Half Broke Horses – by Jeannette Walls (2009)

I remember reading Jeannette Wall’s 2005 autobiography, “The Glass Castle”, years ago. In it, she described her very unusual childhood with her parents, Rex and Rosemary. They lived a nomadic lifestyle, with Rex preferring adventure and excitement to providing for his family, and Rosemary preferring her art endeavors to caring for her children. Jeannette and her three siblings basically had to raise and feed themselves. It was amazing that the author turned out as normal as she did.

“Half Broke Horses” is a prequel to “The Glass Castle”. Jeannette actually wanted to write a book about her mother’s childhood, but Rosemary said the story should be about her mother, Jeannette’s grandmother, Lily Casey Smith. Story after story poured forth from Rosemary to her daughter. Because Jeannette combined fictional detail and dialogue with the historic facts, she labeled the book “a true-life novel”.

Lily was a wild child right from the start. She was fascinated with horses, and was breaking them with her father at the age of six. Lily didn’t enjoy school, but was very intelligent. At the age of fifteen, she landed her first teaching job in a one-room schoolhouse. It took her 28 days to get there, riding on her trusty horse.

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The Personal Librarian – by Marie Benedict and Victoria Christopher Murray (2021)

“The Personal Librarian” is the story of Belle da Costa Greene, the librarian who developed and managed the personal library of J.P. Morgan, the wealthy financier. This was a highly unusual situation. Belle was the only applicant for the job who was a woman. Even more unusual, she was African-American.

Belle was born in 1879 to black parents. Her father was a professor and dean at Howard University School of Law; her mother was a music teacher. After Belle’s parents divorced, her mother was determined to give her children every opportunity that white children had. She changed their last name to Greene, moved the family to a new town where no one knew then, and pretended that they were caucasian. She also invented a Portuguese grandmother in the family tree to explain the somewhat olive complexion of some of her children. All of the children were taught to speak eloquently and conduct themselves in a cultured manner.

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