The Glass Castle

Only available on StudyMode
  • Download(s): 158
  • Published: December 26, 2012
Read full document
Text Preview
Dear English Students,

I’m not normally a non-fiction fan, as you will no doubt glean from my future book talks and the reading materials you may observe on my desk. It’s not that it’s a genre I dislike: I’ll reach for non-fiction before I’ll reach for science-fiction, for example. It’s just that there are so many novels I’d like to read, and I know that I’ll never be able to read them in my lifetime, and every year more are published, that it becomes a matter of prioritising. I was surprised, therefore, to discover in Jeannette Walls’s The Glass Castle, a book I read in two or three sittings, a book I’ve reread parts of already, a book I’ve recommended with confidence to countless friends, relatives and students. And because of this piece of non-fiction, I was drawn to a chapter in William Zinsser’s On Writing Well on memoir writing and have added a number of his recommended memoir reads to my personal “someday” list. There they are – non-fiction titles amid young adult and contemporary adult and classic fiction – and they’re not even written in a different colour ink, or in smaller font. In fact, immediately following my reading of The Glass Castle, I picked up another memoir, Cockeyed. Two in a row. That’s never happened before. And it was a great read, too – but that’s fodder for another letter. Jeannette Walls’s story needed to be told. It’s a fascinating story of growing up in circumstances that keep readers shaking their heads and turning pages. I’ve no doubt the movie rights have already been sold, following an expensive bidding war. There’s real depth to the portraits she draws of her mother and father, in particular, people with layers that never seem to end. Even though her father drank and often refused to take responsibility for the care of his family and required of his children constant sacrifice, he was still someone whom I wanted to know and learn from. I found myself thinking how lucky his children were to have him as a father – sometimes. I had to keep myself from romanticising the Walls’s lives too much. When I read about how they spent many of their evenings in that abandoned train station, each reading a different book with a dictionary sitting in the middle of the room that they would consult regularly, I would have to remind myself that they might have eaten beans that day – for breakfast, lunch and dinner. Worse still, it might have been the seventh day of the same fare. If they were lucky, the beans would be fresh. The father’s interest in the meanings of words and his engagement in the world of ideas may seem wonderful from afar, but school-aged children also benefit from some form of routine. The only routine the Walls children knew was waking up never knowing where they may be sleeping that night. And even though the mother had the means to take care of her family’s needs, both through her family and her education and training, but preferred to stay at home, she would inspire me with her lessons and her passion. She was an artist. She took her children when she studied certain objects or vistas and gave them art lessons. Once, when she was painting Joshua trees, Jeannette asked her if she could “dig up and replant [one] near [their] house” (38). Her mom answered, “‘You’d be destroying what makes it special…It’s the Joshua tree’s struggle that gives it its beauty’” (38). I can only hope that I’m able to impart wisdom in context to my daughter with the same regularity that Mrs. Walls did for her children, but I suppose always having more in the fridge than a single stick of margarine would make up for my falling short now and then. Each chapter stands alone as a sort of vignette, and after the first chapter, where an adult Jeannette Walls, a successful career woman living in Manhattan, has lunch with her mother who lives on the streets, I found myself wondering if the following chapters would have the same impact, contain the same surprises. I needn’t have worried....
tracking img