Monday, February 9, 2009

Meeting Jeannette Walls, author of the Glass Castle

The Glass Castle is a memoir describing Walls memories of her troubled childhood, her eccentric parents, and the hard journey of her family from Southern Arizona to New York city. When I read the book last year, I had mixed feelings. Initially, I was envious of the adventurous life she led as a child, not confined to the norms of society yet receiving a great education; extraordinary, given her circumstances. As the story progressed, my feelings changed to dismay and then to disbelief. It was shocking to see that her parents failed to provide for her over and over again. There were moments in the book when I had a very tough time believing that parents could be so selfish. I would think as I read, "This is crazy, can this be true?"

Last week, Jeannette Walls visited UMBC to speak about her book. The book had been chosen for the student book experience last year and so many had read the book and like me came to hear her speak. So here goes an account of the evening...

She is a great orator, both funny and frank. She told us that she struggled for the longest time to hide her childhood from people- it was a source of shame for her. But now she says it is the best thing that happened to her. She talked about her favorite childhood memory- being gifted the planet Venus at Christmas. She told us that her worst memory with her dad was the one at the club, the worst one with her mom being the chocolate incident and the worst time of her life was when she was 13.

She told us that she loves to read the Amazon reviews on her book, which she does about twice a day! :D Also, she mentioned the varied reactions people have on reading her book: from getting troubled- to thinking she was lucky- to understanding that her life had good as well as bad times.

She gave us some beautiful advice while narrating anecdotes about her parents, siblings, and friends:

* About how we can change the way we think about our past by putting a positive spin on it (recalled her mom here).

* About how her Dad taught her to put a harness on her demons (like when they would search for monsters under her bed and then yell at them to come out).

* How there are two gifts parents ought to give their children:
1) Optimism
2) Love for learning

* She quoted some great mind saying- secrets are like vampires. They suck the life out of you but they can only survive in the dark. Once its bright ..poof!! they are gone!

* About how hardships in life teach us to navigate around obstacles.

* About what her husband John said to alleviate her fears about her scars "smooth is boring, you've got texture".

* How parents should have faith in their children's talents cause if you tell your kids they are bad, they may really turn out that way.

She told us what the rest of her family is doing now. Finally, while answering questions from the audience she announced that her next book is going to be about her Grand mom (mom's side). She wanted to write about her mom but then realized that the best way to understand someone is to understand their parents.

And finally as per my disbelief - meeting her quelled it when she quoted another person saying: "the best fiction reads like non-fiction, and the best non-fiction reads like fiction".

1 comment:

Aarti said...

Interesting. Got to read the book now ..Heard way too much from you and Kammo.