Book Review: The Glass Castle

Five StarstheglasscastleIn The Glass Castle, Jeannette Walls tells of her unorthodox upbringing by her artist mother and inventor father, during which she and her siblings—older sister Lori, younger brother Brian, and younger sister Maureen—survived frequent moves across the country, inconsistent access to school, and long periods of poverty so severe the children had nothing to eat and survived by foraging. Her parents believed children needed to learn to fend for themselves instead of being watched over and protected. In spite of the resulting challenges, the children were identified as gifted in most schools.

Throughout her childhood, Jeannette believed in her father, even when she knew he was lying to her and was willing to take the little money the family had for food in order to buy liquor. She recognized his brilliance at the same time as overlooking his destructive behavior, at least until she and her older sister Lori were able to devise a plan to escape and live on their own. Yet even after all four children had escaped their parents’ influence, Jeannette kept in contact with her parents, accepting that their lives were consistent with their principals even though Jeannette, Lori, and Brian at least, rejected their parents’ free-thinking foundation.

The Glass Castle is a tale of the resilience of children under extreme circumstances, an optimistic story of life moving forward. It is story of love, love by parents of their children and by children of their parents. It is a story of survival against bullying, the effects of poverty and hunger. It could have been a depressing story, but Jeannette’s warmth and humor come through, turning it into a story of redemption and optimism.

Genre: Biographies and Memoirs
Length: 288 pages
Publisher: Scribner
Publishing Date: 2005

Book Review: On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft

Five StarsonwritingIn On Writing, King introduces himself through his early life experiences, suggests what tools I should keep in my toolbox, and then shares what works for him when he writes. His unpretentious writing style made me feel as though King were sitting in my living room, sharing a cup of coffee along with his stories. I felt privileged to have him share so much of his wisdom as well as his humor.

I admit I haven’t read Stephen King’s novels. Horror is not my preferred genre. But I haven’t escaped seeing his movies, so I didn’t feel ignorant of his work. After reading On Writing, I want to read all his books.

Of the books on writing I have read, this is the best, not because here are hidden secrets in it, but because of his stories of where his stories came from. And the story is central.

Book Review: As Is: Confessions of a True Fatty

confessionsofafattyFour starsThe author sells herself short in that she assumes all her readers face the same challenges with weight that she describes. In fact, her message is appropriate for anyone who hasn’t yet discovered his or her authentic self. Wagner’s challenge is her addiction to food which she uses to compensate when she feels unappreciated. But she doesn’t stop battling. She also doesn’t blame others. In this, her book is a pattern for what others who use substances or activities to screen out discomfort can do to take responsibility for their lives.

In addition, she tells the story of a Palestinian Christian family, led by her immigrant father, a story of successful businesses, a story most Americans haven’t heard, but should. It presents another facet of the complicated image of Arabs, one at odds with the predominant, one-dimensional narrative so many Americans are satisfied to accept.

Book Review: Shooting Saddam

shootingsaddam
Five StarsDennis Lynch tells the story of his three trips between 2005 and 2006 to Baghdad to oversee the videography and recording of the trial of Saddam Hussein and his co-defendants. A well-written account, he relates his impressions of the trip, the environment, and the events with a sense of humor alongside a genuine respect for the gravity of what he was doing and for the people he met. Putting aside the few minor errors in his report, I was impressed with his research and desire to understand the larger story that his unique and up-close view fits within. I recommend the book highly.

The cover and title are my favorite of the year.

The minor error I found most curious is Lynch’s reference to Al-Zarqawi changing his name from Ahmad to Abu after Muhammad the Prophet’s successor. “Abu” means “father of” and is not a name by itself. It is used, along with the name of the oldest son, to denote the man is a parent of a son. “Um” is the feminine form. Names formed with “Abu” for the father or “Um” for the mother plus the first name of the oldest son is known as a kunya. Al Zarkawi was known as Abu Musab, which translates as “father of Musab.” According to my research, Al Zarkawi had two wives and several children, including at least three sons, making it entirely normal for him to use his kunya, Abu Musab.

Dennis will be one of three debut memoir writers on a panel at the San Diego Writers/Editors Guild on Monday, March 28, 2016, at 6:30 p.m.

Book Review: Fourteen

fourteenFour starsThis coming-of-age tale of three years in the life of Leslie Johansen, from age 12 to 15, centers on her father’s planned around-the-world sailing adventure with Leslie and her two sisters, one older and one younger, as his crew.  Leslie’s father had sole custody of the three girls after the parents divorced when Leslie was seven. His changeable moods challenged all three girls, but as his favorite, a label that Leslie alternately was proud and ashamed of, the brunt of his attention fell on her.

Father and daughters spent two years to ready the 45-foot sailboat, Aegir, with Dad training the three girls to handle the boat in all types of situations. In 1975, they set sail from Oceanside, California, heading for Tahiti.

Leslie Nack courageously shares with her readers her teen fears, dreams, and discouragements both before the family set off on their trip and during the days and nights they were confined to the 45-feet length of the ship. Her descriptions of the ocean’s many facets made me feel as though I were on the ship with her through the rain, storms, and even the doldrums. She provided just enough sailing terminology to ensure I respected her experience without confusing me – a non-sailor – so I could enjoy, or fear, the experience with her. Even her conflicting and alternating feelings of love and fear of her father resonated with my memory of my 14-year-old self. A real page-turner from beginning to end.

Leslie will be one of three debut memoir writers on a panel at the San Diego Writers/Editors Guild on Monday, March 28, 2016, at 6:30 p.m.

Book Review: The Accidental Truth

theaccidentaltruthFive StarsLauri Taylor’s story of discovering her mother’s secrets and the secrets surrounding her death is masterfully told. Taylor unveils the distress of her mother’s disappearance and then the discovery that her body has been found in Mexico, bringing the reader with her for the suspenseful ride. The death is ruled suspicious, then a murder. Each step in this journey affects Taylor, her husband, their children, her sisters, and especially her nephew and mother’s business partner. The story serves as a gripping reminder that families come in many sizes and shapes and that the connections are important, even when they have been tested to the point of near breaking. It is more than just a tale of what happened to her mother. It is a story of what she learned and how she has put those lessons into practice to help others heal from devastating life choices.

Lauri will be one of three debut memoir writers on a panel at the San Diego Writers/Editors Guild on Monday, March 28, 2016, at 6:30 p.m.