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The Glass Castle: A Memoir by Jeannette…
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The Glass Castle: A Memoir (edition 2006)

by Jeannette Walls

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15,738688191 (4.15)703
Member:Berly
Title:The Glass Castle: A Memoir
Authors:Jeannette Walls
Info:Scribner (2006), Paperback, 288 pages
Collections:Your library
Rating:****
Tags:Non-Fiction, Children of Alcoholics, Biography, Homeless

Work details

The Glass Castle by Jeannette Walls

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» See also 703 mentions

English (677)  German (3)  Spanish (2)  French (2)  Piratical (1)  Norwegian (1)  All languages (686)
Showing 1-5 of 677 (next | show all)
This is a sad depressing story. It feels very realistic but very down-hearted. Dysfunctional is only one of many words I could use to describe the Walls. Rex and his wife don't take responsibility seriously. They call themselves nomads or dreamers when in reality, I feel that they are avoiding responsibility. They are complete failures as parents. No wonder the kids want to escape as soon as they are able.

I can't recommend this book to anyone because I just don't like it enough to pick it up again.

It gets a 3 because the writing style is decent (although I don't care for the foul language). ( )
  caslater83 | Sep 20, 2018 |
Jeannette Walls had a hard life growing up with her two sisters, older Lori, and younger Maureen and one younger brother, Brian. Her father was an alcoholic who didn't hold down a job for long and her mother was an artist who rarely sold a piece of art, but held a degree in teaching that she only used twice in Walls life to help support the family when they were starving and had to be forced into it while the kids did the actual grading of her students' work. When her dad drank the hard stuff he would become violent and trash the place and once got into a knife fight with her mother. Though no one got hurt, it was scary to watch.

Her earliest memory is at the age of three cooking hotdogs over a gas stove and her dress catching fire and burning her and her not knowing what to do when her mother, Mary, arrived in the room and saw what was going on and fetched a blanket and put out the fire on her daughter's body with a blanket and taking her to the neighbor's house to get a ride to the hospital. She would receive skin grafts from her thigh to her side where she had been burned about the size of a hand. After six weeks her dad, Rex, decided she had been in the hospital enough and broke her out by sneaking her out. She immediately went back to cooking hot dogs over the stove and for a while became fascinated with fire. Soon, though they had to pick up stakes and leave because there was no food and they owed money.

They would move around California for a long while, stopping for a bit of a stay in Las Vegas before going to Arizona to stay in her mother's newly inherited home. With the money she had gotten from her mother after her death, she had enough to really make a go of her art career and a place to do it at. Her dad even got a good job as an electrician and they were able to afford nice things like a bicycle for everyone on top of food every night and electricity and for the first time, a phone. Things went well for a while. They did well in school. And then their father lost his job and got fired from his second and third. Soon he was down to doing odd jobs here and there. They had run through the money Mary had gotten from her inheritance and now they were back to an empty refrigerator. Mary shoplifted clothes for Maureen to wear to kindergarten since all she had to wear were threadbare hand-me-downs.

But soon, Mary would get it in her head that they would need to go stay with Rex's family in Welch, West Virginia even though Rex was vehemently against this. His family is likely part of the reason why he drank. Erma Walls was a hard, bitter woman who couldn't cook and was a racist who hated them on sight. Grandpa Wells was ok, and Uncle Stanley was another alcoholic who would prove to be a pervert. Life was hard in Welch. They were treated as the outsiders they were and were beat up regularly by one group or another. They were forced to move out of Erma's house and Rex found them a three-room shack way up in the hills with no indoor plumbing and no refrigerator. They had electricity when they could afford it. They had a stove that when they could afford it they put coal in it to heat the house, but when they couldn't they used wood, which wasn't nearly as effective. The roof had holes in it that let in rain.

The kids would eat food from the trash can at school and sometimes that would be the only food they'd eat that day. Her thin winter coat had no buttons and she would color her skin beneath the holes in her pants to cover the holes since she couldn't do patches so her skin was polka dotted in various colors. She found a two-carat ring in the woods but her mother refused to sell it instead deciding that it would replace her engagement ring that Rex had sold off years ago. Her kids are starving and she feels that she needs an adornment pick-me-up for her self-esteem rather than feed them.

