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The Glass Castle
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message 1: by Sarah (last edited Jan 24, 2008 05:53PM) (new) - added it

Sarah (songgirl7) | 284 comments Mod
General discussion of The Glass Castle by Jeanette Walls.


Robbie Bashore | 141 comments Mod
Kyle said:
"cool. ok let me try to put this into words....over the past 15 years or so, there have been an abundance of memoirs describing dysfunctional childhoods. i won't say ad nauseum...but...there have been a lot. now comes along another one, and THIS one everyone loves. so i pick it up 'cause i have a strong interest in memoirs (am trying to write my own as well at the moment)....

loved the first 2 pages. enjoyed the last quarter of the book (where she is a more reliable narrator)...but WAS DESPERATE to get through the rest (bulk) of the book because, for every little fable or situation she began, not only did i know how it was going to end, but i got very tired of being hit over the head with perfect little stories to illustrate, with uncanny certitude and a laser-like focus, some other aspect of her admittedly dysfunctional upbringing. where was the realism in those stories (don't get me wrong...i think a lot of bad stuff happened to her....maybe even worse than her stories, it's just that the stories are all too pat...too perfect in illustrating something or other while she's busy pretending they're from a child's point of view when, in fact, the realistic aspects of the stories have been stripped away by an adult narrator in order to maximize her point). aaaaaaaaahhhhhhhhhh i'm breathless, but desperate for someone to agree with me. i mean....the piano goes through an entire house, ends up out in the sand somewhere and THEN THEY PROCEED TO PLAY ON IT FOR WEEKS??????? really.

thoughts? or am i just crazy."





Robbie Bashore | 141 comments Mod
Well, I don't think you're crazy. I've actually read a lot of criticism of this book on goodreads. I happened to enjoy the book.

The thing about memoirs, or even stories we tell to friends and family over the years, is that, if something was experienced as a child, it gets filtered through a child's categorization system. Kids like things to fit in tidy packages that make sense. Events that don't seem like a big deal to older people take on much greater meaning/have a bigger impact on the way children see things in later life.

I don't remember the specific piano part of the book, so I'm not sure if I can respond to that.

What other illustrations disturbed you? I'd be interested in seeing quotes, if you have the book available. Don't worry, I don't plan to try to convince you to love and/or believe the book. I'm very interested in others' points of view.


Kyle (kylewilk) | 11 comments agreed. i need to back up my point better. i don't have it with me today, but i'm definitely bringing it to work tomorrow and gonna take a look. i should be able to come up with countless examples of what i'm talking about. i hear you on the child's perspective. i guess my problem is that i don't think it represents a child's perspective...but let me look the book over and see if i can better make my point. i do appreciate someone listening! my wife and daughter think i've gone off the deep end.


Meghan | 423 comments Mod
Kyle - thanks for adding this book! I have to read it for a book club for next month. I've heard nothing but good things so it's interesting to hear a dissenting voice! Hopefully I'll be able to add to this soon.


Robbie Bashore | 141 comments Mod
Okay, not to make excuses ahead of time, but I was thinking about the child's point of view thing. So, you have an event, filtered through a child's categorization of the world and stored. You get some decay, loss of clarity of a memory, then when it's recalled, it gets filtered again, now through an adult's perception. Events get analyzed further and reinterpreted to make sense in an adult world. Then the adult tries to write in a child's voice and show a child's perception. The "fact's" of a situation, probably learned incompletely in the first place have been processed enough that it really is hard to say how something happened. What typically remains clear, however, is feelings.

Ramble, ramble, ramble. What was my point?

Some of these same themes appear in Atonement.


Kimberly | 15 comments I did enjoy this book, but prior to reading this book I read Running with Scissors....talk about dysfunctional childhood!

Anyway - I had similar thoughts regarding the clarity of a child's memory.


