Friday, January 06, 2006

Teacher Man by Frank McCourt

My husband taught me to be suspicious of any book where the author's name is in a larger font than the book's title on the cover. This is one of those books. I'm not saying that it was bad, but be warned: this is no "Angela's Ashes".

Ostensibly an account of McCourt's 30-year teaching career, "Teacher Man" rambles around, covering some ground that's familiar to me after reading McCourt's other two memoirs, containing a few too many mentions of his sexual encounters, and lingering on the author's total lack of self-confidence. The best parts of the book are his stories about incidents in the classroom, and fortunately there are many of these (however, although presented in a somewhat chronological order, they are quite disjointed.) It's clear that he doesn't believe teachers get much respect in the world, and his accounts of the way parents and school administrators reacted to his teaching methods show how hard it could be to stay positive about trying new things with the teenagers he was supposed to get excited about English literature.

On the whole, I'm left with the impression that McCourt was a creative and brilliant English teacher, and I guess that in spite of his overly humble and modest way of presenting himself, McCourt thinks so too. After a rich and challenging 70-odd years of life, I think he's entitled to look back and feel like maybe he did something worthwhile in those years before he wrote the book that finally got him some respect.

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