Her mother didn't believe in rules but in letting one express oneself creatively and would get in trouble with the school she worked at for these ideas. Every few months or so Mary would receive a check for some property she owned in Texas that she had inherited that was being drilled on that would help them out. But once Rex would get to the check first and drink it away. He was working on a design for a Glass Castle where they would all live in that would be heated by solar panels and each kid would have their own room. He would start building on it when one of his inventions or his bright ideas came through and made them a lot of money. The kids often found themselves taking care of the adults in these relationships and let me tell you they frankly got sick of it eventually no matter how much they loved their parents. Wells is an amazing writer. You can hardly believe that this is factual. It's so difficult to believe, but the truth often is. The book is short and you can complete it pretty quickly but you are left feeling as though you have come on a long journey with a girl who grows into an incredible young woman and is satisfied by the completion of this journey. This is truly a remarkable book and I highly recommend it. ( )
  nicolewbrown | Sep 5, 2018 |
Homelessness has been my mind a lot lately (how it starts, how it pervades every aspect of your life and your sense of self, how lucky most of us are that we have a roof over our heads, why we have been so lucky, how can we help to eradicate homelessness as individuals and a society) so the beginning of this book definitely had me hooked. And the rest of the book was just as engaging.

The genre of the misery-lit, of growing up in poverty and abuse, overcoming them through strength of character/talent/hard work, is a popular one but also a difficult one to prevent from tipping into exploitation/voyeurism.

Here, Walls was clear-eyed and mostly objective in her recount of her childhood, never coy nor added introspection retroactively, did not try to excuse nor accuse, always direct, laying out the events as they were for the reader to decipher. It's also clear that she left way more stuff out than she put in, and that restraint is to be applauded as everything that she did put in was necessary to her narrative and what she left out did not detract from what she wanted to convey.

With recent ones such as Patricia Lockwood's Priestdaddy (read earlier this year) and Tara Westover's Educated (interested in reading), it makes me wonder and despair how many memoirs-in-making are happening right now. I also wonder and despair at the number of charismatic patriarchs who have made and are making life miserable for their families.

As inspiring as these stories can be, I keep being reminded that the ones that get published are often the "success" stories, the ones that have overcome these adversities. For every one of these books, there are thousands more of the same stories that don't end the same way. Not because they lacked the resolve or hard work of our protagonists but because of myriad of factors that ultimately arbitrarily rely on luck. It cannot be emphasised enough how much luck has to do with everything.

Overall a compulsive read. If Lori ever writes her version, I'd be all over it. Reading about her, her quiet strength, the hope she represented to her younger siblings, made me well up every time. She was the one who opened the way and made a different life seem possible. A true inspiration. ( )
  kitzyl | Sep 4, 2018 |
Wow! This is a dysfunctional family! I appreciate my nutty family tree even more.
Ms. walls, you kept me turning the pages! ( )
  cubsfan3410 | Sep 1, 2018 |
I have friends who seem to choose to live very alternative lives,including homeless lives. This books illuminates the reasons and philosophies of why people might do this. ( )
  ioplibrarian | Aug 26, 2018 |
Showing 1-5 of 677 (next | show all)
''The Glass Castle'' falls short of being art, but it's a very good memoir. At one point, describing her early literary tastes, Walls mentions that ''my favorite books all involved people dealing with hardships.'' And she has succeeded in doing what most writers set out to do -- to write the kind of book they themselves most want to read.
 

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Jeannette Wallsprimary authorall editionscalculated
Gibson, JuliaNarratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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Epigraph
Dark is a way and light is a place,
Heaven that never was
Nor will be ever is always true
-Dylan Thomas
"Poem on His Birthday"
Dedication
To John, for convincing me that everyone who is interesting has a past
First words
I was sitting in a taxi, wondering if I had overdressed for the evening, when I looked out the window and saw Mom rooting through a Dumpster.
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(Click to show. Warning: May contain spoilers.)
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Book description
The author recalls her life growing up in a dysfunctional family with an alcoholic father and distant mother and describes how she and her siblings had to fend for themselves until they finally found the resources and will to leave home.
Haiku summary

Amazon.com Amazon.com Review (ISBN 074324754X, Paperback)

Jeannette Walls grew up with parents whose ideals and stubborn nonconformity were both their curse and their salvation. Rex and Rose Mary Walls had four children. In the beginning, they lived like nomads, moving among Southwest desert towns, camping in the mountains. Rex was a charismatic, brilliant man who, when sober, captured his children's imagination, teaching them physics, geology, and above all, how to embrace life fearlessly. Rose Mary, who painted and wrote and couldn't stand the responsibility of providing for her family, called herself an "excitement addict." Cooking a meal that would be consumed in fifteen minutes had no appeal when she could make a painting that might last forever.

Later, when the money ran out, or the romance of the wandering life faded, the Walls retreated to the dismal West Virginia mining town -- and the family -- Rex Walls had done everything he could to escape. He drank. He stole the grocery money and disappeared for days. As the dysfunction of the family escalated, Jeannette and her brother and sisters had to fend for themselves, supporting one another as they weathered their parents' betrayals and, finally, found the resources and will to leave home.

