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The Glass Castle by Jeannette Walls

The Glass Castle (edition 2005)

by Jeannette Walls

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13,518594159 (4.15)655
Title:The Glass Castle
Authors:Jeannette Walls
Info:Scribner (2005), Edition: First, Paperback, 288 pages
Collections:Your library, 2013

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The Glass Castle: A Memoir by Jeannette Walls


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Showing 1-5 of 586 (next | show all)
i'm not sure why, but i don't think i'd recommend this book. the story was captivating, and the author had a hard life of abuse and neglect, but i just never felt all that attached to any characters. i liked hearing about what life was like in their town in West Virginia, to understand why her dad may have developed some of his traits. I would have liked to know more about the childhood of her mom, but I guess it is a memoir, so she can only tell us what she knows. anyway, i don't think it is a waste of time to read the book, but i wouldn't put it at the top of your list. ( )
  klburnside | Aug 11, 2015 |
I've never been much of a memoir fan, but I decided to read The Glass Castle because I've seen it on so many lists of great books. I thought it was an interesting read. This is the story of four children raised by a mother, Rose Mary Walls, who is self centered and optimistic to a fault and a father, Rex Walls, who is a drunk with big dreams. Jeannette Walls, the author and narrator, is one of those children.

I loved the way Walls managed to slowly move the story from quirky and fun to sad and pathetic. It could have been boring if it was just a simple list of bad parenting choices, but the story has a general arc that works. I also liked the connection between the children, in particular between Jeannette and Brian. They protect each other and support each other when nobody else is there for them. I also enjoyed the fact that aspects of the parents' issues could be admired, if they weren't so extreme. In her Acknowledgments section Jeannette Walls says “...grateful to my mother for believing in art and truth...” and “...to my father, Rex. S. Walls, for dreaming all those big dreams.” Their dreams were admirable. Their decisions to put their dreams over the needs of their children were not.

The one issue I had with the memoir was the way the children were portrayed. It did not seem as if they were looked at as critically as the parents. Maureen's flaws were pointed out, especially late in the book, but Lori, Brian, and Jeannette all seemed to have it together as much as possible. Even their problems, such as Jeannette's early fascination with fire, seemed to be a result of their parents' choices. The story is about survival, but I had trouble believing the children didn't have more of their own issues.

I can see aspects of Rex and Rose Mary Walls in people I know and judging by other reactions to The Glass Castle others make the same type of connections. This is what makes the character strong and I like to think it is what makes the memoir appealing.

Steve Lindahl – author of Motherless Soul and White Horse Regressions ( )
  SteveLindahl | Aug 10, 2015 |
There are two main reasons I doubt I'll ever write a memoir of my childhood. First, I would be afraid of what my mom would say if I aired our dirty laundry. And second, I hesitate to put into print just one version of the story of my growing-up. For while it was just the one childhood I lived, there are so many different ways to frame the same events, and I would rather not tie myself into just one interpretation.

Even though The Glass Castle was largely a laundry-list account of the events of Walls's childhood, it still reflects a specific interpretation of the events. I'm not saying the events didn't happen, but rather that they would look different if viewed from a different angle or through a different filter. Walls's parents certainly saw the events she describes differently than she did. What they saw as a series of adventures and parenting choices that fostered independence and strength of character, Walls saw as trauma and neglect as a result of her parents' selfishness. I tend to side with Walls's perspective on this one, but I'm not certain it's any more valid a perspective than her mother's.

What amazes me about this story is that the family managed to stay together, for the most part. Or, seen in a different light, of course they stayed together because they were all locked to one another by codependency. It's a lucky thing Walls's parents moved the family around so much when they were younger. If she'd been born and raised in Welch, I doubt she would have ever left. Moving away from home takes a certain mindset, and the fact that Walls was accustomed to moving from place to place I think made it easier for her to leave when the time came. This was my favorite part of the book, actually, Walls and her sister planning their escape. Up until then it was just this depressing reminder of how dependent children are on their families.

So, there were things I liked about this book, but there was also plenty I didn't like. I've already mentioned the "first this happened, then that happened" style of the book, which made it feel repetitive. It was also difficult to keep track of what age she was at each place, and although I didn't write down a timeline, I suspect that the anecdotes don't fit together in time quite right. Walls didn't age uniformly in comparison with her siblings, and years passed in fits and starts that left me feeling disoriented. The repetition of language heightened this feeling---more than once Walls mentions that her mother "didn't drink anything stronger than tea," in those same words.

I just prefer a little more art in a memoir. And I prefer Half Broke Horses (although I do think that title needs a hyphen). ( )
  ImperfectCJ | Jul 29, 2015 |
And you think you had it hard growing up! This is a very powerful story of hardship, poverty and triumph over iinauspicious beginnings. ( )
  nmele | Jul 6, 2015 |
When I started The Glass Castle I couldn't put it down, it was nothing like I read before and it was something I could relate to (to an extent). I understand this is a memoir and not a novel where plots and characters can be changed, nor would I want that. I liked the family and I especially liked that Jeannette was able to channel how she felt when she was a kid, I do wish she would of focused more on feelings especially in her teen years rather than focus on events that were kinda already told earlier in the book. I felt most of part 3 was just part 2 but in a different stable city. I wish there was more about her fear of people finding out about her past and her new life when she grew up because without it all this book really is is a timeline of her life based on similar events that continue to repeat over and over again without a strong sense of what was going on in Jeanette's head other than we kinda get small snippets of what she thinks and how it has changed over time but it wasn't nearly enough. ( )
  GrlIntrrptdRdng | Jun 28, 2015 |
Showing 1-5 of 586 (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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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"
To John, for convincing me that everyone who is interesting has a past
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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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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.
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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)

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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)

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