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True Notebooks: A Writer's Year at Juvenile Hall [Library Binding]

Mark Salzman
5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (2 customer reviews)
Price: 14.25 & FREE Delivery in the UK. Details
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Book Description

18 Sep 2008 1439551707 978-1439551707 Reprint
When Mark Salzman is invited to visit a writing class at Central Juvenile Hall, a lockup for Los Angeles’s most violent teenage offenders, he scrambles for a polite reason to decline. He goes—expecting the worst—and is so astonished by what he finds that he becomes a teacher there himself. True Notebooks is an account of Salzman’s first years teaching at Central. Through it, we come to know his students as he did: in their own words.

At times impossible and at times irresistible, they write with devastating clarity about their pasts, their fears, their confusions, their regrets, and their hopes. They write about what led them to crime and to gangs, about love for their mothers and anger toward their (mostly absent) fathers, about guilt for the pain they have caused, and about what it is like to be facing life in prison at the age of seventeen. Most of all, they write about trying to find some reason to believe in themselves—and others—in spite of all that has gone wrong.
Surprising, charming, upsetting, enlightening, and ultimately hopeful—driven by the insight and humor of Salzman’s voice and by the intelligence, candor, and strength of his students, whose writing appears throughout the book—True Notebooks is itself a reward of the self-expression Mark Salzman teaches: a revelatory meditation on the process, power, and meaning of writing.


From the Hardcover edition.

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Product details

  • Library Binding: 330 pages
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1439551707
  • ISBN-13: 978-1439551707
  • Product Dimensions: 20.1 x 13.2 x 2.3 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (2 customer reviews)

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Review

'I devoured this book. It's not only the notebooks of juvenile offenders that are true (and insightful and poignant and very funny) but the account of the odyssey of their writing teacher as well. It's all soft underbelly in these pages, human beings at their best against great odds, searching for redemption.' Sister Helen Prejean, author of Dead Man Walking 'Early in the book, a friend of Salman's complains that there are no good books about juvenile delinquents. Well, there's one now - one that examines a broken system with grace, wit, and gripping storytelling.' Booklist --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

About the Author

Mark Salzman is the author of Iron and Silk, an account of his two years in China; three novels, The Laughing Sutra, The Soloist (finalist for the Los Angeles Times Book Prize), Lost in Place, a memoir and the bestselling Lying Awake. He lives in Los Angeles with his wife. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Poignant Look At Youths In Trouble 22 Jan 2004
Format:Hardcover
TRUE NOTEBOOKS is author Mark Salzman’s account of his teaching writing to juvenile offenders in a California youth detention facility. Salzman almost stumbles upon this volunteer opportunity due to a case of writer’s block. In the late 1990’s, Salzman was at work on a novel that included a juvenile offender and he wanted to make the character more life-like. Salzman hoped that watching a friend teach writing to young prisoners would help, so he went to observe a class. Before he knew it, he was recruited to start a class of his own.
A strength of the book is that Salzman does not jump into the role of a social worker but rather remains a writer throughout the book. At times I was reminded of the writing of Jonathan Kozol. Like Kozol, Salzman brings the people in the book to life and the reader feels an instant connection with them. This includes not only the young offenders, but also the staff of the center, and two staff members he especially admired: Sr. Janet Harris and Mr. Sills. Yet the book is more than a piece of journalism or a stereotypical “year in the life of a juvenile detention facility.” Salzman uses his gifts as a writer, gifts demonstrated in his fictional works, which enable the book to flow. Though the book could easily become too sentimental, Salzman steers clear of this temptation. He never has any illusions that he is changing the world, but he does realize that what he does touches young lives. He has sympathy for the young people he works with, but he also realizes that these are young men who have committed very serious crimes, and some of them would do the same thing again. In the end the reader has a better understanding of the way in which writing and sharing our writing can help us connect with our truer selves.
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Format:Hardcover
I have read a number of books written by this author and I have thoroughly enjoyed them all. This book is no exception. Salzman wrote this book after he had taught a writing class at a juvenile correction facility in Los Angeles. The young men he taught were high-risk offenders and had been members of violent street gangs in the city. The book tells about the classes and the essays these kids produce. We get to know the characters,their lives and their innermost thoughts. There are so many poignant and sad revelations here, but the writing isn't sentimental or maudlin in any way. Also, we never forget that these young writers have comitted very serious crimes. Their stories are a sad indictment of the poverty of the ghetto culturally,spiritually and materially.
I can't recommend this book highly enough.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
Amazon.com: 4.6 out of 5 stars  72 reviews
31 of 31 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A favorite writer turns his gaze 1 Jan 2004
By bensmomma - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
I have always loved Mark Salzman's writing; he brings a deep respect and appreciation of the humanity of his characters to the page. Maybe that sounds easy to do when you're writing about, say, the spiritual life of a cloistered nun, as he did in his recent novel "Lying Awake."
In "True Notebooks," you might think he has taken on too big a task: he wants you to understand and appreciate the imprisoned Los Angeles teenagers he supervises in the "Inside Out Writers" program in LA Central jail. He does this by describing a year or more of biweekly readings of his jailhouse writers group. Inmates come, write, live out the details of their cases, and then, sadly, eventually disappear into the adult justice system.
He doesn't sugarcoat or sentimentalize these kids' stories--he understands and acknowledges the pain their crimes have caused, and he writes about their victims too. But by doing such a marvelous job showing how his subjects grow and change through their experiences, he forces you to see them as real and human. You will be astonished and saddened by the quality of their writing, and hold your own children closer as a result.
19 of 20 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A truly moving read 1 Oct 2003
By A Customer - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
Salzman's latest is my favorite of his so far. It is not some glossy "To Sir, With Love" or "Dangerous Minds" but a real, insightful glimpse into the world of juvenile delinquents, showing them at their most vulnerable. Their stories (in their own words) are depressing, funny, heart wrenching and violent - but all are brutally honest. Their writings are framed by Salzman's thoughtful and spare prose; without judging these troubled kids he helps us appreciate how they became who they are. It is not a hopeful book, but it does build compassion and understanding, which is much more useful than hope. It is a fantastic book.
18 of 19 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A book for writers, readers, and humans 1 Sep 2004
By Paul F. Johnson - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
I'll admit my expectations were not high when I began this book, but my interest in teaching writing to young people in all situations propelled me forward. I was expecting this to turn into some goopy do-gooder account of letting violent crime youth offenders get in touch with their warm and fuzzy feelings.

