Book review: The Natty Professor: A Master Class on Mentoring, Motivating, and Making It Work!, by Tim Gunn

Gunn Natty ProfessorGunn, Tim (March 24, 2015). The Natty Professor: A Master Class on Mentoring, Motivating, and Making It Work! 272 pages. Gallery Books. $25. ISBN: 978-1476780061. Hardcover.

This is a review of the audiobook as read by the author.

Tim Gunn has been a pop culture figure since the first season of Project Runway premiered in 2004. In the last ten years, he’s served as mentor on 13 seasons of Project Runway, hosted two other television series, been a voice actor on Sofia the First, and published three books. However, before all that, he was a classroom educator for 31 years at the Parson’s School of Design. This book describes his experience in the classroom over that time and his experiences with teaching in a wide variety of environments.

The book takes a five-part approach to Gunn’s teaching philosophy which combines into the acronym TEACH: truth-telling, empathy, asking, cheerleading, and hoping. Each section is a series of short essays about Gunn’s life and work that center around these concepts and what they mean to him in being a successful mentor and teacher. Additionally, the book is interspersed with quotes from people around the country talking about what made their favorite teachers great. The book also details several moments of LGBT interest in Gunn’s life: his coming out process after a serious suicide attempt in his late teens, his comments related to trans model in the fashion world, and his thoughts on diversity.

Overall, the book is warm and funny and engaging. Though the stories are told from Gunn’s perspective (so I sometimes wondered if the story had another side), he comes off as charming and genteel with a serious interest in education and bettering the youth of tomorrow. As someone who doesn’t formally teach, I have an enormous respect for anyone who has done that kind of work, and the effort that goes into classroom’s daily comes across through many of these stories.

This book’s largest weakness probably lies in its structure. The stories are almost universally engaging and interesting, but they sometimes only possess a passing relationship to the section that they are in. If each section of the book is about exemplifying a different part of Gunn’s five-part teaching strategy, then this tenuousness hurts that message. However, it is more than made up for by the wide-range of stories included that span decades of his life and work.

This book is recommended for any library that collects pop culture biographies or memoirs. Any reader that is a fan of Gunn’s or enjoys humorous memoirs may enjoy this title.

On a side note: The audiobook is read by the author. I have a special love in my heart for audiobooks read by the author, and Gunn does a good job with the performance of this text.
John Mack Freeman

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