Friday, July 20, 2007

'The Glass Castle' worth the loss of sleep


I can't say I wasn't warned.

When a colleague offered to loan me the Jeannette Walls memoir, The Glass Castle, she said several readers before me had reported disrupted personal schedules and lost sleep. The book is that riveting.

Now bleary eyed, I can report that she was right. I stayed up well past my bedtime, set aside my own writing project and took in telecasts of a Chicago Cubs night game this week with only an occasional glance.

Presented in concise chapters and written with expert simplicity and clarity, the memoir focuses on the incredible story of Walls' first 18 years as a member of a worse-than-dirt-poor family. As reviewer Lucianne Goldberg put it, "Romulus and Remus had a better upbringing."

Though the children rarely had enough to eat -- Jeannette would secretly 'dumpster dive' through her classmates' trash to get some lunch -- they somehow acquired and maintained a hunger for knowledge.

The adults used the sink-or-swim method of parenting. The mother, a wannabe artist, was educated but disconnected from her parental responsibilities. Wherever the family lived -- and it was usually in squalor and one step ahead of the police and bill collectors -- the father was the Town Drunk. He was full of big ideas and false promises, including building The Glass Castle. Yet, somehow, the parents imparted enough information, experiences, education and philosophy that their children made successes of themselves (while the adults continued a downward spiral). Eventually, the Walls children left home and went out on their own before they finished high school.

Walls, now a gossip columnist for MSNBC.com, worked her way to Park Avenue in New York, the same city where her parents lived, by their own choice and actions, the homeless existence.

I recommend The Glass Castle. But I also recommend that you not start reading it until you have a major block of time. You won't want to do anything else until you finish it!

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