I avoided this book like the plague for as long as I could until my brother-in-law bought it for me last Christmas. Many people told me I would love it because it was basically my life (without the illicit behavior, of course), which is why I tried to keep away. However, my loyalty to my wife’s brother dictated I make use of his gift, and so read it I did.
I’ve been teaching high school English for about six years now. Sometimes I love it, sometimes I hate it. I hoped McCourt’s memoir detailing his experiences as an English teacher for thirty years would serve inspirational and motivate me to press on. It didn’t.
I think it’s because of this that the book rather succeeds. He doesn’t pull any punches. He talks about how teaching can completely wear you away to a shadow of your former self, but he also talks about those triumphs that occasionally take place in the classroom. Best of all, he doesn’t give a fairy tale version of what teaching is like. He doesn’t pretend he was super-teacher with no personal problems of his own. In fact, he is quite candid in talking about affairs and other inappropriate behavior, both in and out of the classroom.
I know memoirs can be juiced up a bit, but I think this is about as true to life as a memoir can get for a retired teacher looking back over a thirty year career. I think everyone should read this book to, if nothing else, get some idea of what it’s like to be on the other side of the desk.
For some reason, and I don’t know why, I had it in my head that Angela’s Ashes was about Frank McCourt and his brothers returning to Ireland as adults and fumbling about as they tried to decide how to dispose of their cremated mother’s ashes.
Angela’s Ashes is actually a memoir essentially detailing Frank McCourt’s life from the age of three through nineteen.
Born into a life of poverty, McCourt’s immigrant parents decide to return to Ireland. Unfortunately, conditions are actually worse for them in Ireland. Add to the equation that McCourt’s father is an alcoholic who thinks nothing of drinking away what little money they come across while his family starves … well, the book gets more than a little depressing.
And that’s the real magic of McCourt’s writing. For as awful as things are (and they get pretty awful), McCourt’s wicked sense of humor has you laughing at things that shouldn’t be the least bit funny. I actually felt guilty at times as I couldn’t help but chuckle at McCourt’s description or use of dialogue.
Make no mistake, however, like in his memoir Teacher Man, McCourt does not try to deceive us into thinking he’s the hero of the story. He’s tough on everyone, but he’s toughest on himself. He reports to us misdeeds and lewd thoughts that most of us would never dream of sharing, and that sort of honesty is quite refreshing.
Though funny, the book was also so disturbing (especially McCourt’s father) that I really wanted to get through it as fast as I could. I absolutely appreciate both McCourt’s humor and charismatic writing, but I won’t lie to you and say this was one of my favorite reads. But, life is hard and disturbing for many people, and my perspective of the world improved thanks to the Pulitzer Prize winning Angela’s Ashes.