The Glass Castle

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When I first saw previews for The Glass Castle, I knew it was a film I wanted to see. I mentioned the movie to my husband, who laughed as he read its synopsis. “So basically it’s a movie about your life?” he asked. When I saw that the movie was based on a memoir, I decided to pick up the book first. And while the details are eerily similar in many respects, Jeannette Walls has had a life much wilder than mine has ever been.

The Glass Castle by Jeannette Walls
The Glass Castle by Jeannette Walls

Jeannette Walls is the second of four children. Her father was a brilliant man who taught her and her siblings about math and science but also brought terror on them through his alcohol and gambling addictions. Their mother was an artist, but loved her art to the neglect of her parenting responsibilities. Together, her parents were a toxic combination that formed instability and turmoil for the children. They constantly moved around, living in poverty because of their parents’ choices.

In this memoir, Jeannette details moving from town to town and finally settling in her father’s hometown, where they bought a tiny house that was falling to pieces. Even in their poverty, their father believed that they would be able to build a castle out of glass one day. He carried the floor plans they had created for this castle, and the members of the family constantly added to these plans. In the backyard of their tiny, broken down house, the children dug a foundation for this castle under their father’s direction. However, life’s hardships required them to eventually fill it with trash. It is under these poor conditions that Jeannette and her older sister began to make plans to move to New York and start their lives apart from their parents.

A Heartbreaking Birthday Wish

One of the most powerful parts of this memoir was Jeannette’s recollection of her tenth birthday. Her dad took her outside to ask her what she wanted. He said he would get her anything, even if he had to die trying to get it.

Instantly she knew what she wanted, but she didn’t know if she should say it. As I listened to the audio recording of the book, I knew what she wanted, too.

Her dad pushed and begged her to tell him what it was that she wanted. Nothing was too big.

Finally, she told him: “Maybe you could stop drinking.”

I was driving to work as I listened to this part of Jeannette’s story, and I began to sob. Big, ugly tears. How many times have I wished that my own father might give up his addictions, for me? Oh, as an adult I know there’s so much more to addiction than selfishness. People use drugs and alcohol to numb unimaginable amounts of pain, but find themselves trapped by their addictive powers. But as a daughter, I want my dad to be my dad again. Sober.

Jeannette’s wish is heartbreaking not just because a ten-year-old girl wished for her dad to be sober for her birthday, but because that’s the wish of so many of us.

Skip the Movie and Read the Book

I ended up watching the movie, although my husband and I waited until after I read the book. There were a lot of things I liked about the movie, but I loved the richness of the book so much more.

The movie jumped around a lot more than the book did. While it probably made enough sense without having read the book, I felt like there were so many things in the movie that were underemphasized. Things that were important in the book seemed to be background images in the movie.

While my husband (who didn’t read the book) really liked the “present day” timeline in the movie, I did not. I felt like the time spent on it could have been used to make more sense of the things that happened in the book. Multiple stories from the book were combined into single scenes, making them lose their punch. For example, Jeannette’s birthday wish was turned into a plea for her dad to stop drinking when he returned home drunk one night.

That doesn’t mean there weren’t parts that touched me, though. One scene brought me to tears. Several others seemed to take on new life because I saw the film version. While I don’t think the movie is a complete waste of time, if you had to choose one or the other I highly recommend the book.

Review Breakdown

Writing – The writing was great. It carried the feel of the people and the story well.

Story – The story was intensely compelling from start to finish. While the last little bit seemed a little slower than the rest, it was still interesting and brought a feeling of resolution. It was a story that made me want to keep reading.

Mature Content – There was a lot of profanity (mostly used in quotes of Jeannette’s father). There was a fair amount of violence and gruesome depictions of the effects of alcoholism and poverty on a family. Jeannette also describes a few sexual abuse experiences, although not graphically.

Likability of Author – Jeannette was likable as I read this book. Occasionally her nearly-blind support of her father was frustrating. However, that support is understandable considering the bond between parent and child.