Kyle (kylewilk) | 11 comments wow robbie. excellent. i wanted to have the book with me today. as luck would have it, (and i had forgotten all about this) i just shipped it off a few days ago in return for another book as my first www.swaptree.com trade. i'll get my hands on another copy and return to the discussion with specifics....then you guys can provide the therapy i need. 'cause once i can figure out what's bothering me about her "filtering" as you put it...or...her "craft"...after all, that's what we're talking about: memoir craft. once i figure this out, i can continue writing my own memoir!!!! and kimberly, thanks for reminding me about running with scissors....i have to pick that up and compare it to the glass castle. by the way...not to try to migrate anybody away at all!!! but, in addition to this cool group, i started a group a couple weeks ago focused exclusively on debut novels and memoirs (called first novels & memoirs group)...we have some real first novelists as members, and the membership is up to 30....feel free to check it out (if any of you are already members, my bad...i have to go look more closely at the new members). ok...i'll be back in a day or two with quotes. thx kyle


Marsha I read this a couple of months ago, and I know that the discussion here has focused on specific incidents and memory- but what struck me about the book was that all of these events are the building blocks of a family history and a family paradigm. The big picture is what I remember about this novel, and the thought running through my mind over and over again was that this (the distinct incidents)is how one's sense of what is the "norm" is created. I know it's predictable, I hear similar stories all the time-but this is what life is like for kids growing up with mentally ill and/or substance abusing parents.

One of the reasons this book was important to me is that it captures the sense that from the inside, things don't seem so very bad. And this is a concept we struggle with a lot in this country. For instance, it's difficult to understand why abused and neglected kids almost always want to go back home. Well- that is their normal- and the power of the known and familiar is highly underestimated. The reality is that endangering, neglectful, abusive incidents happen so often that they are a part of life- 3 year olds really do make their own macaroni and cheese- or at least they try to- and they get burned. This book said to me "This is the story of how this seems normal."

I think the author captures a very full portrait of who her parents are- their strengths and their struggles. She paints a picture of what it must be like to hit the age at which one realizes that things that seemed okay are actually very wrong at home- and the different ways that the kids in the family dealt with that realization.






message 10: by Sera (last edited Jan 26, 2008 07:19AM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Sera | 195 comments *****SPOILER ALERT*****









I really loved this book, because it showed child abuse in a way to which we aren't customarily exposed, which is neglect. In my opinion, one of the themes of the book is how things turned out for the three children who were neglected and the youngest one, who always found other families to take care of her. The former learned to take care of themselves and developed a sense of independence, faith in each other, and the ability to survive at all costs. Conversely, the youngest one, who failed to learn these skills while growing up, turns out to be a mess. She learns that her beauty and need to be cared for is what will get her through in life, while the others learn that they can make it on their own, but also can turn to each other for help during difficult times.


message 11: by Sera (new) - rated it 5 stars

Sera | 195 comments Kyle, I appreciate your perspective in the narrative voice of the book. I hadn't really thought about that before. I became so immersed in the interesting story that I really never thought about it in the interesting context that you described.


Meghan | 423 comments Mod
Okay, I have a question. I have yet to start this, but the author, Jeannette Walls is a reporter for MSNBC. Do you feel that this book is written more in a journalistic style?

I'm not sure if any of you have read her articles, but she used to write "The Scoop" - a gossip column on Hollywood. If so, do you find it odd/different to read such a "heavy" real book from her versus her "fluff" pieces for msnbc.com? (Just curious)


Marsha Yes, Meghan, I did really feel that she wrote in a fairly straightforward journalistic style- but I also wondered throughout the book if this was a result of her training and experience or if it is part of what she needs to do to maintain a safe psychological distance from the material- so she doesn't become overwhelmed by it.


message 14: by Kyle (new) - rated it 2 stars

Kyle (kylewilk) | 11 comments wow. you guys are pretty cool. ok. am running next door to barnes & noble (yes--i live next door to a barnes & noble in nyc) and buy a second copy of this book. i need to look it over again and take what you guys are saying into consideration. might as well get running with scissors while i'm at it...


message 15: by Sera (new) - rated it 5 stars

Sera | 195 comments You go, Kyle! My goodness, if I lived next door to a B&N, that would be second home - lol. Let us know what you think about Running with Scissors. I read it about 5 years ago, and ummmm, I really hated it, so I'm curious to hear your thoughts.