I was wrong.

Not wrong because these kids didn't use writing to explore their feelings but wrong because I had preconceptions about how these types of participative journalism/nonfiction accounts often play out. Salzman does something very artful and human with this work -- he gets out of the way and lets the story unfold through the words of the kids he teaches and the people who are charged with their care. It is not until the end that the author begins to explore his part in what is happening.

Salzman's handling of the final third of this book should be required study for any aspiring nonfiction author (or novelist for that matter). You may read it to admire his literary skill or you may simply read it to feel your heart pound a little harder as you appreciate the privilege it is to get to know some of the people in this book through the eyes of an artist.
12 of 12 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Writer's Block Can Make A Difference In Someone's Life 8 Jan 2004
By Timothy Kearney - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
TRUE NOTEBOOKS is author Mark Salzman's account of his teaching writing to juvenile offenders in a California youth detention facility. Salzman almost stumbles upon this volunteer opportunity due to a case of writer's block. In the late 1990's, Salzman was at work on a novel that included a juvenile offender and he wanted to make the character more life-like. Salzman hoped that watching a friend teach writing to young prisoners would help, so he went to observe a class. Before he knew it, he was recruited to start a class of his own.
A strength of the book is that Salzman does not jump into the role of a social worker but rather remains a writer throughout the book. At times I was reminded of the writing of Jonathan Kozol. Like Kozol, Salzman brings the people in the book to life and the reader feels an instant connection with them. This includes not only the young offenders, but also the staff of the center, and two staff members he especially admired: Sr. Janet Harris and Mr. Sills. Yet the book is more than a piece of journalism or a stereotypical "year in the life of a juvenile detention facility." Salzman uses his gifts as a writer, gifts demonstrated in his fictional works, which enable the book to flow. Though the book could easily become too sentimental, Salzman steers clear of this temptation. He never has any illusions that he is changing the world, but he does realize that what he does touches young lives. He has sympathy for the young people he works with, but he also realizes that these are young men who have committed very serious crimes, and some of them would do the same thing again. In the end the reader has a better understanding of the way in which writing and sharing our writing can help us connect with our truer selves. Perhaps even more importantly, the book shows the difference we can make when we do reach out to others, knowing that the act of reaching out is what matters most.
It will be easy for some people to push a book like this aside and dismiss it as a somewhat liberal, do-gooder tract, but hopefully this will not happen in too many cases. Teachers and youth workers will probably find this book fascinating. The book could also be a warning to writers who suffer from writer's block: beware-you never know what you could be getting yourself into when you research your works!
9 of 9 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Few books have moved me to tears like this one. 13 Dec 2003
By Jennifer L.G. Barnes - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
Mark Salzman deserves kudos for the honest portrait he has drawn of his time teaching creative writing to inmates in L.A. County's juvenile hall. What I appreciated most about the book is the way it exposes our country's failings toward at-risk youth without being preachy or overbearing. It presents individual situations and allows the reader to draw their own conclusions about what is wrong with the juvenile correction system in America. I am a voracious reader of both fiction and non-fiction, as well as an emotional person, but very, very few books have moved me to tears and laughter, sometimes within a few moments of each other. This one did: it reminded me of how important human connection is to each of us, as well as the power of caring to heal damaged souls. Mr. Salzman was clearly moved by his time with the kids in his class, and it shows in his spare, clean writing about his experiences, as well as his descriptions of the inmates' relationships and methods of communication and self-protection. Included are examples of the writing done by his students; some of them will make you laugh, and some will break your heart. I highly recommend this book.
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