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copyright ©1999-2006

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

Itís been a long time since this time of year had any real meaning for me, but still, each September, the temperatures suddenly dip down and leave me reaching for a sweater, the first leaves start changing from lush green to fiery orange-red-yellow, the air starts to smell sweet-tart as crisp apples, and my brain thinks: back to school. My mom tells me I always hated this time of year as a kid, leaving the freewheeling days of summer, returning to the strict schedules of the school year. All grown up now, the seasonal cues canít help but trigger a glow of nostalgia for school days gone by -- hindsight seems to have blinders for the big stress of exams, the high drama of teen friendships, the trauma of waking up with a huge zit on yearbook picture day. Instead, I find myself sighing a big dreamy oh at the clear blue fall skies, the sight of small children in new clothes filing neatly off a yellow school bus. Still, Iím glad my days are all my own now. Fall no longer forces me back inside a classroom; instead, I can relive the school days angst through great books like theseÖ

o o o

Old School by Tobias Wolff
buy it

Itís the early 1960s and the unnamed narrator of Tobias Wolffís Old School is a scholarship student in his last year at a prestigious New England prep school. That heís one of the few scholarship students amidst this sea of wealth isnít really acknowledged by his peers; theirs is the sort of highbrow institution that prides itself on judging others by what they do, and though the boy might not have the benefit of a fancy old-money name that will guarantee his future success, he has ambition galore. The boy adopts the casual insouciance of his privileged peers -- doesnít talk about his family, or his summer jobs, or any of the other things about himself that make him different from everyone else. Instead, he throws himself into the schoolís literary clique: heís one of a small group of wannabe writers who worship their English teachers and lord over the editorial decisions of the school literary journal. At the center of these boysí obsessions are the schoolís periodic literary competitions, main prize of which is a private audience with a series of literary luminaries that the schoolís headmaster brings in for readings and talks. The lucky winner is chosen by the famous writer him/her self, raising the stakes all that much higher as the eager students vie desperately for a nod from their gods. As he racks his brain for the perfect entry to win time with Robert Frost, then Ayn Rand, and finally, his biggest idol, Ernest Hemingway, the boy finds himself sizing up his fellow friend-competitors, battling writerís block, discovering new writers to learn from and reveling in the familiar works of old favorites. But all thatís just a cover for the real dilemma: good writing rings the truth, and the boy has a tendency to hide behind his writing, using words to create a perfect picture of himself as cool and confident upper-crusty WASP. The boy knows who he wants to be -- a real writer -- but to get there, he has to come to terms with who he is first.

single-file please... this way for more.

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