The Glass Castle by Jeannette Walls

Title:  The Glass Castle

Author:  Jeannette Walls

Hardback:  288 pages

ISBN:  9780743247535

Dad came home in the middle of the night a few months later and roused all of us from bed.

“Time to pull up stakes and leave this shit-hole behind,” he hollered.

We had fifteen minutes to gather whatever we needed and pile into the car.

…An hour passed before we finally tied Mom’s paintings on the top of the car, shoved whatever would fit into the trunk, and piled the overflow on the backseat and the car floor.  Dad steered the Blue Goose through the dark, driving slowly so as not to alert anyone in the trailer park that we were, as Dad like to put it, doing the skedaddle.  He was grumbling that he couldn’t understand why the hell it took so long to grab what we needed and haul our asses into the car.

“Dad!” I said.  “I forgot Tinkerbell!”

“Tinkerbell can make it on her own,” Dad said.  “She’s like my brave little girl.  You are brave and ready for adventure, right?”

“I guess,” I said.  I hoped whoever found Tinkerbell would love her despite her melted face.  For comfort, I tried to cradle Quixote, our gray and white cat who was missing an ear, but he growled and scratched at my face.  “Quiet, Quixote!”  I said.

“Cats don’t like to travel,” Mom explained.

Anyone who didn’t like to travel wasn’t invited on our adventure, Dad said.  He stopped the car, grabbed Quixote by the scruff of the neck and tossed him out the window.  Quixote landed with a screeching meow and a thud, Dad accelerated up the road, and I burst into tears.

“Don’t be so sentimental,” Mom said.  She told me we could always get another cat, and now Quixote was going to be  a wild cat, which was much more fun than being a house cat.  Brian, afraid Dad might toss Juju out the window as well, held the dog tight.

-The Glass Castle by Jeannette Walls, pages 17-18

This incident haunted my mind throughout the whole book.  I couldn’t help think, “If they could just toss the cat out without a thought, telling me we could just get another, who’s to say they wouldn’t do that to me, as well?”  Later in the book when Jeannette takes a tumble out of the moving car, the same thought occurred to her as she watches the family disappear down the road.  “What if they decide I’m too much trouble to come back for?”  It had to be a terribly difficult uncertainty to grow up with.

Not only is there the impermanence of home and things, there are virtually no rules nor supervision, as the Rex, Jeannette’s father, spends much of his time “researching” at the local tavern and her mom, a narcissistic enabler with some sort of mood disorder fritters her time and money away escaping reality in books and painting.  Too many times to count, the kids are forced to go hungry… or worse, dig through garbage to find food… while Dad drinks and smokes the money away and Mom sneaks nibbles of Hershey bars hidden under her covers. 

On the rare occasion the mother works, it’s the kids who have to force her out of bed and onto school where she’s a teacher, then clean her classroom after school, grade her papers and make out her lesson plans in the evenings.  After spending 8 weeks away from Rex and the kids, living in a dorm, eating regularly and taking classes to keep her teaching licence up to date, she comes home to report she’s had an epiphany.  She tells her teenage daughter who has been handling the bills, working and feeding her siblings, that she’s spent her whole life taking care of everyone else and now she’s gonna live life for herself… say WHAT?!

yeah….. m’kay.

The Glass Castle by Jeannette Walls is a shocking and heartbreaking memoir of growing up with an alcoholic father and mentally ill mother.  Over and over, I was stunned and even angered by the so-called adults complete and total lack of parenting skills.  At one point, Jeannette, who was 7 or 8 at the time, wakes up to find a strange man touching her beneath her covers, and when she tells her parents maybe they should shut and locked the doors at night so as to keep the creeps out, they tell her some crap about fresh air and not letting fear get the better of you.  In her teens, when Jeannette tells her mom that her uncle has been inappropriate with her, her mother tells her he’s just lonely and that “sexual assault is a crime of perception.”  Time and again, these two genetic donors (calling them parents is going too far, to be honest), show a complete lack of common sense and sheer laziness to step up to the plate.  I am amazed that the kids lived to adulthood, let alone to be anything close as successful as they nationally syndicated columnist and regular contributor to MSNBC.  Brian and Lori also made good despite their upbringing.

