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The Glass Castle by Jeannette Walls
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The Glass Castle (edition 2005)

by Jeannette Walls

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13,124579171 (4.15)649
Member:maritimer
Title:The Glass Castle
Authors:Jeannette Walls
Info:Scribner (2005), Edition: First, Paperback, 288 pages
Collections:Your library, 2013, 2013A
Rating:****
Tags:None

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The Glass Castle: A Memoir by Jeannette Walls

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English (572)  German (3)  French (1)  Norwegian (1)  Spanish (1)  All languages (578)
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WHAT IS IT ABOUT?

“The Glass Castle” by Jeannette Walls is both a heartrending and inspiring memoir about her deeply dysfunctional but surprisingly loyal family. For as long as Jeannette could remember, her family - parents and four children - lived like nomads running away from bill collectors. They moved from town to town throughout Southwest USA, often homeless and hungry. Her father, Rex Walls, was a charismatic genius but, due to his love of hard liquor, never kept a steady job and rarely provided his family with more than empty promises. Jeannette’s mother, Rose Mary, did not like responsibilities and valued self-sufficiency. Instead of working, she spent her days painting and reading, while Jeannette and her siblings took care of each other. When the Walls children grew up and moved to New York City, their parents followed, choosing to live on the streets.

THUMBS UP:

1) A skillfully written and inspiring story.
“The Glass Castle” is not only a beautifully written, surprisingly vivid recollection; it is also a truly inspirational story, because the author, despite all the hardships, ended up leading such a successful life. The memoir is also unexpectedly optimistic, making the story even more powerful and forcing the reader to reconsider what really matters in life.

2) An “objective” memoir.
I know that all the memoirs are subjective since the authors are writing about their own experiences and choosing what to tell and how to tell it, whether consciously or not; however, “The Glass Castle” is as objective as any memoir can get. Walls doesn’t whine and never blames or justifies anyone. The author doesn’t try to emotionally manipulate the reader, she just tells her story the way it is.

3) Memories from the childhood perspective.
Walls tells her story from her past self’s perspective, which gradually changes as the author is growing up. Such perspective makes the memoir seem even more authentic and helps the reader to understand the situation better. Her childhood recollections are especially compelling as she tells even the most disturbing events with the perception of a child, making it all seem like some sort of adventure rather than the nightmare it really was.

4) Memorable and multi-dimensional characters.
The characters in “The Glass Castle” are vibrant and complex. For example, sometimes I would truly believe that such people as Walls’ parents have no business whatsoever having kids but at the same time I would admire their loyalty, optimism, and unique philosophy.

VERDICT:

“The Glass Castle” is a beautifully written and truly inspirational memoir with memorable and complex characters. The strongest part of Walls’ book is her ability to tell the story from the childhood perspective and do so without bitterness, leaving the judging to the readers. ( )
1 vote AgneJakubauskaite | Nov 20, 2014 |
This memoir tells the true story of the MSNBC reporter’s unconventional upbringing in a dysfunctional family. Walls begins her story with a current scene in a taxi in New York City, where she spots her homeless mother digging through trash. One of four children, Walls was raised by an eccentric mother who preferred painting to rearing children and a father who, though intelligent and self-taught, frequently drank and seldom worked. The four children, often underfed and neglected, were forced to learn to be independent and self-sufficient, which ultimately leads to Walls’ determined and accepting spirit. While she does not speak badly of her parents’ behavior and decisions, Walls does not offer excuses either. Walls bravely shares her story of despair and triumph, sadness and acceptance, failure and success. A moving tale, this modern nonfiction piece is an essential addition to your collection. ( )
  ginawilliams | Nov 19, 2014 |
Truth is stranger than fiction.

In this memoir, Jeanette Walls tells the story of her childhood, travelling America with her highly intelligent, yet dysfunctional parents. Her mother was an artist and shunned any suggestion of 'normal' life within four permanent walls. Her father was a vibrant character when sober, who taught his children science, geography and maths, but when drunk, transformed into a gambling, thieving liar. Much of the time they were escaping in the middle of the night from some debt or misdemeanour of their father's. Sometimes he worked, but often it ended in tears.

I am always amazed at how resilient children can be. These four siblings pretty much raised themselves and frequently had more sense then their parents. When they did spend time in any one place it was generally in squalor, sleeping in cardboard boxes under leaking roofs, often not knowing where the next meal was coming from.

My enduring memory from the book was when Jeanette was asked by her father what she would like for her birthday and she replied that she wanted him to stop drinking - and he did it, at least for a while. He loved his children dearly, but he loved alcohol more. He was an inventor, always coming up with some new scheme that was going to make him huge amounts of money. Perhaps his greatest pipe-dream, was the Glass Castle of the title, the fantastic house, for which he'd drawn elaborate plans, but which never came to fruition.

Jeanette's mother was a complete screw-ball, I wonder if she was in some way mentally ill. She came from a wealthy family, and when things got particularly tough the family would go back and stay with the grandmother on her ranch. This was the childrens' only taste of luxury, with regular meals and a proper bed. Jeanette's mother inherited a fair amount of money and a house, on their grandmother's death, but very little changed in their way of life.

The ending was revealed at the start, so it's no spoiler to say that the mother ended up homeless by choice, a denouement that I would think unbelievable if I'd read it in a novel!
There is an interesting video on GoodReads, where the mother is interviewed, well worth a watch. ( )
  DubaiReader | Nov 15, 2014 |
Jeanette Walls memoir is hard to put down. She reveals the quirks difficultiesof growing up in a poverty-stricken, dysfunctional family with pathos, humor, and compassion. ( )
  KateRobinson | Oct 4, 2014 |
Sometimes we don't understand what makes our lives so interesting, but when you are the child of two eccentric and remarkable people who think far outside of the box, then it is only natural to accept your circumstances. Jeannette Walls certainly has a memoir worth reading, as she recalls her difficult upbringing. There are sad moments, uplifting and frustrating moments, but Walls does a great job of not brooding over her life, as she always recalls each memory in a way that makes her writing very engaging and a pleasure to read.
Jeannette Walls shows us another side of alcoholism, homelessness and poverty, a side that many of us don't usually read about. She clearly shows how these issues affect the family unit and puts personal heartfelt spin on these issues.
Walls is a superb writer who delivers her memoir with whit and grace. A definite must read. ( )
  mcmanusdulin | Sep 19, 2014 |
Showing 1-5 of 572 (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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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
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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 Mon, 30 Sep 2013 13:51:35 -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)

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