Tuesday, August 31, 2010

2009 World Fantasy Award Finalists Announced

The World Fantasy Awards nominees have been announced, and local (for a while, at least) author and past Alabama Bound attendee and speaker Caitlin Kiernan is included for her book The Red Tree. Kiernan was born in Dublin, Ireland, but spent much of her childhood in Leeds, Alabama, and her teen years in Trussville. She worked at the Red Mountain Museum and attended The University of Alabama at Birmingham to study geology and paleontology. She started writing fiction in 1992 and published her first novel, Silk, in 1998.

The awards will be presented at the World Fantasy Convention in Columbus, Ohio, October 28-31, 2010.

Nominees for Best Novel:

The Red Tree by Caitlin Kiernan
In Great Waters by Kit Whitfield
Finch by Jeff VanderMeer
The City & The City by China Mieville
Blood of Ambrose by James Enge

Locus Online has the complete list of nominees.

Movie Review—The Unknown Woman (La sconosciuta)

Don’t let the plot of The Unknown Woman fool you into thinking it’s an Italian The Hand That Rocks the Cradle, because it’s not. Yes, a woman worms her way into a nanny job for the wealthy Adacher family through some devious means, but she has a good reason, and that reason is slowly revealed as Irena's past as a blonde hooker and her present as a mousy brunette converge.

In the Ukraine Irena worked as a prostitute for a sadistic pimp nicknamed Mold (he’s buried many bodies in his career, get it?), but she escaped with her life and something else equally important to her. In a small Italian town she rents an apartment across from the building where the Adacher’s live, and begins to gain access first to their building, then their apartment, and finally their lives.

As with any trauma victim, innocuous daily events can trigger painful memories. Images of Irena's past as a sex slave flash across the screen: masked and naked at an auction, hogtied and beaten, and eventually handed a duty that mixes kinky clients with one of Mold's new business ventures.

When Mold makes contact with Irena by cell phone and with his fists, her position with the Adachers is jeopardized. But now she's willing to finish something she started when she answered to the name of Georgia, because this time she has something worth dying—and living—for.

It's funny how some movies can have me rooting for unsavory characters (I always root for gangsters in gangster movies), and I was rooting for Irena all the way. Irena is not an evil woman, but she does some evil things to get what she wants. She is a survivor, and she wants the same thing for Thea when she discovers Thea is being bullied at school. There are some scenes where Irena uses some questionable methods bordering on child abuse to toughen up the fragile girl, but when the puzzle pieces of Irena's unfortunate life are locked together, I get it.

Giuseppe Tornatore (Cinema Paradiso) directed The Unknown Woman, a movie whose theme is violence against women. About Irena he says: "[She] is a woman who was subjected to violence, who was denied her femininity as a woman, who was also denied her maternity, who at a certain point in her life decides to take her maternity, her femininity back, and is ready to do whatever it is required, even to use the same language which she had been subjected to—the language of violence."

The Unknown Woman won seven awards and was nominated for four.

Monday, August 30, 2010

Tutor.com Career Webinar Series

Tutor.com logo
Tutor.com presents three career webinars this fall at the Birmingham Public Library. From finding writing resumes and finding jobs online to interviewing skills, these webinars cover topics essential to finding the job you want. Free of charge.

Central Library
Wednesday, September 29 at 2:00 p.m. in the Richard Arrington Auditorium
Find Hidden Job Leads Online and at the Library
There is a wealth of free and low-cost information available to job seekers. Learn what research and job information tools are available, both online and elsewhere, and how to incorporate these tools into your job search strategy.

Central Library
Wednesday, October 27 at 2:00 p.m. in the Richard Arrington Auditorium
Write a Resume That Gets the Job
Learn to write a resume that hiring managers will notice by transforming your lists of job duties into success stories. Find out how to write a powerful profile and skills summary, and how to prove that you have the “right stuff.”

Central Library
Wednesday, December 1 at 2:00 p.m. in the Richard Arrington Auditorium
Learn How to Interview Like a Pro
A great interview is vital to securing the job you want. Learn how to feel comfortable during an interview, the latest interviewing styles and techniques, and how to answer the top two interview questions that all job applicants are asked.