BONUS Audiobook Review – I always love when the audiobook is read by the author. It was great hearing Jeannette Walls read this book. It added extra life to the story hearing the inflection exactly as she intended it to be.

Other Books by Jeannette Walls – Dish: The Inside Story on the World of Gossip (2000); Half Broke Horses: A True-Life Novel (2009); and The Silver Star (2013).

Quick Review

The Glass Castle is an emotional and rewarding read, especially for adult children of alcoholics. I personally found it to be especially cathartic as I worked my way through Jeannette’s story, finding myself having many of the same emotions and experiences that she has had. This book was well-written and had a story that kept me interested throughout. Of the books I’ve read so far this year, this one may be my favorite.

Cravings

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Last summer I read It Was Me All Along by Andie Mitchell and was incredibly inspired by her journey of losing over a hundred pounds. She found joy in cooking her own meals and living in moderation as a key to her success. When I read the summary of Cravings on Amazon, I thought I would find a similarly inspiring read. While still an interesting book, this book was not what I wanted it to be.

Cravings by Judy Collins
Cravings by Judy Collins

Judy Collins struggled with food her entire life. Between her binge eating and crash diets, she estimates that she has gained and lost over a thousand pounds over the course of her life. After her music career began to take off, she began purging her meals in an attempt to balance her binge eating with her desire to keep the pounds off. In the midst of her eating disorder, she suffered from severe alcoholism. In the end, she found that extreme measured eating and elimination of grains, starches, and sugar could help her control her eating.

“I want to suggest to you that if you are at all inconvenienced by your relationship to food, you should find a plan that might help you live with joy around your meals and in your life.”

Judy Collins

Between chapters sharing her personal journey, Judy wrote about the lives of the “diet gurus.” These gurus were those who invented or tried different diets, many of which she tried. The gurus she wrote about ranged from those living hundreds of years ago to the creators of Weight Watchers. All of the stories she wrote about had her own experience with the diet sprinkled into the story.

Not the Diet Memoir I Anticipated

The Amazon description of this book says that Judy Collins had an overeating problem that “nearly claimed her career and her life.” It says that she started a strict diet that “allowed her to maintain a healthy weight for years,” among other things.

Without knowing who Judy Collins is, I assumed that she had been overweight at some point in her life. The Amazon description of the book makes no mention of her bulimia, which is a theme throughout the book. Although it mentions “compulsive eating” and a “fraught relationship with food,” it is easier for a reader unfamiliar with her to assume she had an amazing weight loss story.

Near the beginning of the book, she made the claim that through her compulsive eating and crash dieting, she gained and lost over a thousand pounds. At first, I still had in mind that she must have lost some large amount of weight at some point.

Upon closer inspection, I started to view that number with skepticism when I (1) found out her peak weight was 140 pounds and (2) when I started to think about how during the course of a day a person’s weight can fluctuate as much as a pound or two. Depending on how obsessively I was to weigh myself, I could make that same claim in two years, and that’s just taking into consideration food and water.

Judy Collins Still Had Eating Problems

While I’m probably being a bit too critical of this number, I am still skeptical of a person writing about weight loss who never weighed more than 140 pounds. According to a BMI calculator, she would have to be shorter than 5’3″ to actually be overweight at 140 pounds. While I am unable to find her height online, Judy Collins appears to be an average height and was unlikely in the “overweight” category.

But all of this does not negate the fact that she had real eating problems. Her cravings, binge eating, bulimia, and alcoholism are all serious problems. The problem I have with this book is its dishonesty in promoting her weight loss. Even the first half of the book makes great claims about weight loss (giving the “gained and lost 1000 pounds” number). It’s just frustrating to find out halfway through the book that her peak weight was only 140 pounds.

A Seemingly Unreasonable Solution

After spending most of the book writing about her disordered eating, Collins spent an unsatisfactory amount of time writing about the solutions to her problems. In addition, the solution she found seems inaccessible for the average person.

For Judy Collins, the answer to her binge eating and alcoholism is “Greysheeters Anonymous.” It is the most restrictive meal plan that “Overeaters Anonymous” uses. This plan does not allow gluten, starches, and sugars. All food is supposed to be strictly measured by weight.

