January 22nd, 2008

grasshopper and ant: _Animal, Vegetable, Miracle_ and _Glass Castle_

This month's book group selection was _The Glass Castle_ by Jeannette Walls. Now, ever since that _Million Little Pieces_ thing, I'm extra special leary of memoirs, but as near as I can tell, no one has so much as suggested that Walls' book is anything other than accurate.

_The Glass Castle_ is well written. It is a compelling read. It moves quickly. It does not over-play emotions (I would argue the authorial voice is still somewhat detached, and still very much identifying with/sympathizing with her parents). Reading _The Glass Castle_ feels like someone has taken your heart out of you and cut it into little pieces, stomped on them, then dropped trou and shit on the remains. Walls' parents probably don't actually qualify as Worst Parents Ever (the text gives no evidence that they, for example, raped their children, or hid them in the basement and called them 'It'). But they're right up there.

How to convey this? Dad's smart, capable of getting work as an electrician. Mom's got a teaching degree, capable of getting work as a teacher. Unfortunately, dad's also an alcoholic, and has a whole series of kooky dreams (the titular castle, a device for finding gold, etc.). Unfortunately, mom's also hoping to be an artist or writer or something, and would rather paint or write than, say, fix a hot dog for her three year old, who therefore learns to do it herself and winds up with burns over a good chunk of her body and needing skin grafts. They're on the run a lot, from bill collectors, and possibly also from social workers (that's less clear, but they eventually stabilize in West Virginia, where social workers reliably have tougher cases to help that are more welcoming of assistance).

The kids are all smart and healthy (well, except the SIDS baby), which means they survive the non-upbringing, despite falling out of cars, being thrown into a hot pot to learn how to swim, etc. The author figures out a way (with the help of a neighbor who needs child care) to get her sister to New York city. Once one of them is out, the rest follow. Inevitably the parents trail along after and continue to wreak havoc on their lives. Once in NYC, the parents find it really, really, really easy to be homeless : pews to sleep in, libraries full of books, lots of soup kitchens and spaghetti feeds at churches. And as a result of white flight, lots of empty buildings to squat in.

So those were the grasshoppers (the parents). Now for the ants.

After reading Michael Pollan, it made sense to pull Barbara Kingsolver's book off the shelf, _Animal, Vegetable, Miracle_. I should mention this happened before reading _Glass Castle_. Kingsolver says she won the 1972 Betty Crocker Homemaker of the Year award. This is in passing, and she says something like mostly by accident, but this is a representative feature of Kingsolver. She deserved that award then and deserves it more now. After a decade or so in Tucson, and several years of not eating CAFO meat, the family moves Back to the Farm to trying a year of eating locally. They are not purists (so they don't lose weight), and they planned much further ahead than did Smith and MacKinnon -- the point where their first local food was asparagus, which takes a few years of planning ahead to eat out of your own garden. Oh, and there were fruit trees on their farm that were 50-70 years old and good producers. Did I mention the younger daughter brought with her three pet hens from her flock in Arizona?

Probably the best part of the book is the description of Kingsolver's efforts to get her heirloom turkeys to have sex and then sit on the eggs. I knew from _Dirty Jobs_ that turkey reproduction was all about the artificial insemination; I did _not_ know that that was for virtually every turkey in the US (well, not the wild ones! And yes, there are still wild turkeys. Come visit some time. We see them crossing the road in the fall, especially. Really.).

Where Pollan's book was inchoate and angsty, the Kingsolver-Hopps (there are actually three authors: mom, dad, and Barbara's older daughter from first marriage) are cheerful and kinda preachy. They're relatively gentle about it, but still. There you have it. Evangelical.

Oh, and they reproduce the same bankrupt rationale for consuming animal flesh. And I think they're being a little naive about cage free eggs being available nearly everywhere. The definition of cage free is, shall we say, not always what we would expect it to be.

what do you mean, no chocolate!?!

I woke up this morning thinking about hot chocolate. Cool! I'll have some with breakfast. I start making it and it smells vile and kinda rancid. The cocoa powder is not that old, so I asked J. to take a sniff. She says it smells just fine to her. I check the Green & Black's mint chocolate bar I had some of _last night_ and _it_ smells vile and kinda rancid.

No chocolate. *whimper*

In a panic, I smelled the peanut butter.

It smelled _great_.