Book of the Week: The Glass Castle

Book of the Week for February 23 – March 1

The Glass Castle: A Memoir

Glass Castle

Why it’s interesting:

Jeannette Walls grew up poor. Very, very poor. Her father’s alcoholism and her mother’s pride meant that she and her three siblings were often hungry and dirty. However, they were loved, and loved well (except for the food and shelter part.) Her parents prized creativity, knowledge, and free thinking above any material possessions. And even when her father was doing horrifically careless things, the love they felt was undeniable. She does a masterful job creating a full picture of all of her “characters”— contradictions and all.

The blurb:

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, she lives in New York and Long Island and is married to the writer John Taylor.

Did you like this book? What are you reading right now?

2 thoughts on “Book of the Week: The Glass Castle

  1. amanda | wildly simple

    I thought The Glass Castle was an incredible book! Very interesting and thought provoking.. especially lingering so after it was revealed late in the book that perhaps they weren’t poor at all, or homeless at all, that they actually owned significant valued property. That made me think a good deal about the choices people make, and that most often the way we live IS a choice.
    Also, while the upbringing of Jeannette and her siblings was often horrific, they were given certain non-things that other well provided for, sheltered, nourished kids may often go without.
    What a story! Ideally as parents we are able to care for our kids with shelter, food, and safety and offer them a sense of brilliance and wonder, too. It seemed to me that the Walls kids were loved, but had no security.. which is a big part of what comes with love. Deeply thought provoking.
    I did a lot follow up reading after I finished this book.. I was curious as to the accuracy of the story telling. It was interesting to learn about her siblings reactions / support of the book.. and that they recalled the stories much the same way.
    Reading mixed reviews was also an interesting thing.. Some people attacked her, accused her of whining.. I thought those were pretty off base accusations, not how I read her story at all. My impression of J.Walls is that she is a woman of astounding grace. No resentment. It is what it is, and life is what we make it. I find her pretty admirable.

  2. amandamichellemoon Post author

    Yes! The whole time I was reading I felt myself wanting to be more mad at her parents than I actually was. (Don’t get me wrong—there were times when I was livid. But overall.) But there was a definite strength of character that they passed on. It may have been a crazy way to learn it, but some of the determination that they learned had to have been based on their dad’s early “inventing” and their mom’s determination to make it as an artist.

    I didn’t read any of it as whining, and was also struck by the lack of resentment, or even really judgement, in what she wrote. The lack of strong emotion actually annoyed me at times, because I was feeling so much! Especially with the land…It’s easy to see how different things could have been, but it’s impossible to say if any of them would have turned out the same people.

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