in Treasure Island by Robert Louis Stevenson. It’s a bit more violent than I was expecting for a children’s story, but I should know that censorship has changed since it was written.
I started reading Old School by Tobias Wolff, the next selection for one of my book clubs. It’s a slim book so I’m hoping I can finish it up quickly and get back to Poe! So far, so good. I’m hoping this is done by next week.
I also got to start a new eaudiobook, The Gilded Hour by Sara Donati. This is another book club pick and I was beyond relieved to see it was offered as an eaudiobook because of its length! Over 700 pages and over 31 hours on audio. How perfect toward the end of the running season!
My hold on The Nick Adams Stories by Ernest Hemingway came in and I started it on Sunday. It’s a nice change of pace to listen to short stories after having gone through some really long books. I hope I can continue to enjoy these.

Recently finished: I wrapped up Not Me by Michael Lavigne and will have a review up next week. I’m a little unsure what to think of it still. There were some big leaps in logic in my opinion and some very unnecessary plot elements that confused the message I got from it. Maybe it’s just not for me, maybe I missed something, and I for sure need my book club to help me figure it out.
I sped through That Night by Chevy Stevens and wrapped it up already. I haven’t read a thriller/mystery novel in a while and I need to remind myself to read one every once in a while. I really enjoyed the tension in Toni’s story and it kept me listening at every opportunity. Review for this one will be up next week, too.

My review of Ken Follett’s A Column of Fire went up on Monday. I really liked this book, but it just didn’t live up to my astronomically high expectations. No wonder. I gave it Four out of Five stars.

Reading Next: No plans right now. It’s a great feeling, really. I’ll see how long I can keep it up.


Leave a comment with your link and a comment (if you’re so inclined). Take a look at the other participant links in the comments and look at what others are reading.

Have any opinions on these choices?

Until next time, write on.

You can follow me on GoodreadsFacebookTwitterPinterest, and Instagram. I’m available via email at SamAStevensWriter@gmail.com. And as always, feel free to leave a comment!