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Old School

3.79 of 5 stars 3.79  ·  rating details  ·  7,672 ratings  ·  879 reviews
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. ...more
Paperback, 195 pages
Published August 31st 2004 by Vintage (first published 2003)
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Jun 26, 2010 Ellen rated it 4 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: Everyone

Want to read something funny and literate? Read this memoir.

There are few books that provide this much hilarity, wisdom and grace.

Old School, though categorized as a novel, is a thinly veiled memoir of Tobias Wolff’s own experience as a scholarship boy in an elite prep school. The action largely centers on the boys’ writing competitions. Three times a year, a famous author would visit the school and choose one boy’s writing as the best. As a reward, that boy earned a private audience with the au
Meredith recommends reading This Boy's Life or In Pharaoh's Army: Memories of the Lost War, parts 1 and 2 of this author's memoirs, instead of this fiction novel if you've never read Hemingway or Rand. That said, I've never read Hemingway or Rand but I've heard of their reputations, and really enjoyed this.

Does anyone remember getting a flier in high school saying you've been so successful that you're chosen to be listed in the Who's Who In American High Schools? I was too naive to recognize a s
Oct 14, 2010 Sparrow rated it 5 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: English majors
Recommended to Sparrow by: The New Yorker
A review dedicated to and inspired by my friend Eh!, who reads things backwards.

This book is way literary meta. It’s so meta that there are prereq reading requirements for an optimal experience. Everyone knows Robert Frost, right? So, I’m not putting him on the list. But, I require you to read Atlas Shrugged, The Sun Also Rises, and (if you liked The Sun Also Rises, but not if you hated it) A Farewell to Arms before you read Old School. If you don’t care for Hemingway, you’ll probably not care f
Imagine yourself as a young writer at a prestigious boarding school. A prominent member of the faculty has just read your submission for a contest. He is genuinely excited for you. “A marvelous story! Pure magic. No—no—not magic. Alchemy. The dross of self-consciousness transformed into the gold of self-knowledge.” Pretty heady stuff, isn’t it? Old School’s protagonist was at an experiential high point when he heard that one. The truth is there are moments within the book where you could congrat ...more
I imagined as I was reading this book what a contemporary YA literary agent or editor would say upon receiving Tobias Wolff's story of a young man's experience in a New England preparatory school (one of those that can claim a U.S. president as an alumni but is way too classy to ever mention this fact outright). I see my imaginary literary agent, my imaginary editor, asking where's the conflict, the plot twists, the romance, the Big Ideas, the high stakes? And it saddens me to think that today t ...more

So, I want to live in this book. This is a bittersweet book about myth...the myth of being innocent, and the myth of what it's like going to a private school. . . a private, cloistered high school. As a big-time literature nerd aficionado, the school in this novel is every bit as magical as Hogwarts: visits from writers like Hemingway, Ayn Rand, Robert Frost, writing contests to actually get to hang out with them...knowing they'd actually read something you'd WRITTEN.

You know, THIS kind of scho
Becca Becca
Jan 06, 2008 Becca Becca rated it 5 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Literary folks, book lovers, nostalgic blokes
Recommended to Becca by: Rasputin
Shelves: favorites
Hot damn. I do realize this was on my 'currently-reading' shelf for one long stretch of time, but I must confess, I had only done a cursory read of a few pages.

Well, last night, I visited the land of IKEA (dreadful place that I rarely venture to) and bought myself a reading lamp. Wanting to try out my latest device, I picked up this book and began to read. This was at Midnight (I'm a bit of a night owl). Well, I got so engrossed in this book that I read the entire thing! Finished around 4 in the
A strong 4.5 only because the ending lost some momentum for me (which may have been intentional since for the first 2/3 of the book, the narrator is reflecting back on his last year of prep school which ends rather suddenly). Definitely a book lovers homage to American literature, to the teachers who are passionate about it and to the early 60s, before the deaths of JFK and Ernest Hemingway and the general upheaval later in the decade. Wolff's writing pulls you right into the narrator' ...more
Donna Kirk
At Donald Hall's house, he talked quite a bit about formalism and style in literary traditions. He told me that a person can't really move into the contemporary unless they have read pre-1800's writing and beyond. In Charles Simic's classes, he taught a more delicate, elegant modern aesthetic. his approach was more arachnid, mysterious, dark and removed. his writing is about the hidden and therefore, he admires any approach used to unleash what one can usually only whisper about. while Billy Col ...more
the prodigal paragraph

this book had one of the best final paragraphs i've ever read. ever since i finished the book a few months ago, i am oftentimes reminded of it:

