Just a few years behind schedule, I’ve just finished reading “The Glass Castle.” It’s one of the very few books I’ve read for fun recently. And it is remarkable for many reasons – one of which is that it contextualizes much about American political development and the (deliberate) absence of the American welfare state in the central lives of its very poverty-stricken central characters during the 1960’s – 1970’s. It is one of the few memoirs I’ve read that simply illuminates the struggles of a recently by-gone era in ways that remind us how differently communities were structured prior to the full implementation of government anti-poverty laws that we now take for granted. Along with “Black Boy: American Hunger” and “The Autobiography of Malcolm X” (both from slightly earlier times), “The Glass Castle” effectively provides a memoirist’s detailed window on neglected populations living in decidedly unglamorous geographic and social communities.
“The Glass Castle” is a teaching tool in many ways – especially for some of us who grew up in a time when Head Start, school “free lunch”, and other related government programs were a social and legal norm. And, for better or worse, and despite recent threats (see, r.e., http://www.nytimes.com/2011/03/11/us/politics/11headstart.html?_r=1), many of those core anti-poverty programs are such settled law that few members of either major party would seriously consider outright eliminating them. And so it is that we take the programs’ existence as a political and legal given, and the problems that created such programs become a *somewhat* distant memory. We certainly still have poverty and inequality in America, although it appears that these programs have served to partially mitigate their effects.