Robbie Bashore | 141 comments Mod
One thing I was struck by in this book was, even though there was neglect here, there was no mention of the children being put down by their parents, in an emotional sense. There seemed to be unconditional positive regard, which is pretty rare these day, and perhaps it always has been. I think that is part of what helped these kids survive.

I also echo the comments above about kids establishing their norms early and being surprised at how different their norm is later. I've the opinion that pretty much all families are dysfunctional, and there are so many ways in which to be so. As adults, we end up being more comfortable with one kind of dysfuntion, usually whatever we grew up with. Or, we take great pains to create the *opposite* environment for our kids. Pop culture example...hmmmm...Gilmore Girls?


Marsha While I wouldn't say that these parents are practicing unconditional positive regard, I do agree that these kids seemed to have, for all their faults, "good enough" parents. I am constantly surprised by how low the bar actually sits- and the amazing resilience shown by human beings to grow and become mentally, emotionally, physically, and spiritually "whole" without a great deal of guidance or intervention. However, due to serious neglect, there were numerous times while these kids were growing up that they just got amazingly lucky they weren't killed.

I see their "live and let live" style as nice. The family values do not tolerate racism, violence, or being judgmental of others. The mom chooses not to focus on the material world, and to an extent this is admirable- but not when it leads to the severe instability seen here ending up in homelessness. They are obviously intelligent, interesting people with a lot to offer- but they treat their kids more like adored friends than children they are responsible for- even when the kids were very young. This, in itself, is a form of neglect. Human beings are not baby birds to be pushed out of the nest when they are a few days old.

I agree completely with the comment about the level and type of dysfunction in families. We all have some to one degree or another. I think on a 1-10 scale- even the best are really floating somewhere around a 7. :) Only the 3 and below category is in real trouble. I also think the system fluctuates- and so this family may have been a 5 for a few months, then dropped to a 2 in the rougher times. Over time, these parents got sicker, and so were unable to maintain the higher level of functioning.




Robbie Bashore | 141 comments Mod
Oh, Kyle--I echo Sera's comment about the B & N next door. I might even add that it would become my only home if I allowed myself to spend money on books the way I'd like to!

And, honestly, I didn't enjoy Running With Scissors all that much. It kept me interested enough, but I wouldn't read it again.


message 19: by Kyle (new) - rated it 2 stars

Kyle (kylewilk) | 11 comments good comments. very good. therapeutic for me, actually. so i did run next door and pick up another copy, along with running with scissors and another interesting memoir (sorry...forget the name, but it's the one about the kid who is indoctrinated by warlords in africa to become a killer...unbelievable story). i am in the middle of 2 other books, so i only read the first 4 chapters of running with scissors just to get a taste. actually....much more my type of memoir, i must say. more humorous, less expository. it DID NOT so far, anyway, grate on my nerves like glass castle. i wanted to compare the two at work today, but forgot to bring running, so i'm going to look for 10 good quotes from glass castle where i feel ms walls is knocking us over the head with a tidy little simplified distillation of dysfunction wrapped up in such a neat gift package that not only did i know what was gonna happen before she told me, but resented that she didn't open up any of her real self once i got through the passage.


message 20: by Kyle (new) - rated it 2 stars

Kyle (kylewilk) | 11 comments some examples of the glass castle's--for lack of a better term--paul bunyan tendencies:

"We'd catch scorpions and snakes and horny toads. We'd search for gold...the mosquitoes would fly in so thick that the air would grow dark with them...fierce sandstorms...you could only see a foot in front of your face...had to...cover your ears...or else your body cavities would fill with sand....knocked you over, and you rolled around like you were a tumbleweed....raindrops the size of marbles...some parents worried that their kids might get hit by lightning, but...we splashed and sang and danced...great bolts of lightning cracked from the low-hanging clouds, and thunder shook the ground....we watched the floods come roaring through...we were sort of like the cactus...a train full of cantaloupes....grapes...so ripe....bunches bigger than my head....filled our entire car full of green grapes....even the glove compartment....Dad piled stack in our laps so high we could barely see over the top...for weeks...we ate green grapes for breakfast, lunch, and dinner....Dad was an expert in math and physics and electricity. He read books on calculus and logarithmic algebra....one of his important inventions was a complicated contraption he called the Prospector....the air would be filled with sawdust and...the sound of hammering and whistling, because Dad always whistled while he worked.

ok let's stop there for now on the paul bunyan thing. obviously, the Dad also told tall tales (he wrestled a pack of wild dogs, etc. etc.)...problem is, jeannette wells adopted this story-telling style and made herself, in the process, an unreliable narrator because EVERY LITTLE THING had to be over-the-top to shock and surprise...almost caricaturish honestly. now, i know, i know...you're going to say that she was representing how she saw life as a child, but this is also an adult trying to convince a reader how UNBELIEVABLE her childhood was...problem is, i'm afraid she succeeded. more later....


Robbie Bashore | 141 comments Mod
I just took these statements as obvious hyperbole, and perhaps reflecting stories she was told of the times, most likey told by her (bipolar) father.

Don't worry, you'll find some good hyperbole in RWS, too.


message 22: by Kyle (new) - rated it 2 stars

Kyle (kylewilk) | 11 comments the hyperbole in rws is more enjoyable so far. maybe it's her straightforward journalistic delivery that makes me think she's taking herself too seriously (even though, of course, she's trying to do the opposite).


Marsha I do think the journalistic delivery has an effect, and I think she is using hyperbole somewhat ineffectually- but I don't think that the passage is so implausible. I find the weeks worth of grapes harder to believe than frolicking in unsafe storms and playing with animals best left alone (these I hear all the time). But this also may be my reductionistic little mind compartmentalizing that entire section of prose to three main events- only one of which I am a little skeptical of, and I know I've had oatmeal for breakfast every day for a week and felt like if an oat never passed my lips again it would be too soon.

I do see your point about the writing, Kyle- but I was moved by the story and think it is an important book for people who work with or are concerned about abuse and neglect issues.




message 24: by Sera (new) - rated it 5 stars

Sera | 195 comments Marsha, you made some great points about the book. Wall's parents weren't bad people per se. Her father was an alcoholic and her mother was delusional so both suffered from horrible judgment as a result of their mental impairments. It was all quite sad really.

Most parents have no idea how to raise their kids, even though they love them and want to take care of them properly (ever see SuperNanny?). I don't have children so I try not to judge, especially because I know how hard it is to give 100% to everything in one's life. I don't know how people with children do it all, because I am so spent when I come home from work that I have little energy to do much.

As for the hyperbole issue, I didn't really feel that way when I read the book. Since it is a memoir, I figured that the descriptions that Walls gave was how she remembered things. I didn't think about whether she had exaggerated them. When I read for pleasure, I try to avoid reading critically. I guess it's because in my work, I have to think critically all of the time, and I have pull my emotions out of the analysis to remain objective. Thus, when I read, I try to simply get lost in the story and to feel it at some emotional level. It's the books that move me that I love the most, and The Glass Castle really moved me, which leads me to view it as a great piece of work.


Marsha I agree, Sera. This book shows life as it is for lots of kids. I also tend to prefer stories that affect me emotionally.


Kathrynn I thought The Glass Castle was very sad. I realize it was set in the 70's and things have changed, but after I read it I found myself looking at kids at the store that looked...um...neglected and wondered...

I couldn't help but think that if the hospital staff had been on the ball, the kids could have had different lives.

What a story.