"Arch stopped and looked down the garden to where the headmaster stood by the drinks table with another master. The headmaster said, Late for his own funeral! and everyone laughed, then he put his glass down and came toward Arch with both hands outstretched. Though the headmaster was the younger man, and much shorter, and though Arch
John Carella
When I was in high school I went to reading by Tobias Wolff from his set of short stories "The Night in Question." I was a student at the same boarding school he had attended years earlier and went to see our famous alum and make a direct connection with a real writer. The evening started better than I could have expected, because he decided to read the one story from the collection that was set at a boarding school -- it contained specific details of the campus that were familiar and let me la ...more
Mar 24, 2011 Monica rated it 5 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to Monica by: Rory
Shelves: 2009, favorites
So this was beautifully written and set in my absolute favorite sort of boarding school setting, but what I REALLY loved about it was Wolff's ability to connect the experience of being a young reader. The relationships that the boys in the book have with literature makes me feel so nostalgic for the first time I read Salinger or Vonnegut and I just fell totally, utterly in love with an author.

So short and affecting and totally consuming.
I enjoyed this novel very much, perhaps most of all because it reminded me of my own reading experiences in high school--how falling in love with Sylvia Plath, Anne Sexton, Tom Robbins, Sandra Cisneros, and Flaubert shaped my sense of self--or my desire to have a specific kind of self. And just like Wolff's narrator, I had a brief love affair with Ayn Rand's Fountainhead, which ended when I tried to read Atlas Shrugged.
It's a simple novel that does something bold (yet still subtle--how can that
i read this book on the advice of nick hornby after reading a collection of articles he wrote for the mcsweeney's magazine "the believer" which had been compiled into book form. i pretty much hated the nick hornby articles (for their cutesy, self-satisfied tone, i think, and also for the way he kept faux-dissing the believer as an overly fey literary mag and therefore underscoring himself as a salt-of-the-earth regular type of guy; basically the whole book is packed with obvious false modesty an ...more
Simon A. Smith
WOW... this is a damn fine book. Some amazing writing here... In fact, I think the best way to prove to you folks that this Wolff guy is "a beast," as the kids say these days, is to quote some passages right here.

"The heat from the fire brought a flush to her face and made her perfume thicker, headier. She turned to Mr. Rice, an English master and a southerner himself, who was tapping his ashes from his pipe into the fireplace. Do you think she'll come tonight? she asked."

"Patty was his second w
First things first: this is not a movie tie-in. No earmuffs, No "Hank the Tank," no Andy Dick seminars. It is, rather, a nostalgic coming-of-age novel set in the early 60s with a neat conceit: each year at the narrator's exclusive prep school, a literary master visits campus, igniting fierce competition among the preps for the golden opportunity to have their writing evaluated and, just maybe, be discovered. The three luminaries here are Robert Frost, Ayn Rand, and Ernest Hemingway. In the hands ...more
I’m a public school kid. I spent my elementary years in an inner city school where the teachers manually cranked out math assignments from the old mimeograph and our school books were donated by richer school districts. From sixth until twelfth grade, I moved into one of those richer school districts and enjoyed the novelty of a Xerox, but watched as our 30 year old natatorium began to collapse in on itself. I finished off my educational career at a state university, where funding was ample enou ...more
This author falls under the humbling yet appreciated category of "Why Do I Even Bother?" Wolff's mastership is evident from page one - a sympathetic yet flawed and nameless protagonist is on scholarship in a prep school (this read a bit like a male version of Prep at times) and wants desperately to be counted among the great writers and succumbs to temptation to get there - I loved, loved loved this book. It was beautifully written and moving, and at times hysterically funny (though in a literar ...more
Feb 19, 2008 Clare rated it 5 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Heather and Scott
Wolff's tale leaves you wondering where the bio ends and fiction begins. Very fascinating and well-written. Having attended a competative boarding school myself, I strongly identify with this character, especially how he interacts with other kids - when I 1st arrived at school, I also feel I was in a different world. My peers dressed, talked & walked differently. The author's reaction to this is fascinating.

