Angela's Ashes and My First World Problems

July 12, 2013 Coming of Age, Family, Memoirs 31

As I live and breathe, if it isn’t my wee Bookworms!

I hope you read that in an Irish accent, because I just finished reading Angela’s Ashes by Frank McCourt. Angela’s Ashes is the story of Frank McCourt’s childhood, if you can refer to spending your formative years in abject poverty and borderline starvation a “childhood.” This book rates right up there with Jeanette Walls’s Glass Castle for the “I cannot believe anyone could survive that” factor. Of course, McCourt darn near didn’t survive.


McCourt’s parents are both Irish immigrants. They connect at a party in Brooklyn… In more ways than one. Oh yeah. Frankie was either a miraculously fast growing fetus, or he was conceived well before his parents’s wedding. It’s the dawn of the Great Depression, but the McCourts just keep multiplying. To add to the chaos, Frank’s father Malachy is a raging alcoholic. He cannot keep a job for long, and even when he’s working the wages rarely make it beyond the pub. He regularly lines up his toddler boys to ask them if they’ll be willing to die for Ireland after a bender. I can’t say a whole lot more about this book without spoiling a ton of things, but I will tell you the family ends up moving back to Ireland… And if you thought things were bad in America, Ireland put those struggles to SHAME.

Comic by Roz Chast

Comic by Roz Chast

I ran across this cartoon and it cracked me up because it’s so true. I tend to gravitate toward the “Way Worse Than Your Life” section, so I’m going to list out a few reasons I’m feeling guilty for my first world problems, courtesy of Angela’s Ashes. I’m going to list out some things I ought to remember…

1. The next time I complain about my less than svelte physique, I shall be grateful that I’ve never had to rob an orchard for food, have a pig’s head for Christmas dinner, or give my siblings bottles of sugar and water because milk is too expensive.

2. The next time I complain about having a cold, I shall be grateful that it isn’t typhoid fever.

3. The next time I turn my nose up at cleaning my toilets, I shall be grateful that I HAVE toilets. Private toilets.

4. The next time I am frustrated with a rainy day, I shall be grateful that it does not rain inside my house.

5. The next time I look in my messy closet, I shall be grateful that it is full of clothes that are clean and do not contain parasites.

Have any of you Bookworms read a book that smacked you upside the head with how lucky you are? Do you prefer your memoirs from the “Way Worse Than Your Life” section, too? Tell me about it!

31 Responses to “Angela's Ashes and My First World Problems”

  1. Andi (@estellasrevenge)

    Ha! Loved this review (and I just finished The Glass Castle last weekend, so we’re on the same page). I have this one on my shelves, too, and now I’m even more interested to read it.

    • Words for Worms

      Yes, yes it did! Twice actually. They blame some of the Dad’s problems on being dropped on his head, but the uncle definitely has major problems thanks to an ill-advised drunken dropping…

  2. Ashley F

    The Glass Castle killed me. I couldn’t comprehend how those children didn’t get taken away by social services. Does it make me a bad bookworm/history dork to admit I never finished this book? I started it, just couldn’t get into it. It’s totally on the guilt list.

    • Words for Worms

      This one was tough to read. It took place in the 30s-40s but I was still like WHERE IS SOCIAL SERVICES?!?! There are lice! The children are starving! Gah!

  3. Heather

    I read “way worse than my life books” so I can see how other people live. It keeps me empathetic. It keeps things in perspective. It teaches me.

    Now you must read ‘Tis.

  4. Jenny @ Reading the End (formerly Jenny's Books)

    I love the cartoon! Although I don’t think I’ve encountered any memoirs about lives that are much better than my life. Like, rich person memoirs? Is that a thing? I feel like most of the ones I see — not just read, but see — are about people with miserable wretched lives.

    • Words for Worms

      Oh yeah rich people totally do memoirs… It’s just they’re usually kind of washed up by the time they write them so nobody is interested anymore.

