Sunday, October 14, 2007


For me, it started with Angela's Ashes.

I just finished The Glass Castle, a memoir about a miserable childhood (as a former counter for the US Census, I was interested to see proof of why the government asks how many toilets in the residence). I've read Bad Blood: A Memoir, Learning Joy from Dogs Without Collars, Running with Scissors, and several others whose titles I don't remember right now. The early parts of these books are a little more fun, when the authors are so young that they don't understand how really screwed up things are.

These memoirs make much more interesting reading than happy, "normal" childhoods would. I remember that when I started volunteering at Harry's Mother, the trainees were asked why they wanted to work with run-away, throw-away youth. There seemed to be two camps: Those of us who had survived crappy childhoods with poverty, bad parents, poor parenting, trouble, and/or drugs wanted to be the person who helped them when they were growing up, or who they wished had; and those of us who had had ordinary childhoods and wanted to reach out to those who hadn't been as fortunate as we had been.

Sometimes I feel like I shouldn't be reading these books, being entertained by someone else's unhappiness (though they are not relentlessly unhappy every moment). The authors are telling their stories, though, so it seems that they want someone to read them, to hear them speak about where they come from and who they (and their families) are. I'm drawn in, time after time, and not just to the unhappy childhoods.

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