I was sitting in a taxi, wondering if I had overdressed for the evening, when I looked out the window and saw Mom rooting through a Dumpster.
Jeannette Walls lives comfortably. She’s a married woman, a successful gossip reporter, and a strong individual. She knows what she wants out of life. And yet she has a secret.
Her parents live on the street.
Thus begins her powerful memoir of a childhood: The Glass Castle. Jeannette’s childhood is full of pain, but also love. Jeannette and her siblings rise to success despite their environment. Her story shows that love is almost enough to get by.
Jeannette’s first memory is when she is three years old: her dress is on fire as she cooks herself hot dogs. From that memory on, her family is constantly wandering, searching for comfort and safety together, a place where they can have a life. But despite their best intentions, Jeannette’s parents mess up. Her father cannot remain sober, and her mother cannot accept the responsibility for the four children she is expected to rear. The four Walls children raise themselves successfully, in dire poverty, despite the odds.
Jeannette’s childhood was full of neglect, hunger, poverty, unsanitary living conditions, and physical and sexual abuse. And yet she writes a memoir full of power. I don’t usually like memoirs, because I dislike the attitude of “pity me” the authors seem to expect of me. But Jeannette lacked a “woe is me” attitude in her memoir. She writes the facts and leaves it for us. She doesn’t feel sorry for herself, and she doesn’t expect me to either.
“The Glass Castle” refers to the castle Jeannette’s father promises to build her when he makes his fortune. He loves her and wants to provide for the family. She trusts him. And yet, it is evident that he will never be able to achieve his dreams for his family: he lacks the ability to actually succeed in anything as he retreats to the comfort of alcohol.
I found The Glass Castle eye-opening. I was shocked to see how a family in dire poverty lived in the modern era. I was shocked to learn the attitudes of Jeannette’s own family about their situation. I was disgusted by her parent’s actions and decisions, and yet I was amazed as Jeannette continued to love them unconditionally. Her story was painful and beautiful at the same time.
In an interview in 2005, Jeannette was asked what she wanted to change about her childhood. Her response blew me away:
I wouldn’t change anything. I don’t wish that anything had been different, but I don’t want to relive it. I don’t regret that I went through this experience because I ended up at a place that I’m happy with, so however I got there is fine by me. However, you could not pay me enough money to go through all that again, and I wouldn’t raise a child that way myself either, obviously.
Interviews with Jeannette Walls and Reviews of The Glass Castle
- MSN summary of The Glass Castle, with interview of Jeannette Walls
- The Gothamist interview with Jeannette Walls
- Interview with Conversations with Famous Writers book blog in 2005
- SmallWorld Reads
If you reviewed The Glass Castle on your site, leave a link in the comments and I’ll add it here.
Blog Action Day 2008: Poverty
I read The Glass Castle a few months ago, before I began blogging about reading. I’m writing this review now in honor of Blog Action Day 2008. Poverty is the theme this year. (I found out about it rather late; otherwise, I would have told you sooner to join in.)
What can you do to take action against poverty, today?
Donate to the United Nations World Food Programme.
Think about what you have eaten today. Oatmeal for breakfast? A sandwich for lunch? A bag of potato chips? I suspect that if you’re reading this blog, you aren’t starving to death. And when I think about poverty, I think about hunger. While the World Food Programme is not specifically fighting poverty, it is fighting hunger. I feel donations help those who are in great need.
Now, I’m not rolling in wealth these days, but I’m going to copy Maw Books‘ wonderful idea of sponsoring via comments. I’ll donate 10 cents to World Food Programme for every (non-spam*) comment I receive on any post of Rebecca Reads today, October 15, 12:01 a.m. to 11:59 p.m. USA CDT for the rest of October. *”Non-spam” means a comment that relates to the post and doesn’t link to unrelated sites.
Alternatively, if you buy a book through my Amazon store anytime in October, I’ll donate all the proceeds I earn (which, I think, is 4%) to the World Food Programme. Every book that I review on Rebecca Reads (plus many more) is available at my Amazon store.
You could also fight poverty by finding another charity of your choice that is working to fight poverty and hunger. Let us know your preferred charity in the comments. There are so many out there.