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True Notebooks: A Writer's Year at Juvenile Hall
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True Notebooks: A Writer's Year at Juvenile Hall

4.09  ·  Rating details ·  2,123 Ratings  ·  332 Reviews
In 1997 Mark Salzman, bestselling author Iron and Silk and Lying Awake, paid a reluctant visit to a writing class at L.A.’s Central Juvenile Hall, a lockup for violent teenage offenders, many of them charged with murder. What he found so moved and astonished him that he began to teach there regularly. In voices of indelible emotional presence, the boys write about what led ...more
Paperback, 352 pages
Published August 31st 2004 by Vintage (first published January 1st 2003)
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Jan 13, 2016 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Oh for cripes sake. Salzman is genius. He keeps writing about things I imagine myself to have no interest in, and I keep falling under his spell and becoming fascinated by his subjects. Can you imagine lol'ing several times in an exposition about guiding teenage murderers to express their hearts in writing? Well, I did, and I bet if you read this you will too. But of course mostly you'll be moved and have your perceptions of the juvenile criminal system and its participants shaken upside-down.

Debbie Zapata
Oct 12, 2016 rated it really liked it
Shelves: saturday
Mark Salzman did not plan to teach a writing class in L.A.'s Central Juvenile Hall, it sort of just happened after he went to observe a writer friend teach his class. This is the story of two years in Salzman's own writing class, which he started the week after his visit.

We get a glimpse of a world most of us have never thought much about: a world where appearing 'soft' is deadly, where gang mentality rules, where boys have grown older than their years and are certainly no longer naive. The life
Jun 24, 2009 rated it it was amazing
I loved this book and now I'm going to miss it. You know the feeling. You get comfortable with an author's voice and with his characters, you feel like you're riding shotgun cross-country and you're new best friends, and then WHAM, you're suddenly left roadside in Iowa while your friends speed off to California alone (where all finished books go). Sad. Bittersweet. But let me emphasize the sweet.

Maybe I loved it because it is about an author who serves as a writing teacher in an LA Juvenile Hall
Dec 10, 2008 rated it it was amazing
This wonderful book has just solidified my chaste intellectual mancrush on Mark Salzman.

How to convey just how much I liked this book? Let me just say that when I get home from D.C. it may be time to give my top 20 shelf a thorough review.

Alternatively, I could say that Mark Salzman writes with the kind of charm, wit, sensitivity and humility that gives Anne Fadiman a run for her money. Which is pretty high praise indeed.

Oct 05, 2013 rated it did not like it
I like Mark Salzman. I love his daring way of writing about just about anything. He seems like a nice guy on paper and in the documentary his wife made that features him ("Protagonist").

But this book felt like a terrible mis-step to me. Here's why I think so.

Salzman tries to paint himself in True Notebooks as the opposite of that neo-neo-colonial cliche'. The last thing he wants to be in this book is the civilized white guy coming in to save the natives, or to exploit the natives. Salzman the A
Andrew Hicks
Mar 17, 2015 rated it liked it
Early on in True Notebooks , author Mark Salzman acknowledges that this is just one more permutation of the old trope known as White Person Helps Impoverished Brown Children Realize That Art Matters. Indeed, this book's working title was Dangerous Freedom-Writing Minds Find Forrester .

It helps that True Notebooks is a memoir, and heck, I've got a weakness for that old trope anyway. This book did stir up some emotion in me, and there's some good subtle humor in the dialogue. TN , to me, had
Mar 27, 2008 rated it liked it
Interestingly, I met Salzman as he was writing this book. He was giving a workshop at my college and when discussing his current projects, he spoke glowingly of a book he was writing about his experiences as a writing teacher in the prison system. Most of us in the room, perhaps motivated by once having proximity to a real, established author, rushed to read the book when it came out. However, the reaction was more tepid than anything else. Something about "True Notebooks" felt pre-tread and lac ...more
Amar Pai
Jul 02, 2007 rated it really liked it
In True Notebooks, Mark Salzman relates his experiences teaching a creative writing class to kids in Los Angeles's Central Juvenile Hall, a lockup for LA's most violent teenage criminals. Most of the kids who join his class are in jail for "187" - the police code for murder. Many are gang members.