Course instructor Barbara Safani, owner of Career Solvers, has over fifteen years of experience in career management, recruiting, and executive coaching. She is a triple-certified resume writer, a six-time award winner in the international Toast of the Resume Industry competition, and her work has been featured in over two dozen resume writing and career management publications.

Friday, August 27, 2010

Scenes from Powderly's Grand Re-opening

On August 26, 2010, Powderly Branch Library held a Grand Re-opening.

Didn't make it to the grand re-opening?

Watch the video above to view some scenes from the Grand Re-opening, click here for a virtual tour of the updated and expanded building, or drop by Powderly Library to take a look.

eBooks Available Through JCLC

Overdrive logoDownloadable electronic books (eBooks) are now available for checkout at www.jclc.org. Up to five eBooks may be checked out with a valid library card for seven, fourteen, or twenty-one days. Download titles to a PC or MacIntosh, or an e-Reader such as the Sony Reader, the Barnes and Noble Nook, or Borders Kobo eReader. The Amazon Kindle and Apple iPad are not compatible for the library service.

The digital eBook collection was started by the Hoover Public Library. There are currently 698 titles to choose from, but the collection is expected to grow as more libraries in the cooperative add more eBooks.

For a list of compatible eBook readers, click here.

2010 US Open

US Open Tennis BallThe US Open starts in the Big Apple on Monday. This has been a very interesting tennis season and I can’t wait to see who emerges from the tournament with the trophy. Rafael Nadal took a break after his Wimbledon victory so he could be healthy for the hard court season. He didn’t get a chance to play in the Open last year due to injury, so he is hungry to win the Grand Slam title that has eluded him so far. He is also the French Open champion, so if he wins at Flushing Meadows, he will have 3 of 4 Grand Slam victories this season.

This summer, there has been a lot of speculation about whether Roger Federer’s best days are behind him. Since he only won one Grand Slam this year (Australian Open), people are talking like his career is over. Anyone who writes off Roger Federer will be doing it at his own risk. He lost the final to Andy Murray at the Rogers Cup in Toronto (5-7,5-7), but he played a tough match against Mardy Fish in Cincinnati. Neither could break the other’s serve until the third set when Federer broke serve to go up 5-4. It was all over then and he went on to beat Fish 6-7(5), 7-6(1), 6-4 at the Western & Southern Financial Group Masters Tournament.

You have to start any discussion of men’s tennis with Nadal and Federer but you can’t count out the Americans at the US Open. Mardy Fish had a great summer in the US Open Series. He won the Atlanta Tennis Championship and as I stated above, played a tough match against Federer in Cincinnati. Andy Roddick is another name to keep in mind. He made it to the quarterfinal in Atlanta and the semifinal in Cincinnati, so I’m sure he’s anxious to compete in another Grand Slam final. Grab your tennis rackets, flip on the TV and get ready for some great tennis.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Tour the "New" Powderly Library Virtually

Powderly Library

The Powderly Branch Library Grand Re-opening is today at noon.

Curious about Powderly Library's new look, but can't be there in person?

Take a virtual tour by clicking the image above.

The updated building features a community meeting room, new computer lab, expanded Books-by-Mail area, and contemporary furnishings.

See a related video from the Birmingham News here.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Food For Fines in September

Yes! We are doing it again.

During the month of September any Jefferson County library patron may bring in donations for our food drive and have overdue charges waived for participating.

Our food drive benefiting local food banks is open to anyone, even if that someone doesn't have overdue books.

For those with late materials however, this is a golden opportunity to take a bite out of library overdue charges and help someone else at the same time.

One dollar will be waived up to a maximum of $10 per patron for each dated canned or packaged food item the patron donates. These waived fees applies only to fines for overdue materials, not lost materials.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

BPL@Night @ Avondale Presents Farmer Jason

Farmer Jason
When internationally acclaimed singer-songwriter Jason Ringenberg created his family music character Farmer Jason in 2003, he had no idea he was launching the most successful creation of his storied career. What started out as a simple side project has grown into a world-touring bandwagon pulled by a tractor and a singing farmer. Climb aboard and grab a pitchfork–or a guitar!

Avondale Regional Branch Library
Tuesday, August 31
6:30 p.m.

