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Friday, December 16, 2011

Book Review: The Glass Castle

I’ve seen extreme poverty. I’ve traveled throughout Mexico, lived in Argentina, and visited Peru. I’ve sat in the humblest of homes without electricity and/or running water. I’ve watched women wash their family’s clothing in a muddy river and cook family meals over an open fire. I’ve walked streets with children playing near open sewers. I’ve seen people wear the same thread-bare clothes day in and day out, with no shoes.

So when I read the true-life story of Jeannette Walls in The Glass Castle, the descriptions of poverty were not shocking to me. It was reading about neglectful, inattentive and selfish parents I found disturbing.

Jeannette’s parents, Rex and Rose Mary Walls, claimed to love their children but did very little in providing guidance or supervision…let alone the necessities of life such a food, shelter and clothing. More times than I can count, the father lost his job. And the mother, who had a college education, could not be bothered to work with rare exceptions. What money they had was spent on alcohol, art supplies and frivolous items. And the parents refused to accept any government or community assistance…even as their children were digging through the school garbage to find scraps of food.

Although the author never directly makes the statement, it’s apparent her parents were mentally ill. The children do the best they can to manage the household and essentially learn to survive in incredibly difficult circumstances.

In the end, the children rise above their upbringing. The author leaves her parents at age 17, and goes on to graduate from college and have a successful career.

I wouldn’t go so far to say it’s a heart-warming story, but it inspiring in a manner. As the author’s sibling put it after reaching adulthood, “It’s really not that hard to put food on the table if that’s what you decide to do.” The book was a reminder that immaterial things such as determination and dreams can’t be taken away from someone.

I recommend Half Broke Horses by the same author before reading The Glass Castle (my review for Half Broke Horses can be found
here). It will help set the stage for some of the craziness to come.

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Book Review: The Alchemist

I acquired The Alchemist by Paul Coelho at the Mountain Green Book Group book exchange in November. My neighbor told me she had read it many times and was one of her favorites. I asked her if it was sad or depressing, because heaven knows I don't need anything else to put me in a somber mood these days. She assured me the book would lift my spirits.

I've been reading many years, and until now I've never found a book that after I finished it, I wanted to immediately start over on page one. The Alchemist was incredibly inspiring...a wondeful metaphor for life.

This is a story of a young shepherd named Santiago who chooses to leave a simple, comfortable life in search of treasure. Along the journey, he encounters various people who guide him, deceive him, teach him, protect him, and love him.

A watered-down definition of an "alchemist" is a person who can turn ordinary base metals into gold through an intense refining process. So it is with the young man Santiago. In his treasure-seeking expedition he opens his mind, heart and soul to the experiences along the way.

As Santiago overcomes obstacles, disappointments and pain, he comes to know his personal calling as a human being on this earth. His journey allows him to become a stronger, more wise individual. Along the way he achieves greater satisfaction, gains deeper knowledge and experiences more meaningful love.

One of the things that I truly appreciated about Santiago is he takes time to meditate and reflect on his experiences. Rather than wallow in self-pity and bitterness, he turns trials into opportunities for growth and achievement.

I needed this wonderful story to remind me right now that life is a journey with a purpose. In our journey, we experience both joy and sorrow. And while we seek for those people and experiences that make bring us happiness, it is often the difficulties allowing us to learn the most about our own personal calling.