Not too long ago I went to hear Jeannette Walls speak, get my copy of The Glass Castle signed, and buy her latest book, Half Broke Horses.
I got there later than I usually do these signings at Dallas’ flagship Barnes and Noble store. I’m used to the routine at this location because in the last year or so I have seen Jen Lancaster, Stuart Woods, Oscar Casares, and Scott Shuman (The Sartorialist), to name a few. A large crowd had already gathered by the time I arrived.
Ms. Walls, very elegant in her black dress and heels, started her talk by re-telling the story of her life of growing up in poverty. I liked how she didn’t assume everyone had read The Glass Castle. She said her life growing up had been a source of shame for her until the book was published and she began to get feedback from readers. She was shocked at the compassion her readers showed her and how they shared similar stories with her. She felt like she was no longer isolated and felt no longer shameful about her story.
Ms. Walls, of course, spoke of her parents, especially of her mother who now lives with her on a farm in Virginia. Her mom grew up on ranch and lived a free, and to her, an ideal life there. By never settling down and never conforming to society, Ms. Walls believes her mother was trying to recreate that ideal time of being on the ranch. Ms. Walls does not have any animosity towards her mother as many would expect.
Ms. Walls emphasized that we all have the resources she had growing up poor and neglected. She emphasized that everything in life can be a blessing and a curse. Her childhood was a blessing because it made her self-sufficient and strong. She hopes by reading her books people will think of and reflect upon their own family stories.
From her childhood, Ms. Walls certainly knows the real difference between “wants” and “needs.” She is reminded of this when she simply goes into a grocery store and sees the sheer abundance of products.
Half Broke Horses, the latest book, started out being about Ms. Walls’ mother, but morphed into a book of historical fiction about her grandmother, Lily. The book is told from Lily’s first person voice. Ms. Walls said that her grandmother was a tough old lady and that we all need to find our “inner old coot.”
The title is a metaphor for her mother. Her mom was never really “broke” fully to conform to the norms of society. Rose Mary Walls has a unique outlook on life and one of the examples that her daughter provided was that her 70-plus year old mom fell off one of the horses at her farm recently. Only her mom would say that it takes more talent to fall off of the horse than it does just to mosey along. In other words, there is no shame in falling.
I was glad to hear that Ms. Walls siblings are doing well, too, these days. Her older sister is a successful artist, her brother is a retired ninth-grade English teacher, and she is in touch with her sister who lives in California.
Someone asked the question of what my favorite book of the last 10 years (the first decade of the the 21st century) was and I immediately thought of The Glass Castle. Imagine how thrilled I was to see in person and hear Jeannette Walls speak.