BookBrowse Reviews Teacher Man by Frank McCourt

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Teacher Man

A Memoir

by Frank McCourt

Teacher Man by Frank McCourt X
Teacher Man by Frank McCourt
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  • First Published:
    Nov 2005, 272 pages
    Paperback:
    Sep 2006, 272 pages

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The third volume of Frank McCourt's memoirs, following Angela's Ashes and 'Tis

From the book jacket: Nearly a decade ago Frank McCourt became an unlikely star when, at the age of sixty-six, he burst onto the literary scene with Angela's Ashes, the Pulitzer Prize-winning memoir of his childhood in Limerick, Ireland. Then came 'Tis, his glorious account of his early years in New York.

Now, here at last, is McCourt's long-awaited book about how his thirty-year teaching career shaped his second act as a writer. Teacher Man is also an urgent tribute to teachers everywhere. In bold and spirited prose featuring his irreverent wit and heartbreaking honesty, McCourt records the trials, triumphs and surprises he faced in public high schools around New York City. His methods anything but conventional, McCourt creates a lasting impact on his students through imaginative assignments (he instructs one class to write "An Excuse Note from Adam or Eve to God"), singalongs (featuring recipe ingredients as lyrics), and field trips (imagine taking twenty-nine rowdy girls to a movie in Times Square.

For McCourt, storytelling itself is the source of salvation, and in Teacher Man the journey to redemption -- and literary fame -- is an exhilarating adventure. 

Comment: Why is Frank McCourt a publishing sensation when the memoirs of thousands of others lie forlorn and forgotten at the bottom of a drawer under a pile of rejection letters?   A large part of it is due to the simple and undeniable quality of his writing, but another part is down to that mysterious process known as luck; a manuscript arrives on the desk of just the right publisher at just the time when he or she is interested in reading such a thing, and subsequently is published at a time when the reading public are perfectly primed to embrace the book.

There surely must have been tales of surviving a childhood in 1930s Ireland before Angela's Ashes, and there've certainly been plenty since, but none that I can recall having caught the public's imagination in the way McCourt's first volume of memoirs did.

As McCourt himself says, 'When I taught in New York City high schools for thirty years no one but my students paid me a scrap of attention. In the world outside the school I was invisible. Then I wrote a book about my childhood and became mick of the moment. I hoped the book would explain family history to McCourt children and grandchildren. I hoped it might sell a few hundred copies and I might be invited to have discussions with book clubs. Instead it jumped onto the best-seller list and was translated into thirty languages and I was dazzled.

Now, aged 75, McCourt is back with the third and final volume of his memoirs, covering his 30 years as a teacher, in New York City's public high schools.  As Publishers Weekly puts it, 'McCourt's many fans will of course love this book, but it also should be mandatory reading for every teacher in America. And it wouldn't hurt some politicians to read it, too.'

As always, you can decide for yourself whether it's just the book you're looking for by reading an extensive excerpt at BookBrowse, where you will also find excerpts and reviews of his earlier books, Angela's Ashes, and 'Tis.

This review was originally published in November 2005, and has been updated for the September 2006 paperback release. Click here to go to this issue.



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