I also enjoyed the sections describing authors who came to the school to lecture. I w
I wanted to like it but I just couldn't. Perhaps it's because I don't like the author as a person? I heard an interview with him and he was just trashing Ayn Rand, and you know, whatever, fine, you're entitled to your opinion, but she's a character in your book! Come on! Also, nothing really happened until about the last third of the book.
And with this wonderful book, Round 2 of our postal book club is complete. This was my first Tobias Wolff. I'm a new fan! There was much to enjoy. The setting is a New England boys prep school in the 1960s. These boys loved literature. Novels, poetry, and authors. It's fun to read about their passion for books and the lengths they go to in trying to write the winning essay and get to meet the author: Robert Frost, Ernest Hemingway, or even (horrors) Ayn Rand. I wonder how much of this is autobio ...more
Rarely is literature so literary. To fully appreciate Tobias Wolff’s prep school bildungsroman Old School, you must have some degree of familiarity with Robert Frost, Ayn Rand, and Ernest Hemingway. But this moving and brilliantly written novel can also be appreciated—though only halfway appreciated, I’d argue—by someone who wiled away his English classes drawing spirals on his notebook, because its ideas are so universal. Here Wolff interrogates one of my favorite questions: Who are we? The sto ...more
"Nixon was a straight arrow and a scold. If he'd been one of us we would have glued his shoes to the floor" (3).
"'Rhyme is bullshit. Rhyme says that everything works out in the end. All harmony and order. When I see a rhymed in a poem, I know I'm being lied to. Go ahead, laugh! It's true--rhyme's a completely bankrupt device. It's just wishful thinking. Nostalgia'" (44).
-versus this:
"I am thinking of Achilles' grief, he said. that famous terrible, grief. Let me tell you boys something. Such grie
Darrell Reimer
On Friday Big Jeff made it known that if his cousin got kicked out for cutting next afternoon's chapel, he was leaving with him. This was a curious and agreeable twist, Big Jeff spanieling after his cousin with tongue out, barking at phantoms as he followed him into martyrdom. It somehow put the whole thing in a farcical light, as Purcell must have understood, because he was furious.

The above passage comes late in Tobias Wolff's Old School. At this point the narrator and his other schoolmates ar
I read this a couple years ago on the recommendation of an admired English teacher colleague; I loved it then but lost my copy of it. When another admired English teacher colleague reminded me of it I went and bought another copy, read and finished it in less than 24 hours. This is a book worth buying (and reading) twice. It's an amazing combination of a page turning, compelling read and awesome, literary writing. I'm a HUGE Separate Peace fan but this one is better.
I'm convinced that there's so
Clif Hostetler
OLD SCHOOL is written in the form of a fictionalized memoir of a student at an elite, circa 1960s, prep school full of "book-drunk" boys. Through a series of student writing competitions to win the prize of a private audience with a well know author, the reader of this book is treated to a profile of Carl Sandburg, Ayn Rand, and Earnest Hemingway. Along the way we are taught a lesson in how ambition disguised as passion for writing can lead to unfortunate outcomes. There is a hilarious bit of hu ...more
Tobias Wolff cala il lettore nell’universo tipicamente americano delle prep-school (e non dei college, come erroneamente riportato in quarta di copertina), ossia i licei-collegio dove gli adolescenti vengono preparati all’università. L’ambientazione si presta duttilmente a un romanzo di formazione obliquo, che è soprattutto una riflessione sulla letteratura (rigorosamente americana) e sullo scrivere. Il manifesto di Wolff è semplice: l’onestà intellettuale è il primo strumento che lo scrittore d ...more
Jul 28, 2007 Peter added it
Shelves: tutoring
Told in the voice of a writer recalling his younger days--though when you begin the novel you believe for a while that the narrator is still in high school--Old School is the story of the trials and tribulations of a prep school boy in 1961 as he sorts through his family, his ambitions, and of course, his relationships with his peers.

As the nameless narrator describes it, the school is very much a "literary place"--Robert Frost, Ayn Rand, and Ernest Hemingway all appear at different points--but
Alia S
Boarding school has been my fantasy world of choice my entire literate life—long before we all went to Hogwarts and especially after I opted out of actual academia. It remains the most juvenile, self-indulgent, and escapist sort of reading I can do, this deliberate retreat to the dining commons to debate honor and writing with rich and clever English boys who do not exist. Really, the equivalent of macaroni and cheese plus brownies and ice cream.

This book is one of my all-time favorites. I am consistently moved by the way it captures the Prep School boys at its center, and the thoughtful, affectionate way it address some of the greatest names in American Literature through the eyes of teenage boys. It is not just a story of a Prep School with a writing competition-- Its a story about what happens when literature and reality collide, or at least stumble into each other. It makes you think about truth--artistic, emotional and factual. It ...more
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The Rory Gilmore ...: Old School by Tobias Wolff 17 195 Feb 07, 2013 05:47AM  
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Tobias Jonathan Ansell Wolff is a writer of fiction and nonfiction.

He is best known for his short stories and his memoirs, although he has written two novels.

Wolff is the Ward W. and Priscilla B. Woods Professor in the School of Humanities and Sciences at Stanford University, where he has taught classes in English and creative writing since 1997. He also served as the director of the Creative Writ
More about Tobias Wolff...
This Boy's Life The Night in Question In Pharaoh's Army: Memories of the Lost War Our Story Begins: New and Selected Stories In the Garden of the North American Martyrs

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“a true piece of writing is a dangerous thing. It can change your life.” 29 likes
“The beauty of a fragment is that it still supports the hope of brilliant completeness.” 19 likes
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