MORE THAN EIGHT YEARS ON THE NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLER LIST The extraordinary, one-of-a-kind, “nothing short of spectacular” (Entertainment Weekly) memoir from one of the world’s most gifted storytellers. The Glass Castle is a remarkable memoir of resilience and redemption, and a revelatory look into a family at once deeply dysfunctional and uniquely vibrant. When sober, Jeannette’s brilliant and charismatic father captured his children’s imagination, teaching them physics, geology, and how to embrace life fearlessly. But when he drank, he was dishonest and destructive. Her mother was a free spirit who abhorred the idea of domesticity and didn’t want the responsibility of raising a family. The Walls children learned to take care of themselves. They fed, clothed, and protected one another, and eventually found their way to New York. Their parents followed them, choosing to be homeless even as their children prospered. The Glass Castle is truly astonishing—a memoir permeated by the intense love of a peculiar but loyal family. The memoir was also made into a major motion picture from Lionsgate in 2017 starring Brie Larson, Woody Harrelson, and Naomi Watts.
January 1, 2006
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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 CastleQ: 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.” From School Library Journal Gr 9 Up-Growing up in rural Appalachia in extreme poverty, Walls (a former journalist and recognized author) and her siblings had to fend for themselves, supporting each other as they weathered their parents’ wildly erratic and dysfunctional behavior. She presents an objective portrait of her circumstances that is both poignant and forgiving. Audio version available from S & S Audio.α(c) Copyright 2013. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted. Review “Walls has joined the company of writers such as Mary Karr and Frank McCourt who have been able to transform their sad memories into fine art.” ― People”Walls has a God-given knack for spinning a yarn, and The Glass Castle is nothing short of spectacular.” ― Entertainment Weekly”Extraordinary.” ― Time”Each memory is more incredible than the last… That Walls recounts them so well and in such detail is our good fortune.” ― The Plain Dealer”On the eighth day, when God was handing out whining privileges, he came upon Jeannette Walls and said, ‘For you, an unlimited lifetime supply.’ Apparently, Walls declined His kind offer.” ― Chicago Tribune”Charles Dickens’s scenes of poverty and hardship are no more audacious and no more provocative than those in the pages of this stunning memoir.” ― The Atlanta Journal-Constitution”Some people are born storytellers. Some lives are worth telling. The best memoirs happen when these two conditions converge. In The Glass Castle, they have.” ― New York Newsday”The Glass Castle is the kind of story that keeps you awake long after the rest of the house has fallen asleep.” ― Vogue”The Glass Castle is nothing short of spectacular.” ― Entertainment Weekly About the Author Jeannette Walls graduated from Barnard College and was a journalist in New York. Her memoir, The Glass Castle, has been a New York Times bestseller for more than six years. She is also the author of the instant New York Times bestsellers The Silver Star and Half Broke Horses, which was named one of the ten best books of 2009 by the editors of The New York Times Book Review. Walls lives in rural Virginia with her husband, the writer John Taylor. Read more <div id="
I began to doubt the truth of this memoir when she referred to Fish Creek Canyon, Arizona, as being West of Bullhead City. The only state West of Bullhead City is Nevada and Fish Creek Canyon is far to the East in the Superstition Mountains near Phoenix Arizona. Sloppy work. Where is the publisher’s fact-checker? If one writes about place and from place they need to know what they are talking about. I also found her descriptions of the desert generic. The Sonoran is not the northern basin-range.
I just love this story about growing up dirt poor in one of the poorest and most depressing coal mining towns in West Virginia. I am a West Virginian, and there were many poor and alcoholic coal miners in my family, so I can really relate to the struggles this family faced. Ms Walls does an excellent job of telling her story so the reader feels like they were there. I could feel her pain, anger and disappointment to the point that I shed tears more than once. I read the book shortly after it was published, and just read it again after seeing the movie, which was also excellent. This book is easily one of my top five best books ever.