One thing I can say about reading this book is that I can say with 100% certainty that I’m not that bad as a parent.  It’s done a lot to make me feel better as a parent… at least I shut the doors at night and feed my kids and make sure they bathe regularly.  I make sure they’re fed before I feed myself and I’d damn sure have food in the fridge AND pantry before gnawing on a Hershey bar.  I feel guilty if I decide not to share my candy bar.. or Lindt truffle balls, nom nom nom…  but that’s because they’ve ate plenty and had dessert, and By GOD, this is ONE thing I kept for myself.  And I feel guilty for THAT!  I can’t imagine the utter self-centeredness, truly clinical narcissism, the mother wallowed in.  Also, I can say with certainty to my kids that they’ve never gone hungry.  They may not like what’s in the cabinets, but there IS food… it’s just not ready-made junk for them to snack on. 

I read a few reviews of The Glass Castle, and one reader dinged the book because the author conveys such neglect and abuse in a very unemotional manner.  How could anyone suffer such a life without feeling a sense of indignity and injustice?  To this I must point out that Walls is a professional journalist, and relaying information in an objective, matter-of-fact way is part of the job, so I wasn’t surprised by that at all.  Also, I think it’s a normal part of the coping skills of an abuse survivor to learn to be able to talk about it with some distance and disconnection.

The Glass Castle by Jeannette Walls is a great story of resilience and survival.  I don’t recommend it to be read in one sitting, as it can get emotionally overwhelming, but definitely a worthwhile read.   If I could ask Walls one question, I’d want to know how she thinks her life might have turned out without public libraries and books to turn to.  At times, it seems the only escape the kids had and a part of her best memories.  I give The Glass Castle 4 out of 5 stars.

Dewey: The Small-Town Library Cat Who Touched the World by Vicki Myron with Bret Witter

Title:  Dewey:  The Small-Town Library Cat Who Touched the World

Author:  Vicki Myron with Bret Witter

Hardback:  277 pages

ISBN:9780446407410

That’s life.  We all go through the tractor blades ever now and then.  We all get bruised, and we all get cut.  Sometimes the blades cut deep.  The lucky ones come through with a few scratches, a little blood, but even that isn’t the most important thing.  The most important thing is having someone there to scoop you up, to hold you tight and to tell you everything is all right.

For years, I thought I had done that for Dewey.  I thought that was my story to tell.  And I had done that.  When Dewey was hurt, cold, and crying, I was there.  I held him.  I made sure everything was all right.

But that’s only a sliver of the truth.  The real truth is that for all those years, on the hard days, the good days, and all the unremembered days that make up the pages of the real book of our lives, Dewey was holding me.  He’s still holding me now.

-Dewey: The Small-Town Library Cat Who Touched the World by Vicki Myron with Bret Witter, page 271

*sniff I am not going to cry

Dewey Readmore Books was one of the luckiest felines in the world, but his life didn’t start out so hot.  In fact, it started out very cold, when he was dumped into the book drop box of the Spencer Public Library on the coldest night of the year.  When author and then assistant director of the library, Vicki Myron, and her co-worker Jean Hollis Clark found the eight-week-old shivering gray ball of fluff, his foot pads were frost-bitten.  It wasn’t until after giving him a warm bath, through which he purred non-stop, that they discovered he was actually orange, he had been so dirty.  After working through a bit of red tape and the cat charming the hearts of the library board, one member at a time, it was decided he would live there and become the Spencer Public Library cat.

Called Dewey after the inventor of the Dewey decimal system, used by libraries as a way to organized books effectively, it bacame official after allowing the town to vote on his name.  “Readmore” was added by the Children’s Department and “Books” gave his name an official and stately feel.  Not only was his name a reflection of his living arrangements, but turned out to be an auspicious challenge “Do we read more books?”  Spencer, Iowa answered yes, and library attendance rose dramatically.

