Notice: I’m discussing some of my favorite elements from The Glass Castle in this post. If you haven’t read the book, but want to, please bookmark this to read later.
I finally read a book that’s been on my list for years, The Glass Castle. It’s been on my list for so long that I can’t quite remember where I first saw the title, although something about a bookstore on Hennepin Avenue in Minneapolis is sounding familiar? I know at one point I owned a copy of the book, because I lent it to a cousin, but I never read it myself. Then, as we were preparing to move to Los Angeles in 2012, I sold it. Fast forward to now, nearly five years later, and I found another copy for a dollar while thrifting. Sold.
I usually read The Glass Castle in the evening once the kids were tucked in bed, but I read in short bursts. Despite it’s intensity, I’m very glad to have read it.
One perspective I gained is this: When we push ourselves past our comfort zone, we open our eyes to new situations, which encourages us to learn & love in newer, deeper ways.
So let’s dive in! The Glass Castle is a memoir set between late 1950 and early 2000, and tells the story of four children (Lori, Jeannette (the author), Brian, and Maureen) and the parent’s decision to live a life of poverty and independence. The kids father, Rex Walls, was a persuasive alcoholic and genius. Their mother, Rose Mary, feels she has far better things to do than mother or nurture her children. And so Jeannette’s story about her childhood and young adulthood dances with these perspectives.
In The Glass Castle, Jeannette shares stories of her family as they “skedaddle” around the country. We learn they lived out of their cars, used cardboard boxes as beds, went weeks without baths, days without food, and wore paper-thin clothing that hadn’t been washed in months.
Anytime I would mention the title to friends, I received a variety of reactions:
“Loved that book!”
“I read it in small increments. It was too much to take in all at once.”
“I read it halfway, but I had to put it down without finishing.”
“That’s one of my favorite books! I’ve read it multiple times.”
“I read that in college, it was a prerequisite to a class I took.”
As for me, I could relate to every single of one those responses. I knew it would be hard to read, but I also knew the author rose above what she was exposed to. As I was reading, I came to a section of Jeannette’s story where she’s talking with her high school guidance counselor about her course of action for college. Honestly, it saddened me to hear the counselor try to deter Jeannette from leaving West Virginia (page 236). At that point, my reading speed increased. Jeannette’s story was gaining momentum, and I was curious to learn how she became a New York Times Bestseller.
There were a couple stories she shared that stood out as exceptional:
First, I admired the close relationship between Jeannette and her brother Brian. I was encouraged how well they stuck together and confided in each other. They were a fearless, brilliant team, and they stood together regardless of where they were living or the situations each other found themselves in! And even memorable than just the two of them, Jeannette and all of her siblings pioneered beyond the examples lead by their parents. So powerful.
When they were living in Welch, West Virginia, she and Brian found a two-carat diamond ring while scrounging the edge of their property (page 186). I wanted to grab the shoulders of their mother and shake her for wanting to keep the ring and her comment about her self-esteem being more more vital than providing food.
The second is when Jeannette lied about her age to get a job at a local jewelry store. She was often alone inside the store while the owner ate lunch at a restaurant across the street, and she spent a lot of time admiring the watches inside a glass case. One day, while the owner was away, she hid a watch with 4 interchangeable bands in her purse and then re-arranged the rest of the case so it wasn’t obvious one was missing. Jeannette shared with us she didn’t feel bad about taking the watch (she stole it because she was upset she was being underpaid), but the next day she decided to return the watch as she questioned how she would explain how she afforded it. Jeannette write about the great fear she had over being caught putting it back (page 217).
I absolutely loved reading a few chapters later, while living in New York, one of the first purchases she made was a watch. She wanted to be someone who had appointments to keep and schedules to meet. “That was the kind of person I wanted to be,” she said. A handful of pages later, Jeannette mentions buying a ten-dollar Rolex on the streets of New York City to make sure she wasn’t running late — my memory instantly bounced back to her strong desire to want a watch while living in Welch. I felt so happy for her, and also happy with myself I didn’t quit the book.
Are there any words, really, to best describe the book? How do you write a summary of how delinquent or scary or absurd or uplifting the Walls’ story is? So that’s where I find myself. I’m absolutely thrilled I read the book. It was an enlightening story, to say the least.
How about you? If you read The Glass Castle, which stories were the most impactful for you? Which stories stood out to you the most? And how about the book Half Broke Horses — have you read it? I’m on the fence whether I should…
PS. click to see the other books I’ve read!
It has been years since I read it, but there is one part that really sticks with me. Her mom buying dented canned food. Not because they were cheaper, but because she believed that the cans shouldn’t be ignored just because they were dented. Not sure why that particular scene has stuck with me. Because sometimes give feeling to inanimate objects? Or because I realized her mom had some real issues?
How ironic her mother felt bad for the canned food, but struggled to “feel bad”/nurture her own children…
The part of the book that stood out to me the most, was when she was leaving and her father went to see her off. It’s like he wanted to be a good father, and loved them in his own way, but just couldn’t make it work. It was heartbreaking to me.
Yeah, that was a sad part for sure. Do you remember when he told Jeannette, “our family is falling apart”, and she replied with something like, “it fell apart years ago.”
I’ve heard of this book, but haven’t read it myself. I will have to see if they have it at the library. It definitely sounds like a difficult book to read, but interesting too!
Borrow it from the library — yes yes yes!
I read this book in 4 days after finding it on our Airbnb bookshelf. It was so much to take in and some of it was hard to absorb when I didn’t have anyone to talk with after. I tried to explain some of the characters to my husband, but clearly I can’t paint a picture like Jeannette! A definite favorite, would recommend to anyone!
She was SO good at recreating the scene… totally agree. Thanks for your comment ;)
Half broke horses is a really amazing read. I think you should give it a shot! I picked it up one summer while on a road trip – a few years after reading The Glass Castle, and remember really loving it.
I actually just dropped my copy off at one of my neighborhood’s little front lawn libraries, for someone else to enjoy!
(Do they have front lawn libraries in your area?? It’s where someone puts up a sort of large bird house to store books, and anyone can come to take/ drop off a good read. )
This summer, I plan to build one for our front yard!
YES — we call them “little library” around here :) I have seen then in Michigan, Minnesota and California, all states we’ve lived in! They are such a fun idea. I love that you passed along your copy of TGC. So great. I have heard good things about Half Broke Horses, however I’m curious if the storyline is similar to TGC? Maybe you can give me a little insight ;)
Thanks for your comment!!! So happy to hear from you.
Jennette Walls is roughly my age, as I read her novel I couldn’t help but compare my early life to hers. It was so difficult for me to imagine waiting in the school restroom to get food from the garbage cans! My family didn’t have much compared to some of my fellow students, but we had food to eat and a very large extended family nearby to love and cherish all of us kids and grandkids! I do encourage you to read Half Broke Horses, It is the story of her mother’s mother. Fascinating story of survival in the west.
I think I will read it — thanks for the nudge :)