Book Type: Nonfiction - Social Sciences
Summary: An honest, moving book - full of compelling stories
Wow. Mark Salzman's True Notebooks: A Writer's Year at Juvenile Hall was a unique read. I listened to the book (audiobook) as I logged my running miles, and folded laundry. I looked forward to listening every day. The nonfiction book was jolting to me, at first. The language was harsh (which is not typical in the books I tend to read). However, the language was appropriate, given the stories Mark shared. A writer, the author Mark Salzman volunteers his time to teach a writing class to juvenile offenders at an L.A. juvenile hall. Most of his students are awaiting trial for murder. You would think a book on this topic would be anything but inspiring (I generally gravitate toward motivating books). However, Mark's style of writing is straightforward and easy to digest. He shares his experiences as a volunteer teacher, along with the essays written by his students. As another reviewer (Amazon) wrote: "Interestingly, the spoken language of the inmates is loaded with expletives; every response has one. Yet, expletives do not appear in their written essays!"
Full of compelling stories, the book is moving and honest. While the book is very serious in nature, Mark brings humor at just the right moments. During one teaching session, Mark's students asked what he did for a living. He shared with him that he is a writer. The followed up by asking him if the job was hard. Mark proceeds to explain to his students that yes, writing is incredibly hard. He details the amount of focus it takes for him to write good content day after day. He tells the boys the importance of focusing while he is writing and says that although he adores the two cats that share his home with his wife and himself, they always want to sit on his lap while he is writing - and even that is too distracting for him when he needs to be focused. He read somewhere that cats do not like aluminum foil. Mark began making what he called an "aluminum foil skirt" to wear while he wrote, to keep his lap clear of felines and his mind focused on writing. In addition, he puts large (old-school) headphones over his ears and stuffs them with small towels to keep outside noises at bay. Total focus. I couldn't help but chuckle, picturing Mark at his desk in an aluminum foil skirt and stuffed headphones, as he described his writing attire.
There were plenty of times when I had tears in my eyes (i.e. listening to the boys essays). I loved how Mark shared the boys writing pieces. It was heartbreaking on Father's Day. The holiday was an especially difficult writing day for the students. No one wanted to write about their dad's- for various reasons (i.e. severe abuse, lack of a father figure in the home, etc.). On that day, Mark gave the boys a different topic to write about, after realizing the pain Father's Day caused many of them.
True Notebooks: A Writer's Year at Juvenile Hall makes you think about humanity, crime, and rehabilitation efforts (or lack thereof) in our society. It also demonstrates the importance of teaching students (and getting to know them individually) rather than teaching to a test. Compassion and connection can make a tremendous difference in the lives of societies youth (and for that matter, to all living beings). I rated the book 5-stars and highly recommend it.
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