Excellent description of places, excellent representation of how people speak, excellent presentation of the children’s growing maturity and awareness. The author writes with compassion for her parents, but as a reader this book made me angry over and over as the adults indulged themselves with selfishness, immaturity, and alcoholism, leaving themselves and their children hungry and cold and the children haphazardly educated, even molested. The children’s transition from a life of abject poverty to new lives in New York City is painted with broad strokes, and I can’t help thinking there’s another book in there. They would have had to learn how to live as adults in an urban environment, how to relate to people differently, how to see themselves as something other than the bottom of the social structure. When the author presents the scene in which she learns that her mother actually had a substantial amount of money – a fact that is hinted at throughout the book – and fully understands that none of it had to happen, she handles it without anger. The closing scene with its repetition of the image, “dancing along the border between turbulence and order,” is satisfying.
I think this may be the best book I’ve ever read. I’m 60, and I read A LOT. The character Mary, in this book, at one point says she is addicted to reading. When I’ve told people that, they act like it’s a joke. This book had me back and forth, from nodding in agreement with the sage parental advice given to the Walls children about Life…then freaking out over a little girl falling out of a moving vehicle and they don’t even know it right away! In the beginning of the story the dad spends quality time with his children. They have adventures most kids couldn’t dream of. Then he drinks up the grocery and electric bill money. The mother is ahead of her time in lots of ways. She is also neglectful and self absorbed— in shocking ways. It’s because of the many reality checks that I didn’t doubt for a minute, memoir or not, that this is a true life story. It was a very funny book. My favorite Rex Walls story was him fixing the termite ridden floor by smashing beer cans and nailing them over the holes. “Time to go her another six pack”. (There were holes left to patch). Drink a beer, patch a hole..repeat. His best line, for me, was when he is telling his daughter about quantum physics and rethinking his atheist perspective. He holds up his DT shaking hand for some reason and tells her he doesn’t know if it’s “fear of God or lack of booze”. I thought maybe the author was being a little too careful going easy on her parents—some parts of the book were heart breaking to read. In the end, though, I’m glad she left it to the reader to decide, and thank GOD it wasn’t a “poor me” story! It was just realer than real, with the opportunity, should you choose to take it, to feel hope and optimism. To believe we are right to have hope. And a job.
Boring , boring , boring: a life with irresponsible and silly parents. I regret every cent. Could not read all, some spotty reading and eventually stashed it away.
Reads as if written by a teenager. Many incidences described are unbelievable. I know memories are not the same as biography but this Seems like pure fiction to me but poorly written. If a very fast but simplistic read is what you want, you’ve found it.
This book was disturbing and depressing. I had hoped that the author would share some sort of insight into surviving neglect and abuse, but I sensed a sort of “top this” arrogance in her writing. She described her childhood as an adventure. Her recounting was emotionless. This is not a book that will help survivors of abuse. Perhaps it is for those who never experienced such hardship and find it fascinating. I read a few chapters. Now I am deciding whether to put this book on the shelf or simply throw it in the fire.
This was a memorable and troubling story written from a child’s perspective (my favourite kind of story). Folks are commenting that Jeannette did not judge or condemn her parents for their miserable failings. What I suspect is simply that she was highly intelligent and had keen insight into their psychology and knew, on a deeper level than most children, they were “doing the best they could” in a sense. Only she knows what is in her heart. I got the sense she accepted and saw reality clearly. Her zest for life, insatiable curiosity and hopeful-ness in spite of her parents’ failings made her a rare exception among people who are raised in such a way, in my opinion. What I admire most about her is that she never gave up and resigned herself or allowed what was clearly abnormal to become normal.
