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KNOXVILLE — Jeannette Walls’ best-selling memoir, “The Glass Castle” — which vividly illustrates the issue of poverty and its effect on children — is the 2009 Life of the Mind book.

Life of the Mind is a program at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville, which encourages all first-year students to read the assigned book during the summer and then participate in group discussions of the book during Welcome Week. While a scholastic endeavor, the program also helps new students transition to college. It gives students a shared experience during their first week on campus when many are nervous about finding their place. They get to meet a professor and fellow first-year students. At the same time, the program promotes critical thinking, reading and engagement.

Students also are encouraged to write a one-page response to the book to bring to their discussion groups. The 10 best papers, as selected by discussion leaders, will be invited to a private luncheon with the chancellor.

The book will help kick off a yearlong series of university programming and events focusing on poverty. As part of that, “The Glass Castle” author Jeanette Walls will visit campus in the fall.

Walls has written for “New York Magazine,” “Esquire,” USA Today and been a gossip columnist for MSNBC.com, and she has appeared regularly on “The Today Show,” CNN and “PrimeTime Live.”

MSNBC.com’s Denise Hazlick called Walls’ book “a no-holds barred tale of a nomadic, deprived childhood told with the hypnotic wonderment of a child who always wants to believe that Daddy will be a hero in the end and that Momma really does know best.

“You are enrapt reading about Walls and her siblings rifling through trash cans at school looking for food, doing the skedaddle in the middle of the night, or waiting for Dad to come home after another bender. It’s a riveting story and a testament to Walls’ indomitable desire to rise above a life that could have easily turned her into just another tragic headline.”

Google’s book review says, “What is so astonishing about Jeannette Walls is not just that she had the guts and tenacity and intelligence to get out, but that she describes her parents with such deep affection and generosity. Hers is a story of triumph against all odds, but also a tender, moving tale of unconditional love in a family that despite its profound flaws gave her the fiery determination to carve out a successful life on her own terms.

“For two decades, Jeannette Walls hid her roots. Now she tells her own story.”

And Curledup.com says, “The book grabs you immediately from the first sentence and never lets go.”

Previous Life of the Mind selections have included “The Color of Water” by James McBride; “The No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency” by Alexander McCall Smith; “The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time” by Mark Haddon; “Hope and Other Dangerous Pursuits” by Laila Lalami; “In the Wake of the Plague” by Norman Cantor; and “A Long Way Gone: Memoirs of a Boy Soldier”
by Ishmael Beah.

For more about the Life of the Mind program, see http://chancellor.tennessee.edu/lifeofthemind/.



Amy Blakely (865-974-5034, amy.blakely@tennessee.edu)