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. A regular contributor to MSNBC.com, she lives in New York and Long Island and is married to the writer John Taylor.

An exclusive Q&A with Jeannette Walls, author of The Glass Castle

Q: How long did it take you to write The Glass Castle and what was that process like?

A: Writing about myself, and about intensely personal and potentially embarrassing experiences, was unlike anything I’d done before. Over the last 25 years, I wrote many versions of this memoir -- sometimes pounding out 220 pages in a single weekend. But I always threw out the pages. At one point I tried to fictionalize it, but that didn't work either.

When I was finally ready, I wrote it entirely on the weekends, getting to my desk by 7:30 or 8:00 a.m. and continuing until 6:00 or 7:00 p.m. I wrote the first draft in about six weeks -- but then I spent three or four years rewriting it. My husband, John Taylor, who is also a writer, observed all this approvingly and quoted John Fowles, who said that a book should be like a child: conceived in passion and reared with care.

Q: How did you decide to follow The Glass Castle with Half Broke Horses?

A: It was completely at the suggestion of readers. So many people kept saying the next book should be about my mother. Readers understood my father's recklessness because they understood alcoholism, but Mom was a mystery to them. Why, they would ask, would someone with the resources to lead a normal life choose the existence that she did?

I would tell them a little bit about my mother’s childhood. She not only knew that she could survive without indoor plumbing, but that was the ideal period of her life, a time that she tries to recreate. I think that for memoir readers, it's not about a freak show– they’re just looking to understand people and get into a life that’s not their own. I thought, let me give it a shot, let me ask Mom. And she was all for it. But she kept insisting that the book should really be about her mother. At first I resisted because my grandmother, Lily Casey Smith, died when I was eight years old, more than 40 years ago. But I have a very vivid memory of this tough, leathery woman; she sang, she danced, she shot guns, she’d play honky tonk piano. I was always captivated by her. Lily had told such compelling stories—I was stunned by the number of anecdotes, and that Mom knew so much detail about them. Half Broke Horses is a compilation of family stories, stitched together with gaps filled in. They're the sort of tales that pretty much everyone has heard from their parents or grandparents. I realized that in telling Lily's story, I could also explain Mom's.

Q: Why did you decide to write Half Broke Horses in the first person, and how much of this "true-life novel" is fiction?

A: I set out to write a biography of Lily, but sometimes books take on a life of their own. I told it in first person because I wanted to capture Lily’s voice. I’m a lot like my grandmother, so it came easily to me. I planned to go back and change it from first person to third person and put in qualifiers so the book would be historically accurate, but when I showed it to my agent and publisher, they both said to leave it as it is. By doing that, I crossed the line from nonfiction into fiction. But when I call it fiction it’s not because I tarted it up and tried to embellish things, but wanted to make it more readable, fluid, and immediate. I was trying to get as close to the truth as I could.

Q: How has your relationship with your mother changed in recent years?

A: Several years ago, the abandoned building on New York’s Lower East Side where Mom had been squatting for more than a decade caught fire and she was back on the streets again at age 72. I begged her to come live with me. She said Virginia was too boring, and besides, she's not a freeloader. I told her we could really use help with the horses, and she said she'd be right there. I get along great with Mom now. She's a hoot. She's always upbeat, and has a very different take on life than most people. She's a lot of fun to be around -- as long as you're not looking for her to take care of you. She doesn’t live in the house with us-- I have not reached that level of understanding and compassion-- but in an outbuilding about a hundred yards away. Mom is great with the animals, loves to sing and dance and ride horses, and is still painting like a fiend.

Q: What do you hope readers will gain from reading your books?

A:Since writing The Glass Castle, so many people have said to me, "Oh, you’re so strong and you’re so resilient, and I couldn’t do what you did." That’s very flattering, but it’s nonsense. Of course they’re as strong as I am. I just had the great fortune of having been tested. If we look at our ancestry, we all come from tough roots. And one of the ways to discover our toughness and our resiliency is to look back at where we come from. I hope people who read The Glass Castle and Half Broke Horses will come away with that. You know, "Gosh, I come from hearty stock. Maybe I’m tougher than I realize."

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:19:50 -0400)

(see all 4 descriptions)

In the tradition of Mary Karr's "The Liars' Club" and Rick Bragg's "All Over But the Shouting," Jeannette Walls has written a stunning and life-affirming memoir about surviving a willfully impoverished, eccentric and severely misguided family. The child of an alcoholic father and an eccentric artist mother discusses her family's nomadic upbringing, during which she and her siblings fended for themselves while their parents outmaneuvered bill collectors and the authorities.… (more)

(summary from another edition)

» see all 12 descriptions

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