Marsha Kathrynn-

You make an important statement about why people should read this book. There are just as many abused and neglected kids out there today as there were in the 70's. More, I would hazard to guess- for many, many reasons. This is still real life for a very large number of children- so many that the child welfare system is completely overwhelmed.



Robbie Bashore | 141 comments Mod
Another good book to read is Random Family for a perspective on another culture right here in the US.


message 29: by Kimberly (last edited Feb 04, 2008 05:30PM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Kimberly | 15 comments Funny, I just purchased Random Family and its in my que to read....and I trust your suggestions, Robbie!


Marsha I added Random Family too Robbie... thanks.


Heidi I heard the author speak about this book a while ago, and I liked the book even more after "meeting" her.

She talked about the neglect vs. emotional abuse issue. She recalled visiting the home of a friend of her brother's and being jealous of their heat and food. But then the boy's mother came in and ridiculed him for drawing and thinking that he could ever be an artist, and Walls realized that she and her siblings were the "lucky" ones because her parents would never criticize or mock their dreams. She and her brother later went back to that town and ran into this friend. When the brother told him that he was now a cop, the friend said, "Hey! What do you know! I'm a criminal!"

Someone asked her about the child welfare agent, about whether she thought they'd have been better off removed from their parents. She said she didn't know. At the time they really wanted to stay together, but maybe being moved to another home would have been the best thing that happened to her. It's hard to say, because goodness knows there are abusive foster homes, and as she described above, some things are just as--if not more--important than heat and food and running water.

I don't mean to defend the parents' neglect, which is inexcusable. I just mean to say that the situation was obviously complex, and although it's easy to pass judgment, it's not as simple as it looks.


Robbie Bashore | 141 comments Mod
I remember taking a child welfare class in college about a hundred years ago and being surprised that, at least at that time, children did best if there was any way they could stay with at least one parent. Probably in part because breaking that attachment is just too much of a trauma.


Angela Avery | 3 comments This is a really great memoir of a very troubled life. It's one of those books you read and think, NO WAY this is not someone's history, this cannot possibly have happened. It's not as far-fetched and crazy as Augusten Burroughs life was in his account in Running With Scissors, but it's definitely a book that makes you re-examine anything you ever said negatively about your own history and family life. It makes you realize that we always think we have it worse than maybe we do.

I don't think this book was written journalistically, but rather just from this woman's pesonal memories of what she experienced. I agree that when a person looks back on something she experienced as a child, surely some details of the story may be misconstrued or lost somewhere along the way, but overall I believe what children experience just the way they tell it to us. There is no reason to doubt what Jeannette writes in here just because at the time she experienced it she was a young girl.

Despite whatever really happened or how bad it might have really been, the truth of the matter is that this is how she PERCEIVED it to be... that's something to think about.


Shelly Just found this group and this thread. I didn't read The Glass Castle, but I listened to the audio version recently and can pretty much second everything everyone's already said here. The positive and the negative. I think my main issue initially was the "is she a very reliable narrator?" question. Like was said earlier, some of the stuff seemed so unbelievable. And, unlike in the case of James Frey, it's not like she's in the position to be "outed". It was her own personal memories, and more importantly her own personal perception. So, I decided not to get hung up on that and trust that most of what she says happened did happened, even if it happened a little differently than she remembers it--it's still compelling.
I also had a bit of an issue with the style. It reminded me of the first time an English Teacher ever taught me about creative writing: "Be Descriptive!" OK, OK, I got it! There were parts were Walls was so descriptive that it seemed forced and distracted from the story.
Overall though, I really enjoyed this story and think it's good for those of you out there who, like me, had/have issues with your upbringing b/c it leaves you going "Well, jeesh! Maybe I didn't have it so bad!"
Oh, and someone here on GR led me to a video on her author page of her and her mom which was interesting. Then I googled a video of her on Stephen Colbert. So seeing her and hearing her talk about her story in person really helped quell any doubts I had about her authenticity.


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