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…