– by Wendy Morley –
We all feel bummed out from time to time. Sometimes there’s a reason—difficulties at work or illness in the family or just biting off more than you can chew and feeling like ripping your hair out. Sometimes there’s really no reason at all. You’re bummed out just because the day is cloudy and cold, for example. Regardless of the reasons, here are a few books that will entertain you while making you appreciate your life, despite its difficulties.
It’s difficult to imagine now the extreme poverty experienced in the western world in years gone by, especially during the Great Depression. Add in parents who do not take seriously the job of keeping their children alive and it’s heartbreaking. In this, the first of her four-part autobiographical series, Helen Forrester recounts her days as a child born to parents who had once had money but had lost it. As they had never had to learn how to function without, they were abysmal at the job. Your jaw will drop at the decisions this couple made that led to their children starving and living through winters without proper clothing while they spent money they didn’t have in their attempts to keep up appearances. As the oldest of seven children, Helen took on the thankless responsibility of looking after and providing for her family by herself.
The style is slightly simplistic and Forrester sometimes belabors a point, but this book is well worth the easy read all the same, as are the other books in her autobiographical series, Liverpool Miss, By the Waters of Liverpool and Lime St at Two.
Again taking place during the Great Depression, Angela’s Ashes is a wonderfully written and funny, if tragic, memoir of Frank McCourt’s life growing up in a Limerick slum, with a father who drank up the few coins that came in. Oldest of a slew of boys—one sister dying shortly after birth and a set of twins both dying early in their lives due to the family’s inability to support them—Frank too ended up responsible for keeping his family alive. His drunken, tyrannical and abusive father had gone to find work elsewhere, but only rarely sent money back and soon stopped altogether, leaving his wife and children to starve if it hadn’t been for Frank, who began stealing food for his family. At the age of 13 Frank was kicked out of school and combined odd jobs with stealing in order to keep his family alive.
This book sounds horrendous and in some ways it is, but the trademark Irish humor combined with his superior writing ability not only made this book a bestseller but also won McCourt a number of awards, including the Pulitzer Prize.
If you have ever yearned for a life less boring than your suburban, white-picket-fence existence, then this book should relieve you of that in short order. Though to be sure there was some magic in author Jeannette Walls’ decidedly non-traditional upbringing, for the most part she and her siblings were kept from the basic necessities of life, often homeless and just as often living in squalor. Her parents were probably both alcoholics. probably both also mentally ill and definitely self-absorbed. Despite the fact that they had the ability to provide, they and their four children live a life almost completely broke and mostly on the run, though they have a couple of periods of relative stability. Added to this is sexual abuse of a sibling by a relative, violence against all the children at the hands of others and abuse at the hands of the father, while the mother keeps living her artistic delusions. During a brief period of responsibility when her mother decides to go back into nursing, Jeannette is left in charge of the household and finances, which begins many years of trial and error as she learns how to make her way in the world and help her siblings to do the same.
Jeannette Walls broke free by following her sister to New York City, where she worked odd jobs and earned scholarships to put herself through school, ultimately earning an internship at a newspaper. She is a talented writer, and her memoir is gripping. It has won many awards and remained on the New York Times Bestseller list for 100 weeks.