In one chapter about the solution, Collins wrote that she owns several food scales. She travels with them so that she is always able to weigh her food. When she eats out, she weighs her food to make sure she is staying within the limits of her diet. While she claims that this diet brings her freedom, I cannot imagine taking a scale into a restaurant and weighing my food before I eat and thinking, “Wow, I’m so free now!”

I’m glad it works for her, but this book did not offer much hope for someone looking for a diet that might work with a busy lifestyle. Perhaps I have been unfair in comparing Cravings to Andie Mitchell’s It Was Me All Along, but had this book been more like Mitchell’s book I may not have been so disappointed.

Review Breakdown

Writing – This memoir was not terribly written. However, it was not very impressive either. I personally thought that the chapters about the diet gurus were written better. My husband suggested that perhaps her editor felt freer to edit chapters that weren’t about her life. However, different styles of chapters can also seem to have different “levels” of quality, too. It’s possible the difference I felt was all in my head.

Story – I found the short stories about the diet gurus very engaging. Although the author’s own story was interesting, I thought there were points where she was very repetitive. Reviewers who have read multiple books by Collins point out that there is overlap between this and her other books.

Mature Content – The author writes about her son’s suicide, her alcoholism, and her lifelong eating disorder. This book may not be appropriate for all audiences.

Likability of Author – Personally, I did not find Judy Collins likable in this book. I am unfamiliar with her music or any of her other work. Had this book’s advertising not been so deceptive I would have likely enjoyed it and her more.

Other Books by Judy Collins – Trust Your Heart (1987), Amazing Grace (1991), Shameless (1995), Singing Lessons (1998), Sanity and Grace: A Journey of Suicide, Survival and Strength (2003), The Seven T’s: Finding Hope and Healing in the Wake of Tragedy (2007) and Sweet Judy Blue Eyes: My Life in Music (2011)

Quick Review

Cravings was not the diet book that I was expecting at all. I was skeptical of her claims after finding out that her peak weight was only 140 pounds. Judy Collins did have an unhealthy relationship with food between her bulimia, crash dieting, and alcoholism. However, the book’s claims that her diet helped bring her to a healthy weight seems like a stretch. Had this memoir been more upfront about Collins’ specific dieting issues, it may have reached its intended audience better. The story was interesting, though repetitive with average writing. With all of these things considered, I would only recommend this book to those who are fans of Judy Collins or who are interested in reading more about eating disorders.

The Princess Diarist

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Carrie Fisher’s The Princess Diarist gives readers a look behind the scenes of the filming of the first Star Wars movie. It also allows fans to get a feel for who the young woman who played Princess Leia really is. Fisher’s quirky (and sometimes plain bizarre) personality shines through the pages of this memoir.

The Princess Diarist by Carrie Fisher
The Princess Diarist by Carrie Fisher

Fisher tells her story as she remembers it, despite having told parts of it in other venues. Fisher grew up the daughter of a famous actress and never wanted to be famous. Despite these wishes, she ended up auditioning for a movie she did not think would amount to much. She ended up being cast as the lead woman, Leia, with the stipulation that she lose ten pounds. She signed away her rights to merchandising, not thinking that it would be much income or that Star Wars would become the phenomenon that it did.

In this memoir, Fisher opens up about one thing she has been too ashamed to admit openly for forty years: her affair with Harrison Ford. For three months of filming, she spent the weekends with him. They did not discuss a future together or the fact he had a wife and kids at home. And at the end of filming, the affair ended and they went their separate ways. Somehow, they managed to remain friends and worked together amicably on future films.

Carrie Fisher shows readers her conflicted feelings over her affair with Harrison Ford.

On one hand, Fisher felt like she wanted the affair. She writes that she had planned to have an affair with someone on the set of this movie because an affair was a very adult thing to do. At the age of nineteen, she wanted so badly to feel like an adult. Despite being intimidated by Harrison, she was also attracted to him.

