Old School by Tobias Woff
When I went to Syracuse University for my freshman year, they assigned each school a different book to read the summer before with the hope that it would spark discussions among the new students. The film school was assigned this book which they sent everyone a copy in the mail to read. Now, usually, I hate books when they’re assigned to me. For some reason I have a tremendous aversion to being forced to read something which will make me dislike a book no matter how good it is.
But for some strange reason this book just clicked with me. I loved it instantly and intensely.
This book basically represents a parallel life that I would’ve liked to have lived. Very similarly to how I want my life to be like a Woody Allen movie. The book transpires at an all boys boarding school out east during the 60’s. It’s filled with bookish boys who wear tweed suits and argue about Faulkner all day. It makes me nostalgic for something that I’ve never experienced before. In the book characters have pictures of Hemingway over their desks, wear suits to class, have libraries full of first edition books, have visiting writers like Robert Frost give lectures to their class, and they do romantic, poetic things like sneak out in to the forest to smoke cigarettes. It’s this kind of romantic idealized version of life I have that I’m not entirely sure exists outside of books.
It’s a great story though that I love more every time I read it. It’s about writers and people who are “book drunk”, as Wolff says. The author basically sums up my feeling about the book in one passage:
I went back to the beginning and read it again, slowly this time, feeling all the while as if my inmost vault had been smashed open and looted and every hidden thing spread out across these pages. From the very first sentence I was looking myself right in the face.
Whenever I read it I imagine myself as one of these characters, walking across the quad of an ivy covered boarding school out east, wearing wing tips and a wrinkled suit. I have a first edition copy of a Hemingway book in my bag and I’m on my way to some class that’s taught my a craggy old professor. I might stop off behind the gymnasium to sneak a cigarette with my pals who tell me about a new novel they’re starting to write. I know this will never happen, but it’s fun to read about.
I’ve been sitting here for an hour since reading Dean’s post and I want to share it with everyone but I don’t know that I can or need to add any comments other than, you should go read a book.