I’m not normally a non-fiction fan, as you will no doubt glean from my future book talks and the reading materials you may observe on my desk. It’s not that it’s a genre I dislike: I’ll reach for non-fiction before I’ll reach for science-fiction, for example. It’s just that there are so many novels I’d like to read, and I know that I’ll never be able to read them in my lifetime, and every year more are published, that it becomes a matter of prioritising. I was surprised, therefore, to discover in Jeannette Walls’s The Glass Castle, a book I read in two or three sittings, a book I’ve reread parts of already, a book I’ve recommended with confidence to countless friends, relatives and students. And because of this piece of non-fiction, I was drawn to a chapter in William Zinsser’s On Writing Well on memoir writing and have added a number of his recommended memoir reads to my personal “someday” list. There they are – non-fiction titles amid young adult and contemporary adult and classic fiction – and they’re not even written in a different colour ink, or in smaller font. In fact, immediately following my reading of The Glass Castle, I picked up another memoir, Cockeyed. Two in a row. That’s never happened before. And it was a great read, too – but that’s fodder for another letter.
Jeannette Walls’s story needed to be told. It’s a fascinating story of growing up in circumstances that keep readers shaking their heads and turning pages. I’ve no doubt the movie rights have already been sold, following an expensive bidding war. There’s real depth to the portraits she draws of her mother and father, in particular, people with layers that never seem to end. Even though her father drank and often refused to take responsibility for the care of his family and required of his children constant sacrifice, he was still someone whom I wanted to know and learn from. I found myself thinking how lucky his children were to have him as a... [continues]
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