“My affair with Harrison was a very long one-night stand. I was relieved when it ended. I didn’t approve of myself.”

Carrie Fisher

On the other hand, Fisher was so embarrassed by the affair and did not share what happened with anyone for forty years. She did not want Harrison’s wife to find out about their affair. At times she also realized there was no substance to their relationship. They had a physical attraction, but would sit in silence for hours without having any conversation. Beyond that physical bond, there was nothing to their relationship.

This book was difficult to read because of Carrie Fisher’s scattered thoughts.

While it might be considered part of her charm, I found it difficult to get past her writing style. I frequently found myself engaged in pages of good writing about life behind the scenes of Star Wars, followed by a few paragraphs that were so crazy and scattered that it left me confused about everything else I had just read. Throughout the book, there were passages where Fisher rambled about things completely off topic. Sometimes those things seemed completely outside of reality.

In several passages, Fisher confesses to drinking and having smoked marijuana in her younger years. While these may account for some of her strange ramblings, they may not account for all of them. In one passage from a diary she wrote at the age of nineteen, she writes about a fish that came to her on a flaming pie and sat on her window, laughing at her. While this is by far the strangest example, smaller pieces of her writing seem completely divorced from reality (or even reality within Star Wars). While I could probably stand to lighten up and enjoy her quirkiness, passages like this kept me from believing the more “real” feeling passages.

Quick Review:

Despite her sometimes rude language and seemingly loose grasp on reality, I would still recommend this book to any Star Wars fan. Carrie Fisher shares her insecurities as a young actress starring in a role that became bigger than she ever dreamed. She writes about the struggles of becoming famous. Her humorous stories and wit are found throughout this memoir of the making of Star Wars.

Jodie Sweetin Shares Her Addiction Story

In her memoir unSweetined, Jodie Sweetin writes about her struggle with alcohol and drug addiction. Since the publication of that book in 2009, Sweetin began speaking at events through Keppler Speakers. In the video below from Keppler Speakers, she shares her addiction story.

Just like in her memoir, Sweetin expresses in this video that the pressures of being on set and pretending to be okay all of the time did not help her learn good habits for relating to others. She shares about her high school experience and her first drink at the age of thirteen. Although she was famous, she expresses that it didn’t change her desire to blend in. Drinking helped her feel better in a way she felt she could not do on her own.

The Depth of Sweetin’s Addiction

Sweetin shares throughout this video and her memoir that she did not drink like anyone else her age. While others her age were drinking a little to get buzzed, she was getting completely wasted. Throughout high school, she found ways to get as drunk as she possibly could. When her parents insisted that she come home on the weekends during college, she spent the rest of the week missing class so she could party. She began using drugs in addition to her drinking, taking her addiction to an even more dangerous place.

“I took it to a place that got very dangerous very quickly.”

Jodie Sweetin

Despite having people who cared for her, Sweetin only cared about getting drunk or high. In college, she had a very caring boyfriend who ended up being her first husband. He wanted to help her get sober, but she was uninterested in helping herself. Her roommate and her parents tried to help her, but no one was able to help her because of the depth of her addiction.

“That was all I could think about, was getting out of my own head.”

Jodie Sweetin

Sweetin’s Inspiration for Sobriety

While married to her second husband, Sweetin became pregnant with her daughter and realized that something had to change. She remained sober from the time she found out she was pregnant until she gave birth. After having her daughter, though, she relapsed and began drinking again. When her marriage began to fall apart, however, she realized that she needed to pull herself together if she was going to have custody of her daughter.

