by Bel Kaufman
It isn’t often that I actively look forward to returning to a book I’m reading. Don’t get me wrong; I love books, but these days there are so many options competing for my leisure-time attention. Options like Netflix, music, regular TV, the Internet ….
But I went out of my way to read Up the Down Staircase, which, nearly 60 years after its publication, is still a joy.
Kaufman’s 1964 novel, chronicling four months of a rookie teacher’s life at a New York City high school, introduced a groundbreaking format. It’s largely a collection of fictional inter-office memos, student homework assignments, personal letters, and items from the class “suggestion box.” This collage of written memorabilia — loaded with rib-tickling malaprops from both kids and adults — paints an indelible picture of English teacher Sylvia Barrett’s introduction to Calvin Coolidge High School.
But the story is in no way all fun and games. Kaufman deftly juxtaposes humor with all the heartbreak and frustrations faced by idealistic teachers and underprivileged kids at the school.
A confession: Staircase is a font of deep nostalgia for Yours Truly. Back in the day, I was cast as one of Sylvia’s students in our high school’s stage production of the book.
I played, naturally, class comedian “Lou Martin.”
© 2010-2024 grouchyeditor.com (text only)