The Blackboard Jungle

imgres“He had never stopped a rape before, except by changing his mind, and he found his role of ‘protector of the virgin’ a difficult one to assume.”

The Blackboard Jungle is set in a vocational high school in the fifties and shows the journey, over the course of a single school year, of a new idealistic teacher, Richard Dadier. He’s a simple man who just wants to teach, and who believes he can reach a class of undisciplined teenagers: all he needs to do, he thinks, is find a way to engage them.

At first it seems as if there’s not much in the way of plot to hold the reader’s attention, but Evan Hunter (better known as crime writer Ed McBain) utilises every skill in his arsenal to grasp the audience and keep them interested throughout, using a number of emotionally gruelling moments to explore his themes of redemption, faith and hopelessness.

Aside from a collection of gripping classroom scenes, there’s a running subplot with a seductive femme fatale (another teacher in his department) who continuously attempts to lure the main character into bed. Richard Dadier, whose wife is pregnant and rarely “in the mood” has to fight his urges and curb the woman’s advances, and Hunter paints the scenario in such an evocative way that we’re able to feel the character’s internal conflict: lusting and wanting, but not wanting at the same time.

There are many more moments like this in the book: scenes that seem inconsequential on the surface, but effectively tug at the reader’s emotions and fill out the picture of Dadier’s life of frustration.

And to wrap it all up, the author doesn’t cop-out with an inspirational ending where all the students learn the error of their ways and turn into A-grade pupils. It’s more like a portrait of what it was like to be a teacher in that time period — and these days too. The book is no less prevalent today as I’m sure it was then. 

It’s raw and real and will bring most readers back to their school days.

In short: this book is essential reading.

For everyone.


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Joshua_coyne_violinThe Violin Prodigy 
(A Lesson In Rejection)

Originally appearing in Lawrence Block’s writing guide Telling Lies for Fun and Profit, the fable below of a violin prodigy who throws away his dreams based on the harsh words of a famous music teacher is both inspirational and reassuring. Every aspiring writer (or musician, or actor, or whatever) should pin this above their bed and read it every night, just to remind them that rejection is necessary and shouldn’t deter them on their journey to success. 

The Fire Within

A young violin prodigy was walking down the street one day trying to decide whether or not to pursue a life in music when he came upon the most famous violin teacher in the world. Scarcely believing his luck, he stopped the great teacher and asked if he could play for him, thinking he would abandon his dream of a career in music if the great teacher told him he was wasting his time.

The great teacher nodded silently for him to begin. So he played, beads of sweat soon appearing on his forehead, and when he finished, he was certain he’d given his finest performance.

But the great maestro only shook his head sadly and said, “You lack the fire.”

The young musician was devastated. He returned home and announced his intention to abandon the violin. Instead, he entered the world of business and turned out to have such a talent for it that in a few short years he found himself richer than he’d ever imagined possible.

Almost a decade later he found himself walking down another street in another city when he happened to spot the great teacher again. He rushed over to him.

“I’m so sorry to bother you,” he said, “and I’m sure you don’t remember me, but I stopped you on the street years ago to play my violin for you, and I just want to thank you. Because of your advice I abandoned my greatest love, the violin, painful as it was, and became a businessman, and today enjoy great success, which I owe all to you. But one thing you must tell me: how did you know I didn’t have what it takes? How did you know all those years ago I lacked the fire?”

The great teacher shook his head sadly and said only, “You don’t understand. I tell everyone who plays for me they lack the fire. If you had the fire, you wouldn’t have listened.”


There you have it. Short and sweet. Just remember: your opinion is the only one that matters. Believe in yourself regardless of whoever else tries to tear you down. A thousand people can call you talentless or a hack, but only you can turn off that fire from within. So pursue your dreams, claw your way to the top of that slippery icy mountain, and slam your flag into the summit.

Then use all of that fire in your belly to set the world ablaze.


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