Within the first hour of my first shift at Beehive, Mel introduced me to a writer whose work I've returned to many times since: Tobias Wolff. I started with his novel Old School. In this semi-autobiographical work, a boy strives to find his voice as a writer while enrolled at an elite prep school. The book's narrator remains unnamed but Wolff introduces us to fictionalized versions of Ernest Hemingway, Robert Frost, and Ayn Rand. Old School tells the story of how readers become writers and does so in Wolff's signature style: clean, spare prose peppered with words so well placed that this novel inspires and schools its reader in the craft of writing. Even for those without such pretensions, Old School will satiate readers devoted to good literature and was my introduction to one of the best American voices at work today.
I was drawn to the story of the boy writer in Old School because, as a senior in high school, I too hoped to write. By college, I figured out that hoping to write does not actually make you a writer. I mean, I was writing but I was writing about how I wanted to write. (I think that's called pretension.) I registered for a writing course. Again, Tobias Wolff was recommended to me - this time by my teacher. Last week, I finally picked up my teacher's recommendation: Wolff's memoir This Boy's Life.
I'm wary of the memoir form. Most memoirs read like therapeutic exercises: 200 pages filled with sensational stories of the fights between parents or chronicles of abusive relationships. This Boy's Life, however, bypasses such cliches. Like his narrator in Old School, Wolff attended an elite prep school. Before that, however, Wolff followed his mother across the U.S. to Washington state. There, she remarries and Wolff finds himself struggling through high school in a bleak town called Concrete. Wolff's true story in This Boy's Life is how he constantly reincarnated himself and the effect of the labels he found himself saddled with as a boy. And while an abusive stepfather figures prominently into the landscape of his boyhood, Wolff mines his experience to illustrate the complexities of growing up. Wolff is a master of fiction, short fiction, and nonfiction. There are stories and portraits packed into this brief memoir that recall Hemingway's Nick Adams Stories and road trips that are reminiscent of Kerouac's.
It's been almost four years now and I still haven't read everything in the Beehive. The list of authors I've discovered thanks to talking to my co-workers and the readers who make Beehive their home is a long one. When you're looking for your next read, come in to the Beehive and let us help you write your own list of favorite authors.