An autobiographical account by the author, who was brought up by neglectful parents, who by choice lived a maverick, hand to mouth existence in America. They were both highly intelligent, creative individuals, who inherited land and property and could have given their children a comfortable life, yet they despised and spurned conventional lifestyles. Instead, believing themselves to be morally superior to others, they become drifters, moving from one place to another, dragging their children along with them…often living in abject poverty.The wilful neglect of the children is shocking and heart breaking. At the age of three the author receives extensive burns and nearly dies when she is allowed to use a gas hob without any parental supervision. One child does die in infancy, though it is claimed to be of natural causes (I rather doubt that given the neglect described).In addition to neglect, there is the mental torture …one child, when in her late teens is so tormented by her mother that she stabs her and ends up spending time in jail.This is not the sort of book you are likely to “enjoy”, but it is certainly worth reading. It is inspiring in so far as thesurviving children come through it all and go on to lead happy and fulfilling adult lives and that is a remarkable achievement.The book also raises philosophical questions…as to what is good and bad when raising children. For instance did it widen the children’s horizons by living in so many different places? Did they in fact learn to be independent due to the neglect…ie was it good for them in some ways?. Can children be truly “happy” in such families? …Can it be said that despite all the neglect, that underneath it all these parents loved the children? Regarding the latter, the author seems to think they did and I can understand that. But I doubt it.Yes the parents may have shown occasional kindnesses, but I can’t see that these are sufficient to compensate for the overall neglect. I might have had more sympathy for the parents if they’d had no choice…if they had done their best under difficult circumstances, if they had made an effort, but my impression from the book is that all they cared about was themselves and having their freedom to do as they pleased. I’m sorry if that is unfair and obviously I never met them and have never walked in their shoes as it were….but I just couldn’t see any love there.
This is a well written book and something of a page turner. The writing is vivid and I felt almost as though I was involved in this family’s life. It is a tale of terrible parental selfishness and neglect and at times made me feel so angry that people can treat their children in this way. Somehow the author survives intact without any bitterness towards her unbelievably eccentric mother and drunken father, and despite everything and what they have put her through manages to still love them both. I almost had to stop reading it at one point as the mother made me feel so angry at her unspeakable selfishness and the father taking money from his teenage children who had to work part time out of school to survive, but generally the book has a happy ending – although inevitably one of the four children suffers badly, but we never know what really happens to her. Well worth reading.
Wow, what an eye opening read! It is very well written and really draws you in to her experience so that you can relate to how it must have been for her growing up like this.Shocking at times, I found myself feeling awfully frustrated with her parents! I do believe that they love their children in their own way but just have their own warped, weird outlook on life which is actually very damaging and worrying.It is interesting to read about all of the different places they lived in their life too, you get a real feel for the surroundings and culture of different parts of America. The Appalachian mountains included!It is an inspiration to me that this lady managed to change her life for the better despite her difficult circumstances.I’ve seen the film too, but in my opinion he book is better as there are bits that they left out in the film.Highly recommend!
This book was a recommendation and not the crime thriller I usually go for and yet I was more taken by this novel, keener to get back to it than most of the thrillers I have read. There is a lot of exquisite detail. I can find lengthy descriptions boring, however well written, but I read every word, was not tempted to jump any passages because all the detail totally took me in. The characters are amazing. There us no sentimentality. They are fresh, irascible and authentic. Their lives astound and horrifying. Foolhardy, reckless, insanely brave. Extreme hardship is accepted with a matter of fact equanimity and the job of survival undertaken with resolute perseverance.Essentially it is the integrity of the characters in all their waywardness in the cases of the mother and father and the solid endurance of the main protagonist that have left a lasting impression on me.
Whenever I ask people which memoirs they recommend, this is the title that comes up again and again. It was also a New York Times Bestseller, and having read it, I can see why.There aren’t many books where you can say that the heroes of the story are also the villains. When I first started reading it, I thought, “oh, so this is a memoir about child abuse” – but then two chapters on, I was thinking, “No, I got it wrong – they’re just bohemian and anti-institution types”. Somehow, she manages to walk this line throughout the book, where you vacillate between thinking her parents are crazy and abusive, or super-intelligent and free-spirited.Jeannette recounts her remarkable childhood, moving from place to place around America, with her very unconventional parents. Although there are some dramatic and emotional elements she tells it all with journalistic precision, which means that it never feels saccharine or over-dramatic. The writing is elegant and lean, and allows you to feel the emotion as she tells the story. I borrowed this from the library, and then went and bought a copy for myself, because I wanted to study her writing more closely. And then I went and bought a copy as a gift for someone else, because it really is remarkable. I was hooked from the moment I began reading. You should buy it immediately. (Trigger warnings for abuse).
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