Monday, August 23, 2010

The Slap Leads in Man Booker Sales

The SlapWell, with a title like The Slap, how could it not? I'm an opinionated person, and Australian writer Christos Tsiolkas' book sounds like something that could make me debate for hours. In fact, The Slap has sparked heated discussions across Australia since it was published in 2008.

The Slap narrates the point-of-view stories of a group of eight people who attended a barbecue where a man slapped a three-year-old child who was not his. The story touches on middle-class values, racism, machismo, domestic violence, and envy; it questions the loyalty of friends and family alike. The book has been accused of being misogynistic, but Tsiolkas explains that it's not the book that's misogynistic, but the "infantile men" in the book that are misogynistic.

The Slap has won five prizes and been short- and longlisted for several others.

Here is the longlist of Man Booker Prize 2010 nominees. The shortlist will be announced on September 7 and the winner on October 12.

Peter Carey, Parrot and Olivier in America
Emma Donoghue, Room
Helen Dunmore, The Betrayal
Damon Galgut, In a Strange Room
Howard Jacobson, The Finkler Question
Andrea Levy, The Long Song
Tom McCarthy, C
David Mitchell, The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet
Lisa Moore, February
Paul Murray, Skippy Dies
Rose Tremain, Trespass
Christos Tsiolkas, The Slap
Alan Warner, The Stars in the Bright Sky

Friday, August 20, 2010

Powderly Branch Library Grand Re-opening

Powderly Library
The Powderly Branch of the Birmingham Public Library will re-open on Thursday, August 26, at noon. Closed since July 2009 for renovation and expansion, the updated facility features a community meeting room, new computer lab, expanded Books-by-Mail area, and brightly colored contemporary furnishings. Please come by and visit our "new" library.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Brown Bag Lunch—Social Security and You

SS card
The Social Security Administration is responsible for the administration of retirement, disability, and auxiliary programs as approved by the Social Security Act. Social Security reaches almost every family, and at some point will touch the lives of nearly all Americans. This presentation is designed to introduce you to Social Security and to provide basic information to help you plan for you and your family's financial future. Wednesday, August 25, noon.

Feed your body and mind at BPL's Brown Bag Lunch programs. You bring the lunch and we'll bring the drinks. Wednesdays at noon in the Arrington Auditorium located on the 4th floor of the Linn-Henley Research Library, 2100 Park Place.

Rickwood Field Celebrates 100 Years

Happy 100th birthday to Rickwood Field!

Rickwood Field Resources
BPL Digital Collections: Newspaper and Magazine Articles
Birmingham News Photograph Gallery
Bhamwiki: Rickwood Field
Friends of Rickwood
Flickr Photographs

Birmingham Public Library Presents Annual Storyteller: Lee Bryan, That Puppet Guy!

The Big Bad Little Red Pig Show flyer
Atlanta based puppeteer, Lee Bryan "That Puppet Guy" is a nationally recognized touring artist who combines live vocal characterizations and songs with innovative puppet designs for wholesome family entertainment. The Atlanta Journal-Constitution calls Bryan a “playful mimic, a shameless punster, and a silly lyricist who's not afraid to take literary liberties in the name of a good rhyme.” Bring the kids for one—or more—of his shows at various Birmingham Public Library locations! All shows free.

Monday, September 20 – The Big, Bad, Little Red, Pig Show
Central Library 11:00 a.m.
East Ensley Branch 3:00 p.m.
Five Points West Branch 6:30 p.m.

Tuesday, September 21 – Princess and the Pea, Y’all
Titusville Branch 10:30 a.m.
Smithfield Branch 1:00 p.m.
Avondale Branch 6:30 p.m.

Wednesday, September 22 – The Big, Bad, Little Red, Pig Show
Springville Road Branch 10:00 a.m.
North Avondale Branch 1:00 p.m.
Wylam Branch 4:00 p.m.

Thursday, September 23 – Princess and the Pea, Y’all

North Birmingham Branch 10:30 a.m.
West End Branch 4:30 p.m.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

BPL Offers 1, 2, 3 Play with Me Early Literacy Program at Four Locations

1,2,3 Play with Me
1,2,3 Play with Me at North Birmingham

The Birmingham Public Library (BPL) is offering four sessions of the popular 1, 2, 3 Play with Me early literacy program this fall. As part of the nationally recognized Family Place Libraries network, each 1, 2, 3 Play with Me workshop offers five 90 minute programs featuring free play, an art activity, circle time, and great resources for parents including health information from experts. Spend quality time playing with your children in a safe, fun, and interactive environment. Centers include trucks and cars, puzzles and blocks, musical instruments, and much more! Contact one of the Family Place Libraries listed below for more information.