  5. Jolyse Barnett

    I tend to read memoirs that are about the same as my life, or a tad worse. Most recently, I read a travel memoir “From Freeways to Flip-Flops” by Sonia Marsh. I anticipated a romanticized version of life, since the family was relocating from southern CA to a simpler, tropical island life. I had no idea (and neither she did, I learned) that the family would encounter/survive third world country life. They eventually returned to the states, but a very interesting read. My friends are always recommending Angela’s Ashes to me, but I find life sad and scary enough without having to read about it. However, your review is making me rethink the book. Maybe. 🙂

  6. RebeccaScaglione - Love at First Book

    I happen to enjoy the “way worse” section because it’s unique and a story that is so far from my life! I have no problems reading about sad, scary, disturbing lives – they are interesting and teach me to be nicer to people and appreciate what I have.

    Here’s one: The next time I complain about how expensive gas is, I will be happy that I have a car and don’t have to walk 10 miles to work!

    • Words for Worms

      Yes! It puts the little annoying stuff into perspective. Expensive gas or walking? Excellent. I’m adding that to my mental list o’ thankfulness.

  7. Wayne

    This one strikes home. As a half-Irish guy my mother grew up in upstate NY just before the depression in an impoverished background. She managed to get to NYC and get a scholarship to become a nurse/social worker. Eventually, because of her looks and smarts she became a stewardess. So all eventually turned out well although there were scars. I thank my lucky stars that I grew up in California when it was truly the Sunshine State.

  8. acps927

    I too am more likely to gravitate towards “worse than your life” memoirs, because you feel like those people have a story worth telling. Most celebrities, I feel, don’t really have much to share in terms of something I can really relate to or learn from. I don’t know what memoirs are written that are like my life though… I feel like those would be really boring! You should check out Unbroken by Laura Hillenbrand if you haven’t already. It’s the very in-depth story of Louie Zamperini, who was in the Air Force in WWII and then captured and placed in various POW camps. Seriously, it’s the best thing I’ve read this year. It’s hard to get through but so worth it.

    • Words for Worms

      We read Unbroken in one of my book clubs. It was INTENSE. I loved it, but it got a little weird toward the end when Billy Graham cured Zamperini’s alcoholism… But whatever. Everybody’s got an a-ha moment.

    • Wayne

      I really loved *Unbroken* about Louie Zamperini who was a bad boy redeemed by his brother’s love who got him involved in distance running and ultimately going on to the ’36 Olympics where he competed and actually stoled a nazi flag as a “souvenir”. I was fortunate enough to hear him at a local church where he talked about the horrible abuse he suffered by the Japanese guards and his redemption from the rage and trauma he felt after the war. I suppose he’s no longer with us although his spirit lives on. The civilian airfield in Torrance, California is named for him to honor him.

  9. flipthinks

    I first read this when I was in school, it made quite an impression on 15-year-old me who had never really gone beyond France. Definitely put my teenage moaning into perspective…

  10. Jennifer @ The Relentless Reader

    I should save this list and read it when I’m feeling out of sorts. You know, those days when my hair looks awful or on the days when I don’t feel like cooking. Wah wah wah. And yes, Angela’s Ashes knocked me over with it’s awsomeness. It made me weep.

  11. Sarah Says Read

    You know I used to read a lot more of the “way worse than my life” type of books when I was a bit younger. I haven’t read many since I started reviewing books because what if it’s a book like this and my initial reaction is “Dude this book sucks it was the most boring”, then I totally look like an ass! That’s why if I read any memoir-ish book lately, it’s more of the comedy variety. Reviewing sad or serious memoirs is hard! You seem to have nailed it here though, lol.

  12. Wayne

    Whoops, I should have done on Google search on Louie Zamperini. He spoke at USC in March of 2013 where he previously trained for the ’36 Olympics. So I suppose he’s still with us, God bless him. See him while he’s still on this earth. You won’t regret it!

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