In 2016, she competed in Dancing with the Stars. After the competition, she began filming for Fuller House, the reboot of the sitcom Full House which brought Sweetin into the spotlight. Season 2 of Fuller House was released on Netflix on December 9, and a third season is yet to be announced. She continues to share her story of addiction and sobriety through Keppler Speakers. Today she has two daughters to continue to inspire her to stay sober: Zoie and Beatrix.

unSweetined

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In her memoir unSweetined, Jodie Sweetin shares her struggle with alcohol and drug addiction. Known for her time as Stephanie Tanner on Full House and more recently on the Netflix reboot Fuller House, Sweetin opens up about her addictions, despite their ugliness. Although her addiction is not a secret to the public, she uses the pages of her memoir to reveal the emptiness that brought her to these addictions and what gave her the strength to find her way out.

unSweetined by Jodie Sweetin
unSweetined by Jodie Sweetin

Throughout her years on set, the cast of Full House became like family to her. Sweetin recounts some of the fun times on set, along with some of the pressure she felt to be her best at all times. At one event, fans were pushing and crowding the table where she was signing autographs so much that they had to remove her from the location. Later, people were complaining, saying that they could not believe that she would do that to her fans. It was a struggle for her at that age to balance her desire to please others with her need for rest and safety.

“I was just too young to understand that it was OK to have my own limits and boundaries.”

Jodie Sweetin

After her time on Full House ended, Sweetin felt empty. Although there were some opportunities to visit with the cast, she was forced to move on to the next thing. She made attempts to get other roles, but most directors could not see her as anything but Stephanie Tanner. Frustrated by failed attempts to keep her acting career going, she entered high school feeling like an outsider in both school and Hollywood. At Full House co-star Candace Cameron’s wedding, she was offered a drink. She continued drinking until she was drunk, and ended up vomiting in the bathroom. In the years following that first drink, she found herself in the throes of drug and alcohol addiction.

Jodie Sweetin’s story gives us a glimpse at some of the reasons people turn to addiction.

In exploring the history of her alcohol and drug addictions, Sweetin reflected on some of the reasons for her addictions. While the loss she felt over Full House ending was a major contributor to her addiction, other things led her down that path. Despite knowing she didn’t have much of a reason to drink, she still felt like a shell of a person. Her parents did not tell people that she was adopted for fear that they would think they were exploiting her in Hollywood, but her adoption may have contributed to her addiction. Her biological parents had addictions, and she knew that it could make her more prone to addiction.

“A big chunk that I felt was missing in me had been filled that day by drinking.”

Jodie Sweetin

The biggest reason she felt she was addicted to alcohol and drugs, though, was that she felt she was not enough without them. Without drugs, she wasn’t the funniest or the prettiest girl in the room. With them, she could make people laugh. When she had drugs and alcohol, people wanted to be around her. People wanted to talk to her and to get to know her. The part of her that she felt wasn’t ever good enough was gone when she had that first taste of alcohol.

She also shows us that having something to live for can help someone fight addiction.

When Sweetin was at a low point in her addiction, her first husband helped get her into a rehab facility. It was there that she was able to get clean and sober for a time. She had counseling several times a day and had friends inside who were going through similar things. Because of the idyllic nature of the facility, it was easy to stay sober while inside it. However, once on the outside of this facility, Sweetin quickly found her way back to drugs, despite the fact she was working as a motivational speaker (sharing her story about beating addiction) at the time.

“Love is wanting something more for someone else than you do for yourself.”

Jodie Sweetin

When Sweetin became pregnant, she finally found the motivation to get sober. Once she found out about her pregnancy, she did not use drugs or drink. Now married to her second husband, she realized that he was an unpleasant and emotionally abusive man. After the birth of their child, she began to drink as an escape from her miserable marriage. At one point, she even drove away, drunk, with her daughter in the car. However, she realized that she needed to get clean if she was going to be able to leave the marriage and retain custody of her daughter. She moved in with her parents and worked hard at sobriety.

At the time of the book’s publication (2009) she was still fighting for custody and several months sober. Today, she has a second daughter and is working as a motivational speaker and on the set of Fuller House. She found the strength to get clean by looking outside herself and looking at what was really important: her daughter.

Quick Review:

I found this to be an all-around enjoyable read. While Jodie Sweetin covers a lot of mature material in the book, she writes in a tactful way that conveys her current regret for some of her past mistakes. She explains her past and current feelings, showing readers growth over time and her recovery from addiction. Although this book is significantly dated, it is still worth reading for any Full House or Fuller House fan.