Avondale Regional Library
509 40th St. S, 35222-3309
(205) 226-4003
September 8-October 6 (Wednesdays)
10:00-11:30 a.m.

Smithfield Library
1 8th Ave. W, 35204-3724
(205) 324-8428
September 14-October 12 (Tuesdays)
10:00-11:30 a.m.

Springville Road Regional Library
1224 Old Springville Rd., 35215-7512
(205) 226-4081
October 7 – November 18 (Thursdays, No meeting October 21 or November 11)
10:00–11:30 a.m.

North Birmingham Regional Library
2501 31st Avenue North, Birmingham, Alabama 35207
October 20-November 17 (Wednesdays)
10:00-11:30 a.m.

Family Place Libraries™ are funded in part by a Project Development Grant from the Junior League of Birmingham.

Monday, August 16, 2010

BPL@Night—American Tribal Belly Dance Featuring the Devyani Dance Company

Megha Gavin is the director of the Birmingham-based Devyani Dance Center, a hub of international and ethnic dance styles. Over the last nine years, Devyani Dance Company has performed at countless festivals, weddings, corporate events, and private parties, and has been nominated for multiple cultural and artistic awards. Bring the whole family for a riveting performance of this ancient dance form!

Central Library, Atrium
Thursday, August 19
6:30 p.m.

BPL@Night is a series of high quality evening performances offered free-of-charge by Birmingham Public Library in an effort to bring enriching cultural programs to downtown Birmingham and the city’s neighborhoods. BPL@Night highlights local and regional performers that reflect the diversity of our community and draw from a wide range of personal experience. Through programs such as these, the library seeks to provide Birmingham citizens of all ages opportunities for entertainment, ongoing education, and personal growth.

Friday, August 13, 2010

BPL@Night—Rickwood Field: A Century in America's Oldest Ballpark

Rickwood Field: A Century in America's Oldest Ballpark
In chronicling Rickwood Field’s history, noted author and journalist Allen Barra tells of segregated baseball and the legendary Negro Leagues. Though Rickwood Field was once a place where the Ku Klux Klan held rallies, it has now become a symbol of hope and triumph that reflects the evolution of a city where baseball was, for decades, the sole connecting point between blacks and whites.

Central Library, Richard Arrington Auditorium
Tuesday, August 17
6:30 p.m.

BPL@Night is a series of high quality evening performances offered free-of-charge by Birmingham Public Library in an effort to bring enriching cultural programs to downtown Birmingham and the city’s neighborhoods. BPL@Night highlights local and regional performers that reflect the diversity of our community and draw from a wide range of personal experience. Through programs such as these, the library seeks to provide Birmingham citizens of all ages opportunities for entertainment, ongoing education, and personal growth.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Brown Bag Lunch—The Story of America’s Classic Ballparks

DVD cover
Relishing the glory days of unique baseball parks, this documentary relives the times with rare, major league film segments, period photos, and insightful comments from Hall of Fame players and announcers who share their inner most feelings about the parks, the game, and the fans. Wednesday, August 18, noon.

Feed your body and mind at BPL's Brown Bag Lunch programs. You bring the lunch and we'll bring the drinks. Wednesdays at noon in the Arrington Auditorium located on the 4th floor of the Linn-Henley Research Library, 2100 Park Place.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Backseat Saints Buzz

Backseat SaintsLast year it was Kathryn Stockett's The Help, this year it's Backseat Saints by Joshilyn Jackson. What do they have common? Buzz. Word of mouth has it that Backseat Saints is one of those books you'll be up reading right before your alarm clock goes off.

Backseat Saints is about a victim of domestic abuse living in the small Alabama town of Fruition. Left by her mother with an abusive father when she was 8, Rose Mae Lolley jumps from the frying pan into the fire when she runs off to Texas when she comes of age, smack dab into the arms of abusive an husband.