Salzman is initially roped in to teaching the class by his friend Duane, who also teaches at the jail. Initially he's unsure of whether or not to do it, and he spends a lot of time jotting down pros and
Feb 05, 2009 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: teachers, educators, writers
True Notebooks is intoxicating, thought provoking, totally addicting, and heartbreaking all at once. The characters in this book, the real-life "juvenile delinquents" that Salzman worked with, are amazing people despite their criminal records. This book shows you just how NOT so black-and-white the American justice system is. These kids who are arrested are real people who make mistakes and yes, they should own up to them, but how we as a society should handle them and their mistakes is somethin ...more
Aug 21, 2010 rated it it was amazing
Recommended to katarzyna by: Anna
I loved this book. I've never read anything else by Salzman and to be honest, none of his other work (I've read just a brief synopsis of each of his other books) particularly jumps out to me as something I'd be really into. However, I love how he presented this experience to the reader, and that he shared it at all, since obviously teen prisoners, particularly low-income minorities, are not a group that gets much of an outlet or voice. The students in his class are depicted so vividly yet subtly ...more
Tracy Shapley
Jun 24, 2013 rated it liked it
As far as content goes, A+ - I am exactly the target audience for this book. Unfortunately, I found the author's writing to be annoying and to get in the way of telling the story. The writing of the students was important and moving, but everything between made me roll my eyes.

I think the subject matter is really important, but I've read better books about prison writing programs. "Couldn't Keep it To Ourselves", edited by Wally Lamb, is a great example. For those who'd rather watch, the PBS doc
Elliot Ratzman
Jul 12, 2013 rated it really liked it
Recommended to Elliot by: Susan Rogers
It is hard to believe that such effortlessly moving writing on different registers emerges from Mark Salzman. I read his martial arts memoir—Iron and Silk—decades ago and his novel about a Carmelite nun was praised to the heavens by all sorts of spiritual people. In True Notebooks, Salzman stumbles into leading a writing workshop twice a week for teenage murderers awaiting trial. The kids are equal parts charming and annoying, and most have gotten raw deals in life and some in the shoddy crimina ...more
May 26, 2013 rated it it was amazing
This is an extraordinary book. The subject matter is tough -- teen gang members incarcerated in a rundown, undersupported, and understaffed Juvenile Hall. Yet it's so compelling that you're driven to read it as quickly as possible. It shows you the hearts and minds of teenage offenders, most of them murders, and makes you sympathize with them. Through the beauty of their words you see the little boys that they once were, the problems that their families and/or society made which allowed such a c ...more
Dec 09, 2015 rated it it was amazing

A story of a young English teacher visiting a class at L.A Central Juvenile Hall, young teens locked up for violence and other charges like murder. He was inspired and very interested and he wanted to teach regularly. He voices indelible emotional presences. The four main boys who took part in the beginning of the book were Mark, Antonio,Rashaad,Toa they all were in for different reasons. The boys were assigned to a notebook where they write about their life and they’re experiences and how they
Colleen Vincent
Jun 09, 2011 rated it really liked it
I discovered Mark Salzman when I borrowed the Soloist from our local library. This is an amazing man. He plays cello for one-I'm a big admirer of classical musicians-and he writes novels, both autobiographical and fictional with both humor and depth. True Notebooks is about the creative writing classes he teaches voluntarily at juvenile hall (aka "juvey" as my dad called it-he was a teacher for 25 years there). This book provides the point of view of the juvenile inmate and doesn't dwell on the ...more
Dori Ostermiller
Sep 07, 2010 rated it it was amazing
Reading this book is a remarkable journey. We follow Salzman through his year of teaching writing at a Juvenile detention facility in Los Angeles (first reluctantly) as he soon becomes intrigued by a group of young offenders, many who are facing possible life sentences. I found the structure of this book remarkably rewarding: we are drawn in slowly, getting to know the setting, the characters, the system, getting bits and pieces of their actual writing, along with Salzman's own thoughts and expe ...more
Dec 31, 2012 rated it liked it
i've liked Salzman's work since Iron and Silk--he knows just where to put the entrance ramp to this new society he's going to introduce you, he chooses just the right details, knows how to toss a few balls in the air and keep them all up there until the right moment to let them down.

he's an excellent craftsman.

in this book, he tells the story of a year of volunteer writing instruction at the local juvenile hall. the individual kids' stories are crushingly sad, of course--sort of an endless river
Julie Suzanne
Dec 15, 2008 rated it it was amazing
I loved this book! I don't even know how I came about reading it or where the book came from--I just found it on my bookshelf.
With this book, Salzman and his writers/juvenile criminals lifted me by the feet and shook up my beliefs and ideas that I thought were pretty firm in their place. What a mess they are now! Salzman isn't preachy and I'm not sure what his message is....I admire that he admits that he doesn't know either. He gives a sincere account of his experiences and lets the reader shar
Feb 22, 2011 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: nonfiction
This is a lovely book. The author taught writing in a juvenile detention facility in California, and he straightforwardly recounts the events of several of his classes. The book consists mostly of the boys' conversations and examples of their writing, so it's a very quick read. The boys are all serious offenders, mostly accused of murder, so it's surprising to the author and the reader to find them so likable. They write better than you'd expect, and sensitively, about their lives and feelings. ...more
Mar 15, 2011 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: memoir, non-fiction
This book was extremely good. It was the second time that I started reading it, and I finished it quickly. I must not have been in the mood before, because there was nothing about this book that I didn’t love.

