November 21, 2005 12:00 PM

by Frank McCourt

Before he became a hot new writer—at age 66—with his 1996 autobiography Angela’s Ashes, McCourt spent three decades in New York City public schools, engaged in what he calls “the great American drama”: the “clash of adolescence with middle age.” Mostly he ignored the lesson plan and told stories, he confesses in this delightful third memoir. Slipping from one warmly funny anecdote to the next, he mocks himself more than anyone else, but it’s clear that he was an inspired teacher. Once he got a rowdy class so interested in an assignment that they lingered after the bell (the assignment: “write an excuse note from Adam or Eve to God”); another time he took 29 rambunctious teens to see Hamlet, occasioning one to remark of Ophelia, “Everybody be pickin’ on that poor girl and she not even black. How come?”

Before McCourt even got his teaching certificate, a friend gave him the secret to success: “A muckraking book from inside the school system…. Teach a year or two, complain about the terrible state of the schools, and you have a big seller.” Decades later McCourt will have that big seller—writing exactly the opposite kind of book.


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