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a home + living guide for the post-college, pre-parenthood, quasi-adult generation

09.14.2006

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copyright ©1999-2006
DigsMagazine.com.

the bookshelf: back to school
by Yee-Fan Sun
| 1 2 3
continued from page 1

Old School (cont.) buy it

Old Schoolís narrator-protagonist is the kind of slightly-haughty smarty-pants teen that everyone remembers from their high school years -- heck, the sort that some of us maybe even were. Heís bright; heís ambitious. He hopes heís destined for something great and special, that heíll someday make a mark on the world. When the book opens, heís also a bit of a poseur: he talks a big game about all these writers he admires, and how much he hopes to follow in their footsteps, but for the most part, it doesnít seem like he has a whole lot to say himself. This makes Old School a little hard to get into at the beginning: despite the fact that the writing is stellar from the get-go -- crisp and spare and perfect, each word and detail carefully chosen for maximum impact -- the narrator just seems so pretentious. Moreover, because we so often associate author with narrator, itís not immediately clear that the book itself isnít just going to be a self-consciously pompous ode to the overwhelming importance of great literature. Fortunately, in the chapters that follow, Wolff does a fantastic job of slowly peeling away the narratorís carefully-constructed superficial layers, in such a way that eventually, even when the narrator is talking about other peopleís works, what heís revealing is in fact himself. Old School is a novel about one of the most critical aspects of growing up: coming to terms with the fact that things we find most embarrassing about ourselves just might be the ones that most inform who we are. Itís also a novel that cuts to the core of what distinguishes good art from great, and how weird and wonderful it is that the stories that ring most true to the authors themselves, tend to have greatest resonance for all us readers as well.

o o o

Prep by Curtis Sittenfeld
buy it

When fourteen-year-old Lee Fiora leaves her working-class Ohio town to begin freshman year at an elite Massachusetts boarding school named Ault, she has all the hopes in the world of being one of those smiling students sheís seen in the glossy school catalog -- wandering blissfully amidst the ivy-clad brick buildings of a quintessential old New England campus, talking animatedly with other happy smiling friends. But from the first day she arrives at Aultís pristine gates in her familyís beat-up old car, Lee canít help feeling like an outsider. On the surface, Ault is every bit the amazing place the catalog boasted about: beautiful old buildings, immaculately maintained lawns, bright and talented students who are genuinely committed to learning, and obviously destined for success. The problem is: Lee canít seem to find a place for herself in that perfect picture.

amble on folks...

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