The Joplin Globe, Joplin, MO

November 30, 2007

Book review: Personal stories an intrustion in "Place to Call Home"

‘A Place to Call Home: The Amazing Success Story of Modern Orphanages’

By Martha Randolph Carr

“A Place to Call Home” was not what I was expecting, so I had to remind myself not to fall into the reviewer’s trap of reviewing the work one expected rather than the one actually at hand.

I thought it would be full of facts and statistics along with, perhaps, a lot of anecdotal evidence. That’s what I expected, and that’s what I wanted. I am struggling mightily to get past those expectations to convey what the book actually is, and was evidently intended to be.

There are profiles of five residential education facilities (what most orphanage/youth homes prefer to call themselves these days), only a couple of which deal with children who are wards of the state (such as actual orphans or children whose parents have had their parental rights terminated) or those who have been removed temporarily from the home by the authorities. Most are restricted to voluntarily placed children who have troubled homes, primarily single-parent households where there is parental drug abuse or incapacity.

While these homes are all doing very good jobs helping children who are trying to survive troubling circumstances, there is little information about the more than 500,000 children currently in foster care and how such programs could benefit them. This is particular aggravating considering that the jacket blurb mentions those children in particular and they are not eligible to live at most of the homes detailed in the book. I am sure there are residential facilities of this type that accept placements from state agencies, and it would have been helpful to have information on how well those homes work versus those that only accept voluntary placements.

The other issue I had with this book is that the author focuses a great deal on her own personal situation. She is a single mother of a troubled son, and while there is certainly an audience for that type of memoir, I felt imposed upon while reading this book to keep running into her personal story. About 7/8 of the way through the book, her story tied into the one she was supposedly telling, but I still found it obtrusive. Again, there’s an audience for parental memoirs, but the title and jacket information really don’t indicate that this is such a book, and I am not the audience for that sort of thing, so I found it off-putting.

All in all, I will continue to wait for someone to write a more informative book on the subject with less about the author and more about the children.

‘Inside Inside’

By James Lipton

Lipton, the creator and host of the Bravo television network’s “Inside the Actor’s Studio,” was a far more engaging read.

Again, though, I was somewhat surprised by the contents of the book. I had assumed that it was primarily about the television program (on which Lipton interviews actors, directors and others in the performing arts), but it is, in the main, a journey through Lipton’s own career. There are, to be sure, lots of snippets from interviews and behind-the-scenes views of people like Christopher Reeve, Michael J. Fox, Elton John, Charlize Theron, Drew Barrymore, Mike Myers and loads of others, but the main focus is on Lipton himself.

He certainly has had an interesting journey through life and is a master storyteller, so there’s nothing wrong with that! I laughed out loud a number of times while reading this one. Perhaps the funniest story is one about his soap opera experience on “The Guiding Light” back when he was playing young Dr. Dick Grant. The story of the “battle of the blanket,” as it came to be known, is an extremely amusing account of a war of wills between Irna Phillips, the soap’s creator and head writer, and Ted Corday, the long-suffering director, over a line of dialogue Phillips fell in love with and kept inserting into the script for months with Corday cutting it daily. Sadly, there’s not space here to fully recount the war, so you’ll have to read the book if you’d like to know more.

All in all, it’s an interesting if long (at nearly 500 pages) look at a career and a number of the fascinating people encountered along the way.

Linda Cannon is the collection development librarian at Joplin Public Library.