Dewey: The Small-Town Library Cat Who Touched the World tells how this small cat, this extraordinary feline, came along just at the right time and helped provide the bridge between people, gave hope to those who were down, lent his ear to the lonely, and loved every single person, from infants to the handicapped to the elderly, and made each of them feel special.  He loved them through their hard times and, in the process, put Spencer, Iowa on the map of the world. 

I really enjoyed this book.  Funny story on it, though…  Originally, I bought a copy when it first came out.  I saw the bright-eyed kitty on the cover and was compelled to pick it up.  After reading the description and the first few pages, I was hooked and had to buy it.  Being from a midwestern small-town, and a farming community to boot, I could relate to the people and the feel of the story-telling.  The book sat on my TBR shelf for over a year.  Then last week I decided I wanted to read it.  After reading Homer’s Odyssey, I was in the mood to read another touching kitty book, but when I went to look for Dewey, he was no where to be found.  Poo!  And I so wanted to read it!  I gave up and decided to go to the next book on my short stack, but I couldn’t stop wanting to read Dewey.  So I went to my small-town library and checked out The Small-Town Library Cat.  After reading the book, I think this is all very Dewey… lol.

Besides being touching and heart-felt, Dewey is written from the heart of a librarian.  I love Myron’s description of how we picture a library:

When many people think of a library, they think of a Carnegie library.  These are the libraries of our childhood.  The quiet.  The high ceilings.  The central library desk, complete with matronly librarian (at least in our memories).  These libraries seemed designed to make children belive you could get lost in them, and nobody could ever find you, and it would be the most wonderful thing. -page 118

She also beautifully answers the fears many have that books are a dying genre, and libraries with them…

And when you walk into the library, you still notice the books:  shelf after shelf and row after row of books.  The covers may be more colorful, the art more expressive, and the type more contemporary, but in general the books look the same as they did in 1982, and 1962, and 1942.  And that’s not going to change.  Books have survived television, radio, talking pictures, circulars (early magazines), dailies (early newspapers), Punch and Judy shows, and Shakespeare’s plays.  They have survived World War II, the Hundred Years’ War, the Black Death, and the fall of the Roman Empire.  They even survived te Dark Ages, when almost no one could read and each book had to be copied by hand.  They aren’t going to be killed off by the Internet.  And neither is the library.  -pages 163-164

I could not help mentally drawing a comparison between Dewey and Homer’s Odyssey, the other cat book I read recently.  Is there a need for two cat books?  Doesn’t it get redundant?  I mean, both started out their lives being rejected and unwanted, and both found a niche in the hearts of almost everyone who met them.  So how are they different?  Well, both cats are unique individuals.  They had similarities, but where as Homer changed Gwen’s world, and those in her orbit to a lesser extent, Dewey’s life was much more public.  Gwen writes about how her life was blessed when she saw value in an eyeless kitten and decided to build her life around him, where as Vicki writes about how Dewey touched lives, gave hope and helped heal a community and beyond.  Both have very different and worth messages, and it makes me hug my own kitties and pause to think what they have done for us, as well.  Did I save them? or did they save me.

It’s not much of a spoiler to tell you that Dewey passed away.  The language of the book gives you that.  I only add that here because I know there are some people who want to know that before choosing to read a pet book.  He didn’t die a horrible, painful death or anything… honestly, Vicki’s own life stories made me run through more hankies than Dewey’s death.  What was more heart-tugging was how far-reaching the news of his passing was and what he meant to so many people from his own small-town and those far away from it. 

I give Dewey: The Small-Town Library Cat Who Touched the World by Vicki Myron 5 out of 5 stars.  I also recommend you check out Dewey’s website at http://www.deweyreadmorebooks.com/  There are videos there of the Dew himself, as well as other tid bits :-)

Find your place.  Be happy with what you have.  Treat everyone well.  Live a good life.  It isn’t about material things; it’s about love.  And you can never anticipate love. -page 270

Homer’s Odyssey by Gwen Cooper

homers-odysseyTitle:  Homer’s Odyssey:  A Fearless Feline Tale, Or How I Learned About Love and Life with a Blind Wonder Cat

Author:  Gwen Cooper

Hardback:  289 pages

ISBN:  9780385343855

Challenges:  ARC Challenge

The last thing Gwen Cooper wanted was another cat. She already had two, not to mention a phenomenally underpaying job and a recently broken heart. Then Gwen’s veterinarian called with a story about a three-week-old eyeless kitten who’d been abandoned. It was love at first sight.

