I can’t remember why Tobias Wolff’s Old School ended up on my reading pile, but I grabbed it and tossed it in my bag for my trip to San Francisco. I mistakenly thought that Wolff had written a bunch of novels and that this was one of his “classics.” It turns out that Wolff is actually one of the great short story writers of our time (as well as a master of the memoir – e.g. This Boy’s Life). Of course, Amy has all of his other books which she just brought to me with a big smile (e.g. Brad – you philistine you).
Old School – written in 2003 – is his first full length novel. And what a novel it is. While the pretty silver “Finalist: PEN/Faulkner Award” medallion on the cover is a not–so-subtle hint, I still wasn’t expecting to get sucked in by the book. After about 30 pages, Wolff had me and I slowed down and started savoring each paragraph. I realized that I was reading something different. Unlike so much that I read today – where the writer is telling a story, but hasn’t “crafted it” – Wolff takes his time, tells his story, and gives you a rich, flavorful burst of words with every bite. The story is simple – that’s part of the beauty of the book – since the story doesn’t get in the way of the words.
It’s rare that you read the word “boner” in the middle of a sentence and thing “that was perfectly placed.” Robert Frost and Ayn Rand make appearances and Hemingway plays a central role in the plot – none of these things make you think “eh – self-indulgent writer crap.” It’s mostly perfect. Yum.
Harry Potter is up next – I’m managed to pry the books out of Amy’s hands since she gobbled them up while I was on my trip. I never got around to reading the blue one (Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix) so I’ve got 1600 pages of Harry Potter ahead of me this weekend.