He misquotes Pope: "Know thyself, presume not God to scan/ The proper study of mankind is man" (Pope's version is Know then thyself ...).
He is very eloquent about teaching in his usual rhythmic 'I am Irish' style. There are moments which are funny and moments which are interesting but I didn't catch my breath until McCourt the teacher is interrogating a rich kid in his creative writing class about his dinner. He asks who cooked it. The maid. And served it. He asks about the table - mahogany - and the chandelier and the music. Not Mozart. Telemann. "He's one of my father's favourites," says the student. And where is your father? Then comes the brutal pay-off line: "He's in Sloan-Kettering Hospital with lung cancer and my mother is with him all he time because he's expected to die."
Instantly the world of privilege of the spoilt little rich kid dissolves into a world of despair and a little kid.
Every teacher has had a moment like that. Mine was when I asked, rhetorically, what Sabir's mother would say if she found out what he had done to be told, through tears, that his mother wouldn't say a word because her windpipe had been crushed in a car accident and it was still uncertain whether she would survive. I put my arm around Sabir and hugged him till the tears subsided.
Although at the start of the book I thought it was McCourt churning out the old Irish brogue formula that powered his previous two books (but Angela's Ashes rather more than 'Tis), when he started describing his Creative Writing classes at Stuyvesant High and the unusual (bizarre!) strategies he adopted (eg getting the students to sing recipes) his love of teaching and his characterisation of the kids he taught caught me and held me in a magical enchantment. By the end I loved the book.
December 2011; 258 pages
Other memoirs reviewed in this blog include (in order of how much I enjoyed them, favourites first):
- Memoir of the Bobotes: by Joyce Cary: a brilliantly written memoir of the author's time as a medical officer during the Balkan Wars (pre World War I): the writer became a novelist and his craft shows; full of humour and keen observation
- My Family and Other Animals (and the sequels) by Gerald Durrell: Beautiful descriptions and hilarious accounts of an eccentric family living on the Greek Island of Corfu between WWI and WWII
- A Pattern of Islands by Arthur Grimble: a well-written, frequently humourous account of Pacific paradise
- Bus Stop Symi by William Travis: the account of three years spent on the remote and at the time unspoilt Greek island of Symi: well-written, charming and amusing
- Surprised by Joy by C S Lewis: an account of the famous author's life, mostly from the perspective of his Christianity: beautifully written
- A Death in the Family by Karl-Ove Knausgard: the first volume of a series in which the author, in the guise of writing novels, portrays real people with real names: the writing is brilliant
- Beautiful People by Simon Doonan: The story of a young gay man: well-written with moments of marvellous humour
- Teacher Man by Frank McCourt: the third volume in the series that started with Angela's Ashes
- The Politics of Washing: Real Life in Venice by Polly Coles: a reasonably well-written account of a year spent living in Venice
- A Detail on the Burma Front by Winifred Beaumont: a nurse's story from one of the theatres of World War II: more compassion and humour: reasonably well-written
- Whatever Happened to Margo: Margaret Durrell's account of running a boarding house in Bournemouth: sometimes muddled but often funny
- Rabbit Stew and a Penny or Two by Maggie Smith-Bendell: an interesting and reasonably well-written account of a Romani Gypsy childhood
- Not for the faint-hearted by John Stevens: the autobiography of a senior police officer; probably best for those most interested in this sort of story
- Forty Years Catching Smugglers by Malcolm Nelson: the memoirs of a senior customs officer; probably best for those most interested in this sort of story
- Strumpet City by James Plunkett: a book about the poor in Dublin in the early 20th Century
- Teacher Man by Frank McCourt: the sequel to Angela's Ashes: an Irish exile in New York
- Dubliners by James Joyce: the classic short stories
- Castle Rackrent by Maria Edgworth: a classic first published in 1800
- Paddy Clarke Ha Ha Ha by Roddy Doyle: a boy grows up in Ireland
- The Spinning Heart by Donal Ryan: set in the recession of the early 21st Century