Everyone warned that Homer would always be an “underachiever,” never as playful or independent as other cats. But the kitten nobody believed in quickly grew into a three-pound dynamo, a tiny daredevil with a giant heart who eagerly made friends with every human who crossed his path. Homer scaled seven-foot bookcases with ease and leapt five feet into the air to catch flies in mid-buzz. He survived being trapped alone for days after 9/11 in an apartment near the World Trade Center, and even saved Gwen’s life when he chased off an intruder who broke into their home in the middle of the night.

But it was Homer’s unswerving loyalty, his infinite capacity for love, and his joy in the face of all obstacles that inspired Gwen daily and transformed her life. And by the time she met the man she would marry, she realized Homer had taught her the most important lesson of all:  Love isn’t something you see with your eyes.

Homer’s Odyssey is the once-in-a-lifetime story of an extraordinary cat and his human companion.  It celebrates the refusal to accept limits -on love, ability, or hope against overwhelming odds.  By turns jubilant and moving, it’s a memoir for anybody who’s ever fallen completely and helplessly in love with a pet.

-Inside dust cover of Homer’s Odyssey by Gwen Cooper

Okay… breathe…  I’m going to do my best to review this book on the its merits alone, and not gush about the author herself.  It would be easy for me to go on about how, upon hearing that my daughter, also named Gwen, loves animals and has a black cat, was really excited by the book when I got my advanced reader copy and wanted me to read it to her, emailed me for my address and not only sent her a signed copy of the finished book with a beautiful hand-written card and pictures of Homer, but also sent her a copy of the audio book.  AND that, with all that she’s got going on in her life with book-signings, fundraisers and feeling under the weather, she still takes time message us and even remembers my daughter’s cat’s name.  But this is a review of the book, not the author, so I will focus my attention on that.

Homer’s Odyssey by Gwen Cooper is a memoir of how the things that we might never choose on our own can be exactly what we need.  It is about recognizing value in someone or something and building your life around it.  It is about how, by looking at life and love through the eyes of another, we take on the traits we admire in that person.  In Gwen Cooper’s case, that person was a blind wonder cat, through whom she learned courage, how to love, and perseverance.

One thing I really like about this book is the format.  It’s set up as a journey from who and where Gwen was when she got the call from the vet about the eyeless kitten whom nobody wanted and would likely be put down if she, his last chance, didn’t adopt him, continues through jobs and moves and romances, and ends with what she has learned and insights she has gained through knowing and loving and living with Homer.  But, each chapter is also a tale in and of itself, making it a book that can be devoured straight through (honestly, it’s very hard to put down) or you can nibble on it and ponder each lesson.  Also, each chapter begins with a picture, usually of Homer, but occasionally of Scarlett or Vashti, Homer’s big sisters, and a quote from the other Homer, the Greek storyteller.

Another thing that I enjoyed with this book is Gwen’s sense of humor.  There are so many laugh-out-loud moments,  like bringing her date in and the two of them being greeted by a cat who not only discovered the tampons, but how to unwrap them, proudly carrying them in his mouth to show to his mommy.  Also, there is a quality to her writing that made me feel like we’ve been friends for years.

Like life, though, the book isn’t all sunshine and roses.  There are real dangers and some terrifying moments, like waking up to find a burglar in her apartment.  As well as the heart wrenching days after September 11th, when Gwen tried desperately to get back to her cats who were trapped in their apartment, just blocks from where the two towers had stood.

I found Homer’s Odyssey by Gwen Cooper to be moving and inspirational, at times hilarious and touching, and am thankful that there was a vet who refused to accept that an eyeless kitten was better off being put down, that Gwen Cooper was in the vet’s contacts list and opened her heart to him, and that she has shared Homer and his wisdom with all of us.  I give Homer’s Odyssey by Gwen Cooper 5 out of 5 stars.  It’s one of my favorites and I’ll be rereading it again and again :-)

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 494 other followers