Book Review: The Glass Castle by Jeannette Walls

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5star

I expected to like this. I didn’t expect to love it. This book is special, guys.

Jeannette Walls was an NYC gossip-columnist hiding a very big secret: she grew up in extreme poverty. Despite the fact that Jeannette and her siblings grew up to be well-off, their homeless parents were living on the streets just a few blocks away from her luxury home. This is where the memoir opens.

We then follow Jeannettte through her childhood, beginning at age 3 when she almost died from severe burns she acquired while cooking hotdogs on the stove with her mother’s permission. Obviously after reading this I was prepared to hate Jeannette’s parents. But instead Ms. Walls urges her readers to see both her alcoholic father and her irresponsible, bipolar mother the way she saw them—deeply flawed but charismatic and lovable despite putting their children in extreme danger time after time after time. There was one incident in particular when I decided, this is it, I have no more sympathy left for Rex Walls. He hurt Jeannette in a way that made me have to stop reading this book and pick up some fluffy puppy story for a few minutes. (I’m a children’s librarian, surrounded by fluffy puppy books while at work.) But then towards the end when *spoiler-spoiler,* I still wept a little for Rex. Why?? Because in his life, he’d been a victim just as much as he’d been a predator.

The Glass Castle is a very personal story, obviously. It’s a fascinating insight into one, strange family. But it’ll also make you think about the criminals, addicts, and homeless people you see on TV and meet on the street everyday. Chances are you have your own preconceptions of how these people have lived and how they were raised. We all do. The Glass Castle proves that each one of those criminals, addicts, and homeless people have a unique story to tell. You as a liberal might believe that the homeless ended up homeless because the government failed them. Your conservative friend might say that the homeless have failed themselves. You could both be wrong.

There has long been a film adaptation in the works. I hope it gets made someday. For now, Brie Larson is going to play Jeannette and Rex will be portrayed by Woody Harrelson. Both are great choices…although I imagined Rex as Matthew McConaughey through the entire book. I hope when and if the film is made it’s made well. In the right hands it could be phenomenal.

Book Review: The Highly Sensitive Person

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4-out-of-5-stars

Before I read this book there wasn’t a shred of doubt in my mind that I’m what Dr. Aron would call a “Highly Sensitive Person.” I’ve been labeled “sensitive” my entire life. But before I discovered Dr. Aron’s website in high school, I thought that “sensitive” was only an appropriate term for someone with strong negative reactions. When I took her “HSP Test,” which you can find on her webiste and in this book…aaand which I’m now realized sound like an STD screening… anyway, after I took the test I recognized that I have strong reactions, period. I don’t only get upset easily, I also get happy easily, scared easily, tired easily, hungry easily, cold easily. *insert your own emotion here* easily probs also. And if this sounds like you, you’re probably Highly Sensitive too. And you’d benefit from reading this book.

Yah, HSP isn’t a medical label, so you might be skeptical about buying into whatever’s written in here. But the fact is, some people are more in touch with their emotions than others. I’ve seen it in myself and in others to varying degrees. And living as a sensitive person is different from living as an “average” person, as Western culture accepts only a certain amount of controlled sensitivity. You shouldn’t need a “self-help” book to tell you that. But Dr. Aron, who identifies as Highly Sensitive herself, has some great insights on Highly Sensitive life and some awesome tips on how to come to terms with your sensitive self.

I wouldn’t say I love everything about this book, but there is quite a bit to love. It was refreshing to read a generalization about the average Highly Sensitve person’s experience and think “that is totally me.” For example, there’s a little section about how sensitive kids are often labeled gifted in elementary school, and then struggle with living up to that label for the rest of their lives. There’s also a bit on how Highly Sensitive People often get too attached in romantic relationships because they feel love more intensely than the average person and they also value close friendships more than the average person. But of course, this is a kind of “self-help” book, so it’s not as scientific or as detailed as I would have liked. There’s also a whole chapter on “spirituality” that I didn’t care for. I’m not really agains the term “spiritual,” but I don’t like it when people use it to only label people who believe in a kind of ethereal higher power despite not being religious. Yea, I would consider people like that to be spiritual, but I would also consider people who have good relationships with the natural world (really good meditators, people who love going on long hikes, y’know) and believe that science can eventually explain everything to be spiritual as well. I feel like Dr. Aron implies that all HSP believe in some kind of god, which clearly isn’t true… cuz I don’t.

But I will definitely be checking out The Highly Sensitive Person in Love and The Highly Sensitive Person’s Workbook. Everything I can do to make the transition into adulthood easier, amirite?

Book Review: Running with Scissors by Augusten Burroughs

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4-out-of-5-stars

My mom read this around the time it first came out and was so sickened/fascinated by it that she told me a little bit about “the crazy book she was reading.” I was 10, and it didn’t occur to me that this crazy book might not be appropriate for children. So I decided to pick it up and read it. My mom found it in my room and freaked. Thankfully, I’d only made it through the first chapter.

By college, Running with Scissors landed in my “maybe someday” category, because I’d heard mixed things about it. But during a meeting at my school’s Literary Society, a friend of mine read an excerpt from the book and I was surprised by how well it was written. I went up to my friend after the meeting and told him that I officially decided I wanted to read the book, and he told me I could borrow it. He also told me that when he was a kid his mom read the book and he also picked it up and tried to read it before his mom stopped him. What a weird thing to have in common with someone.

So I took Running with Scissors home and finished it in like a day-and-a-half. It’s a super quick read. Short, mostly dialogue-driven sentences. It’s a style that I know some people hate, but I think it worked well, especially because the story is so chaotic. My mom wasn’t exaggerating when she told me that she’d never heard of a more dysfunctional family. A lot of people have suspected that the book is mostly fabricated because there’s no way anyone’s life could be this ridiculous. But I have to say I believed all of it. As weird, and sad, and sick as it all sounded, none of it seemed implausible. I think it’s typical of average, middle class Americans to think of child abuse and severe mental illness and extreme poverty as stuff of fiction. But no, sadly there are children in this country who are raped and then develop Stockholm Syndrome. There are children who live in filth, and are under-fed, and aren’t encouraged by their parents to go to school. And you best believe there are a lot of doctors and therapists who like to break the law. I’m not saying that Burroughs’s account is 100% factual, because our memories aren’t perfect and he may have had to change things around to protect peoples’ identities. But still, I don’t think he lied to make a quick buck.

Running with Scissors will confuse your emotions. I definitely recommend it to anyone who’s interested in abnormal psychology. You’ll get good profiles of people with OCD, schizophrenia, mania, depression, and yah pedophiles too. Burroughs makes light of some of the situations, but don’t go into this book expecting to be a laugh riot. Some people brand it as a humorous memoir, like David Sedaris’s stuff, but I have no idea why. This is very, very dark humor. And sometimes it’s not funny at all. A few parts may even make you cry.

I didn’t expect to like this book so much that I would put Burroughs’s next memoir, Dry, on my to-read shelf, but I did! I really enjoy his writing style, and I ended up really caring about Augusten. I’m eager to find out what happened to him in NYC.