To cope with the abuse, Rose creates an alter ego in Ro, the "good girl" who acts the way she thinks her husband expects; Rose, the "bad girl," is obedient up to a point, but is not afraid to goad her husband to more violence.

Then a gypsy gives Rose a reading, and warns her that the only way out of her situation is to kill or be killed.

Joshilyn Jackson grew up on the beaches of Florida's Redneck Riviera, and now lives just outside of Atlanta, Georgia, with her husband and two children. Her first book was Gods in Alabama, followed by Between, Georgia, and The Girl Who Stopped Swimming. Rosa Mae Lolley had a tiny part in Gods in Alabama.

Reserve your copy of the novel Backseat Saints, or the audio. Not sure I can wait. I might have to crack open my wallet with a crowbar and spring for the Kindle version. Regardless, happy reading!

Eat, Pray, Love with Julia Roberts

On a book board I belong to, an Eat, Pray, Love discussion got a little heated between two camps: the camp that hated the self-indulgent story of a woman who runs for the hills instead of facing head-on the troubles in her life, and the camp that loved the true story of a woman who traveled the world to heal herself and ultimately others by sharing her memoir.

Elizabeth Gilbert was a married, successful 31-year-old writer who left her unfulfilling "good life" to travel to other countries, eating her way through Italy (Eat), getting in touch with her spiritual side in India (Pray), and falling in love in Indonesia (Love).

The movie Eat, Pray, Love starring Julia Roberts will be released on August 13. If Julia Roberts isn't one of your favorite actors, you might go just to gawk at her on the big screen and smirk at the ten pounds she claims to have gained eating pizza in Italy. But, then again, the joke will be on you. She's so tall you can't see the ten pounds, and she gained it by eating pizza...in Italy.

Thursday, August 05, 2010

September BPL@Night Features Gospel Music and Improv Theatre

BPL@Night logo
The Birmingham Public Library (BPL) will host local improv troupe Extemporaneous Theatre Company (ETC) and gospel singer L. Spenser Smith in its September BPL@Night programming line-up. ETC will offer a special performance at the Springville Road Library on Thursday, September 16, and Mr. Smith will perform music from his new album at the Central Library on Thursday, September 23. These events are free and open to the public.

Springville Road Library
September 16 at 6:30 p.m.
ETC: Extemporaneous Theatre Company
Birmingham’s premier improvisation troupe has put together a special evening for their Springville Road performance. Founded in 2008, ETC is a repertory-style company comprised of professional artists in theatre, comedy, and a variety of specialties. Their goals are to bolster the theatre community in Birmingham and to provide training for aspiring young actors.

Central Library
September 23 at 6:30 p.m. in the Library Atrium
The Music of L. Spenser Smith
Gospel singer L. Spenser Smith will perform music from his new solo album. Along with his group Testament, Smith has garnered praise from both the gospel and secular music communities for his innovative lyrics, tight harmonies, and extraordinary musical arrangements. In addition to his own music, Smith has written and performed with such artists as Karen Clark Sheard and Donald Lawrence.

Visit www.bplonline.org for additional information.

BPL@Night is a series of high quality evening performances offered free-of-charge by Birmingham Public Library in an effort to bring enriching cultural programs to downtown Birmingham and the city’s neighborhoods. BPL@Night highlights local and regional performers that reflect the diversity of our community and draw from a wide range of personal experience. Through programs such as these, the library seeks to provide Birmingham citizens of all ages opportunities for entertainment, ongoing education, and personal growth.

If You Can't Say Anything Nice, Come Sit By Me—Andrew Morton Has the Scoop On Angelina

Angelina: An Unauthorized BiographyThe world’s biggest gossip is about to drop some bombs about the world’s biggest celebrity: Angelina Jolie. In Angelina: An Unauthorized Biography, Andrew Morton talks off the record with Angelina's friends and coworkers and learns some interesting things about Angelina's ex-lovers, her unconventional childhood, and her current life with Brad and the Brood.

Did you know that for the first year and a half of Angelina's life, her mother, Marcheline Bertrand, made her live three stories above the family in a white room with white walls and no furniture save for a crib in the middle of the room? She looked too much like her father, Jon Voight, and her mother couldn't bare to look at her because of Voight's philandering ways.

