Tuesday, September 02, 2008

Back to School

Millions of children are heading back to school today (or tomorrow, if there are teacher meetings and what not), and to celebrate, an incomplete list of great books about high school:

While Martin Amis's The Rachel Papers doesn't take place at school, the protagonist is studying for his O-levels, so I count it here. Full of rakish wit, teenage awkwardness, and hipster rebellion that would mark so many of Amis's early novels. When I remember myself in high school, I remember myself as Charles Highway. Unfortunately, I was more like George Michael from "Arrested Development."

"Me and Mrs. Mandible," (in the collection Sixty Stories) by Donald Barthelme. A grown man is trapped in Mrs. Mandible's third grade class. He'd like to get out, but at the same time, he's kinda in love with the comely Mrs. Mandible. What's a guy to do?

Old School, by Tobias Wolff. A beautiful story perfectly told by Wolff, this is the tale of a kid at an elite prep school trying to win the school's literary contest so that he can meet his idol, Ernest Hemingway.

Prep, by Curtis Sittenfeld. I haven't read this book, but I hear good things about it, so it goes on the list. The story of a working class girl at a toney prep school, told in a frank, sometimes graphic manner. Sittenfeld is getting a lot of ink right now for her new book American Wife, which is not-so-loosely based on Laura Bush.

Home Land, by Sam Lipsyte. Kind of a cheat on a list like this, since Home Land is about a classic "loser" -- Teabag -- writing to his alumni newsletter. But what a book! Lipsyte perfectly captures high school's unique ane enduring ability to humiliate and belittle. A one of a kind book from one of the best comic writers of this generation.

An incomplete list, for sure. What books take you back to high school?



At 9:44 PM, Anonymous judy said...

I just read an almost great high school novel, A Slipping Down Life, by Anne Tyler, 1969, about a motherless somewhat geeky girl who falls for a rock musician. Because it is Anne Tyler (as well as only her third novel) it doesn't even go where you think it is going to.


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