This week’s book recommendation is a two-for-one. Old School and This Boy’s Life by Tobias Wolff.
First is Old School. This book is one of two full-length books of fiction by Mr. Wolff (the first being The Barracks Thief), and is an expansion of his short story “Smorgasbord”, which was adapted and used as a chapter in the book. I greatly enjoyed this book for the same reason I enjoy all of Mr. Wolff’s work. He captures human moments and makes us think about our own actions and the way we interact with others.
This book is written as a fictional memoir of a man who recounts his senior year at a preparatory school that is highly influenced by the writing competitions it holds because of the famous authors who come in to judge the stories, which include Robert Frost, Ayn Rand, and Ernest Hemingway.
It’s an interesting story that spirals out of control near the end but, as many of Mr. Wolff’s stories go, the ending packs an unusual punch that makes you think about the importance of things and why we act the way we do.
I also thought this book was even better after having read Tobias Wolff’s actual memoir (and the second part of this recommendation), This Boy’s Life, which details his youthful years growing up. He has another memoir that recounts his time in Vietnam which I also enjoyed. It is called In Pharaoh’s Army. This Boy’s Life is not only compelling, but also shows how Mr. Wolff became the prominent person he is today (he is currently teaching at Stanford University). I also recently discovered (a few minutes ago in fact) that a movie was made from This Boy’s Life in 1993 starring Robert De Niro and Leonardo DiCaprio.
I don’t want to say too much because saying almost anything about a memoir, outside of general information, could be considered a spoiler. So all I’ll say is that I think Tobias Wolff is one of the best short story authors America has ever had. He writes primarily short stories and the books mentioned in this recommendation are the full length works he has produced. The two memoirs and the two books. He is well-known for his memoirs and I think that is what makes Old School successful (having been written as a fictional memoir). His work is naturally highly influenced by his own life. I won’t give you an order to read any of his work. I’m just suggesting you read anything he’s written. If you like it, as I have, you’ll want to read more.