I enjoyed Morton's biography about Diana, a celebrity I always admired, and am looking forward to this one.

Morton has also written unauthorized biographies on Tom Cruise and Madonna, collaborated with Monica Lewinsky to tell her story, and even penned a book about the Pennsylvania mine rescue.

Wednesday, August 04, 2010

Brown Bag Lunch—Take That Extra Long Lunch Break and Join Us for a Classic Baseball Movie

movie clapper image
Plan an extra long lunch today and join us for a baseball classic starring Frank Sinatra, Gene Kelly, and Esther Williams as they mix baseball, vaudeville, and romance in this 1948 musical masterpiece (90 minutes). Wednesday, August 11, noon.

Feed your body and mind at BPL's Brown Bag Lunch programs. You bring the lunch and we'll bring the drinks. Wednesdays at noon in the Arrington Auditorium located on the 4th floor of the Linn-Henley Research Library, 2100 Park Place.

Tuesday, August 03, 2010

Book Review—The Glass Castle

The Glass CastleRecently I’ve read two of the bigger kahuna memoirs that have stood out in the ongoing memoir publishing trend. The first was Running With Scissors; the second is The Glass Castle. I wrote a piece on Running for the library’s Season’s Readings, a booklet containing write-ups from the staff on their favorite books of the year. The trope for the bigger-selling memoirs is a dysfunctional family; in fact it seems that the more broken the family is, the more the memoir sells. Memoirists have been accused of competing with each other to see who can put the sickest family between covers. But of course the family must be more than merely unhappy. They have to be captivatingly presented by the author, and there needs to be judicious humor to leaven the onslaught of tragedy. Avoiding exploitation is also recommended. Both these books succeed in all of the above, but you’re probably wondering, “Yeah, but which family’s the craziest?” You’ll get no such satisfaction here. It isn’t really fair to compare because the protagonist in Running With Scissors, though he does come from a nuts family, gets unceremoniously dumped on another family and that’s where he spends most of the book. Whereas the protagonist (and all the kahuna memoirs have a protagonist) of The Glass Castle stays with her birth family throughout almost the entire story.

And good God, what a narrative. To simply call Walls’ family (which is to say, her parents-the kids are basically innocent pedestrians) dysfunctional would be a pathetic understatement. The book opens with Mom offering wise counsel: “You can’t live in fear of something as basic as fire.” Dad show Jeannette the practical application, and soon she is, like a good girl, sticking her hand in the fire. The dad is Rex Walls, a thoroughgoing screw-up and an advanced alcoholic who can’t keep a job for more than a few weeks. The family thus bounces from one fly-blown desert town to another. It’s the early sixties. Dad won’t work much but will drink; Mom (Rose Mary) won’t work hardly ever but will paint (marketing herself is out of the question); the kids have almost nil supervision. If Jeannette Walls parents had been a bit more middle class, if they’d been a bit more functional, if the events herein had happened a few years later, they might have been hippies. Or gotten grandfathered in. But they’re just too singular, an extraterrestrial heterosexual couple’s idea of how to be American parents.

Mom wants a piano. Rex goes and gets one from a bankrupt saloon, brings it home, builds a ramp for it, rolls it into the house and it sails on through, ending up in the backyard (or back desert). No worries. Mom: “Most pianists never get the chance to play in the great out-of-doors. And now the whole neighborhood can enjoy the music, too.” This is in Battle Mountain, the most memorable of the fly-blowns, a Nevada mining town where no one’s striking it rich anymore. Walls’ picture of the desert is evocative, Southwestern Gothic: “You could find the sun-parched skulls of coyotes and empty tortoise shells…And you could find great big bullfrogs that had stayed in the sun too long and were completely dried up and as light as a piece of paper.” Rex thinks it’s a fine place to bring up a family. He prefigures today’s talk radio blowhards: “We’re becoming a nation of sissies.” But his macho bluster is a cover for his alcoholism, and he’s off on benders for days, weeks. The kids do more experimenting, throwing lit matches into bottles of poison they find at one of their favorite playgrounds, the city dump. No results for awhile until the payoff comes for Jeannette one day: “When I tossed in the match, a cone of flame shot up with a whoosh like a jet afterburner.” At least the children weren’t Safety Nazis. Rose Mary toughens the kids up, too and demonstrates the value of ecosystems to boot:

Mom also believed in letting nature take its course. She refused to kill the flies that always filled the house; she said they were nature’s food for the birds and lizards. And the birds and lizards were food for the cats. “Kill the flies and you starve the cats,” she said. Letting the flies live, in her view, was the same as buying cat food, only cheaper.

