Tobias Wolff's Old School is the story of an ambitious, idealistic, and insecure teenager who makes a serious mistake and eventually inherits the consequences. Wolff's unnamed narrator seems so very real that it is hard at times to remember that the book is fiction. The gripping plot has the unpredictability of real life—by turns funny, alarming, satiric, and sad—as well as the moral weight of lived experience. Old School is the first Big Read selection to have been published in the twenty-first century. With writers like Tobias Wolff at work it's easy to be optimistic about the future of American literature.
The Big Read is a program of the National Endowment for the Arts designed to revitalize the role of literary reading in American popular culture. Reading at Risk: A Survey of Literary Reading in America, a 2004 NEA report, identified a critical decline in reading for pleasure among American adults. The Big Read addresses this issue by bringing communities together to read, discuss, and celebrate books and writers from American and world literature.
A great book combines enlightenment with enchantment. It awakens our imagination and enlarges our humanity. It can even offer harrowing insights that somehow console and comfort us. Whether you’re a regular reader already or making up for lost time, thank you for joining The Big Read.
Tobias Wolff (Photo by Jennifer Hale)
The Hill School grounds (Courtesy of The Hill School)
Tobias Wolff, age 17, guesses ages and weights while working in the carnival section of the 1962 Seattle World's Fair. (Courtesy of Tobias Wolff)