Monday, May 5, 2014

Strings Attached, Joanne Lipman & Melanie Kupchynsky

Strings Attached: One Tough Teacher and the Gift of Great Expectations


Joanne Lipman, Melanie Kupchynsky

Category: Nonfiction: Memoir; Music

Synopsis: Joanne Lipman and Melanie Kupshynsky share the story of learning to play music under the intimidating Mr. K (Melanie’s father).

Date finished: 7 April 2014

Rating: ****

I’d read stellar reviews of this book. And the reviews threw around words like “inspiring” and “poignant” and “must read.” So, in case you’ve read these reviews too, I want to clarify. I would not consider this book inspiring or life-affirming, and “poignant must read” might be a stretch. I like my “poignant must reads” to be happy. And happy was missing from this book. My adjectives would be “joyless,” “resolute,” and “tragic.”

Mr. K was a bully. He used intimidation, corporal punishment, and fear to get results. The fact that so many of his students appreciated him as adults is a little surprising to me. He pushed them to be better, yes, and I know that present-day methods of teaching using inclusivity and political correctness aren’t yielding great results either, but his constant belittling and harsh criticism turned me off. His highest compliment was “not bad.” How did so many kids thrive on that? He was not a likable character, so the book had to be carried by something else.

That something else was the narrative thread. Although the book was full of loneliness, pain, sickness, and tragedy—almost nothing happy happened in the entire book—it was infinitely readable. It even evolved into a mystery toward the end. The story was fascinating, in the way that a car accident is fascinating. You might rubberneck to see what horrible thing was happening, but afterwards you think you shouldn’t have taken that in.

That’s how I felt about this book. I went in for the story of a tough love teacher who is respected because he respects, and I came away with a heavy feeling of disconnect. There was just too much discontent, too much conditional love.

The writing was very good, but the switch in narrator from Joanne to Melanie really got in the way. I would have preferred a single narrative reference point.

I rated this based on the writing and readability.

Would you recommend this to a friend?

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