So mix some maternal crackpot Gandhism in with Dad’s macho survivalism. The core value both parents shared was No Coddling. No doctors, no dentists, no structured social life, no rules. The family stumbles along, falling down frequently. When the money bottoms out, Mom takes a job as a schoolteacher. It’s short-lived, due to her unconventional teaching style: “Mom was up front, spinning like a top and letting pieces of chalk fly from her hands to demonstrate centrifugal force.” Between Rex and Rose Mary, do the Walls children have a shred of a prayer? They are surprisingly resilient and emotionally tough. But the damage is real and the kids grow up in defiance of, in spite of, berserker parenting. Defiance aside, Rex and Mom do their best to destroy things, letting Christmas trees have a bit of fire, letting cars break down in the desert, leaving all locks unlocked, providing rotten food for dinner.

When one more financial calamity (in a seemingly endless string) happens, it’s back home to Welch, West Virginia, Rex’s hometown. Collapsing grandparents give the reader some clue as to Rex’s wrecked perspective. For awhile, Dad and Mom dump the kids on the relatives. Then it’s onto the holler house Rex snags:

The house was a dinky thing perched high up off the road on a hillside so steep that only the back of the house rested on the ground. The front, including a drooping porch, jutted precariously into the air, supported by tall, spindly cinder-block pillars. It had been painted white a long time ago, but the paint, where it hadn’t peeled off altogether, had turned a dismal gray.

No toilet, no running water, no heat, no a/c. And rats. But Dad’s thrilled because it’s a bargain at $50 dollars a month. And this fixer-upper has potential. Rex:” I’d rather have a yard filled with genuine garbage than with trashy lawn ornaments.”

Jeannette Walls’ tone is strictly even-tempered, unhysterical, nonjudgmental. Perhaps this is the means that allows her to contain the emotional insanity that formed her. The absolute lack of rancor, recrimination or self-pity is something of a miracle and a large part of why the book is so successful. It is a subtle style and a winning one. Walls doesn’t telegraph or draw attention to anything; she wisely realized the unadulterated story was inherently dramatic and needed to be frill-free. In one scene the family suffers through a Welch winter night without heat: “We all huddled around the potbellied stove, wrapped in blankets, holding out our hands toward the weak smoky heat.” The Bob Cratchit allusion is there, almost invisible. It is the same with the whole book.

It’s not so much the hidden injuries of class that are included here; it’s those that are right out in the open. The family’s shunned, yelled at, insulted. They suffer mightily, visibly. So it’s hard to explain that the book is extremely funny, too. A lot of it made me laugh uncontrollably. The jet afterburner scene was one, with its Wile E. Coyote thing. Here’s another: “When Mom mentioned Jackson Pollock once, Lucy Jo said that she had Polish blood and therefore did not appreciate Mom using derogatory names for Polish people.” As the above instances would suggest, there are scores of indelible vignettes strewn around. In the early seventies, for instance, Jeannette’s half-dollar shoes were in such tatters she had them fastened together with safety pins. She was punk before punk. There are many various and contradictory tones going on in the flux of this book, but they all are somehow in balance.

In the final section, the family transitions slowly to New York City. Jeannette scrounges as a journalist. Rex and Mom have an exciting and fulfilling career as homeless persons. The other kids get jobs, scrape by, hunker down. Things, rather miraculously, turn out ok. Perhaps I’ve conveyed a fraction of the kaleidoscopic craziness of The Glass Castle. It’s a marvel of a memoir. The unhousebroken events are delivered in a literary, restrained framework. Rex never gets to build his dream house which is the Glass Castle of the title. But his daughter has, with her style, her compassion and her all, left us an account that stands admirably well despite the anarchy that would overthrow most troubled lives: a sort of Glass Castle indeed.

Review submitted by Richard Grooms, Social Science Dept., Central Library

Popular Posts