This was a book about a writer seeking inspiration for a juvenile delinquent character in his upcoming novel. In order to develop his character further, Salzman begins teaching a writing class to high risk offenders at his local juvenile hall. Although he hesitated at first, he soon fell in
Jan 28, 2009 rated it liked it
As I mentioned previously, this book is required reading for my college English class. I don't have to read it until a bit more into the semester, but thought "Might as well get it over and done with".

To be quite honest, this book was weird, but there was something oddly compelling about it. Famous Writer (I'd never heard of him), goes to juvenile hall, connects with students, and has a "Helen Keller moment". Sounds trite. But it wasn't. The author reprints essays and poems that the boys in his
Mar 14, 2013 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This very engaging book details Mark Salzman's experiences as a volunteer writing teacher at a detention center for violent teenage offenders. It is one of those books that causes reverberations within the soul, long after reading. It seems so obvious that the boys from the writing class show great promise of rehabilitation. Yet the system does not seem to be set up to accomodate that end. The book does let the reader know what becomes of the boys, but I want to know more- how are they getting o ...more
Sep 16, 2016 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
3.5-4 stars. An interesting look inside not only Central Juvenile Hall, a lockup for Los Angeles’s most violent teenage offenders - but the minds and hearts of these teenage boys too, through their writings. These kids are murderers - and yet 'just people too'.
With so many boys coming in and out of the story and identified by either their first or last names, I confess I couldn't always keep them straight - and the story reader in me wished for some more information and closure for each inmate.
Deb (Readerbuzz) Nance
Jul 25, 2009 rated it really liked it
Mark Salzman is one of the authors I'd have never found on my own. He is unusual
in that he writes both fiction and nonfiction equally well. True Notebooks opens with Salzman having trouble with a
character in a novel he's writing. Almost before he realizes it, he somehow finds himself teaching a class to a group
of teenage boys in a juvenile detention facility. All the boys are under age seventeen and all are facing murder charges.
Though Salzman is at first apprehensive, he is amazed at the qu
Jun 07, 2011 added it
I once taught basic English to two classes of tenth grade boys some of whom had been in Juvenile Hall so their stories resonate with me. I loved the author's first book, "Iron and Silk" that treated his year studying the martial arts in China, This book is at once poignant, disturbing, and heartbreaking as well as sometimes amusing.The raw honesty of the boys' writing is touching. It is also heroic, for in their situations gaining self awareness may be the only achievement they can claim. To be ...more
Marti Morris
Dec 27, 2010 rated it it was amazing
Wow! I cannot remember how I got this book or why at this time I decided to pick it out of the many books I have that I still need to read. However, I am so thankful for the opportunity to discover and read it. I think it should be a required reading for anyone. It really shows the unjustness of the life of urban youth and the few choices they have for success. It shows the lack of insight our justice system has in dealing with this population and the fact that juvenile detention does not create ...more
Mar 28, 2016 rated it it was amazing
I've enjoyed Mark Salzman's novels and was excited to read this book about his experience teaching a writing class at L.A.'s Central Juvenile Hall. This book doesn't have a complex plot but I could have kept reading more. Salzman lets the incarcerated young men unfold their own stories. He's not an overt advocate and doesn't claim that they're innocent, but we do meet young men who generally had a bad start in life, and who want the opportunity to do better going forward. Unfortunately, most are ...more
Jul 23, 2008 rated it really liked it
Mark Salzman gets stuck writing a novel, so he gets roped into a writing class held at a juvenile penitentiary center that doesn't change how he thinks about crime, criminals, or justice. But it does change how he thinks about himself and about how even youth who murder are genuine people with a lot of heartfelt writing to express.
Feb 12, 2016 rated it really liked it
This is a wonderful book about self discovery, about learning to look beyond what is actually in front of you, about redemption and acceptance. A wonderful book.
Jan 03, 2014 rated it it was amazing
Absolutely enjoyed this book. The story was very engaging and interesting.
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Mark Salzman is an award-winning novelist and nonfiction author who has written on a variety of subjects, from a graceful novel about a Carmelite nun’s ecstatic visions and crisis of faith to a compelling memoir about growing up a misfit in a Connecticut suburb – clearly displaying a range that transcends genre. As a boy, all Salzman ever wanted was to be a Kung Fu master, but it was his proficien ...more
More about Mark Salzman...
“My writing is how I maintain.” 13 likes
“Our world cannot be complete without you, and without hearing what you have to say. True justice cannot exist without compassion; compassion cannot exist without understanding. But no one will understand you unless you speak, and are able to speak clearly (Sister Janet to the students, page 155).” 1 likes
More quotes…