Walls, Jeannette 1960(?)–
Walls, Jeannette 1960(?)–
PERSONAL: Born c. 1960; daughter of Rex and Rose Marie (an artist) Walls; married John Taylor (a writer). Education: Barnard College, B.A., 1984.
CAREER: Journalist. New York Magazine, New York, NY, gossip columnist, 1987–93; Esquire, New York, NY, gossip columnist, 1993–98; MSNBC.com, gossip columnist, 1998–.
Dish: The Inside Story on the World of Gossip, Spike (New York, NY), 2000.
The Glass Castle: A Memoir, Scribner (New York, NY), 2005.
SIDELIGHTS: New York-based writer Jeannette Walls is a popular gossip columnist for magazines such as New York and Esquire, and online for MSNBC. Her first book, Dish: The Inside Story on the World of Gossip, analyzes the role of gossip in media and public perception, and traces its history from the 1950s up through its explosion in the 1990s. The book includes revealing tidbits as well, showing how Walls gained her reputation as a top gossip columnist. Charles Winecoff, writing for Entertainment Weekly, remarked that the book "is at its best when detailing the often-ignominious backgrounds of some of today's most ubiquitous news figures." Winecoff added, however, that it "never delivers any real bombshells, and its relentlessly garrulous tone eventually becomes anesthetizing." Library Journal contributor Kelli N. Perkins called Walls' book "both an entertaining insider's look and a solid history of gossip." Jonathan Bing, writing for Variety, stated that "Walls proves the quintessential insider, and a highly entertaining one at that. Her accounts of dueling Hollywood gossips Hedda Hopper and Louella Parsons, tabloid TV icons like Barbara Walters and Geraldo Rivera, and high-flying editrix Tina Brown, lay bare the inner workings of the major gossip outlets in their ongoing efforts to somehow balance dish, cronyism and actual news."
In The Glass Castle: A Memoir Walls applies her fascination with people's lives to herself, revealing her own painful, deprived childhood and a life she once viewed as a shameful secret. Told from Walls' point of view as a child, the book describes her alcoholic father and artist mother, parents who seemed more intent on their next adventure than on providing basic necessities for their children. At the age of three, Walls caught her dress on fire while attempting to cook a hotdog because her mother was too busy painting to fix her a meal. The family often skipped town in the dead of night to avoid bill collectors or paying back rent on apartments that lacked heat or running water. When they ended up in Welch, Virginia, the small mining town where Walls' father grew up, the children could add their grandmother's abuse to their list of hardships. At age seventeen, Walls finally escaped to New York City with her older sister, and the two struggled to support themselves with jobs in the service industry while living in an apartment in the South Bronx. Eventually, Walls graduated from Barnard College, a degree paid for with scholarships, loans, and her own hard-earned money, then went on to a career in journalism.
The Glass Castle describes not only the hardships Walls overcame, but the guilt associated with improving her lot in life. When her parents moved to New York, they became squatters in lower Manhattan, digging through dumpsters and refusing to acknowledge that they needed assistance, their lives a sharp contrast to Walls' own successful Park Avenue existence. Spectator reviewer Olivia Glazebrook remarked that Walls' memoir "is full of astonishing episodes, but the book is a success beyond its ability to shock. Jeannette Walls … has managed to balance her account with great precision: as she and her siblings did, we must both love and hate her parents." In an Entertainment Weekly review of the memoir, Nicolas Fonesca noted, "it's safe to say that none of her scoops could outshine the blunt truths on these pages." Booklist reviewer Stephanie Zvirin commented: "shocking, sad, and occasionally bitter, this gracefully written account speaks candidly, yet with surprising affection." A contributor for Kirkus Reviews observed that Walls' "tell-it-like-it-was memoir is moving because it's unsentimental; she neither demonizes nor idealizes her parents, and there remains an admirable libertarian quality about them, though it justifiably elicits the children's exasperation and disgust."
In an interview with Entertainment Weekly contributor Karen Valby, Walls explained her reluctance to tell people about her past: "I never set out to deceive anybody," the journalist maintained. "I'm a bad liar. I just didn't want to be 'Oh, the girl with the homeless mom.'"
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
Walls, Jeannette, The Glass Castle: A Memoir, Scribner (New York, NY), 2005.
Booklist, February 1, 2000, Ilene Cooper, review of Dish: The Inside Story on the World of Gossip, p. 995; October 1, 2000, Candace Smith, review of Dish, p. 367; February 1, 2005, Stephanie Zvirin, review of The Glass Castle, p. 923.
Columbia Journalism Review, July, 2000, Andie Tucher, review of Dish, p. 66.
Entertainment Weekly, March 10, 2000, Charles Winecoff, review of Dish, p. 64; March 11, 2005, Nicholas Fonseca, review of The Glass Castle, p. 107; March 18, 2005, Karen Valby, "Coming up for Air: In Her Blistering New Memoir, The Glass Castle, Gossip Columnist Jeannette Walls Dredges up Her Own Long-Buried Secrets and Lies," p. 32.
Kirkus Reviews, December 15, 2004, review of The Glass Castle, p. 1195.
Library Journal, April 1, 2000, Kelli N. Perkins, review of Dish, p. 119; February 15, 2005, Gina Kaiser, review of The Glass Castle, p. 141.
Newsweek, March 7, 2005, Barbara Kantrowitz, review of The Glass Castle, p. 55.
People, April 4, 2005, Edward Nawotka, review of The Glass Castle, p. 45.
Psychology Today, May-June, 2005, review of The Glass Castle, p. 36.
Publishers Weekly, May 1, 2000, review of Dish, p. 32; January 17, 2005, review of The Glass Castle, p. 41; February 7, 2005, Bridget Kinsella, "Media Flocks to Scribner's The Glass Castle," p. 20.
Spectator, April 30, 2005, Olivia Glazebrook, review of The Glass Castle, p. 38.
Vanity Fair, April, 2005, Jim Windolf, review of The Glass Castle, p. 184.
Variety, June 5, 2000, Jonathan Bing, review of Dish, p. 31.
MSNBC.com, http://www.msnbc.com/ (July 16, 2005), Denise Hazlick, review of The Glass Castle.
Village Voice Online, http://www.villagevoice.com/ (July 16, 2005), Joy Press, review of The Glass Castle.