She grew up in a homeless, wandering family. Today she is an MSNBC Contributor. And she wrote a bestselling book about it all!

This month’s Better World Book Club pick is actually one of my favorites. (Funny how that happens). I read the book in the few weeks between serving in the Peace Corps in Madagascar and becoming a Video Journalist at CNN in Atlanta. Jeannette (yes I refer to bestselling authors I adore in causal first-person) was the perfect encouragement I needed. Her honesty, authenticity, openness, humbleness and success in the midst of chaos was the exact push of confidence that I needed to succeed on my own as well. Thank you, Jeannette, for so candidly, rawly and wisely sharing your beautiful story with the world.

Fellow The Glass Castle readers, I look forward to hearing your thoughts on the book below.

About the book

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. Her second book, Half Broke Horses, is also available at Better World Books.


Discussion Questions
From the Publisher

1. Though “The Glass Castle” is brimming with unforgettable stories, which scenes were the most memorable for you? Which were the most shocking, the most inspiring, the funniest?

2. Discuss the metaphor of a glass castle and what it signifies to Jeannette and her father. Why is it important that, just before leaving for New York, Jeannette tells her father that she doesn’t believe he’ll ever build it? (p. 238).

3. The first story Walls tells of her childhood is that of her burning herself severely at age three, and her father dramatically takes her from the hospital: “You’re safe now” (p. 14). Why do you think she opens with that story, and how does it set the stage for the rest of the memoir?

4. Rex Walls often asked his children, “Have I ever let you down?” Why was this question (and the required “No, Dad” response) so important for him — and for his kids? On what occasions did he actually come through for them?

5. Jeannette’s mother insists that, no matter what, “life with your father was never boring” (p. 288). What kind of man was Rex Walls? What were his strengths and weaknesses, his flaws and contradictions?

6. Discuss Rose Mary Walls. What did you think about her description of herself as an “excitement addict”? (p. 93).

7. Though it portrays an incredibly hardscrabble life, “The Glass Castle” is never sad or depressing. Discuss the tone of the book, and how do you think that Walls achieved that effect?

8 Describe Jeannette’s relationship to her siblings and discuss the role they played in one another’s lives.

9. In college, Jeannette is singled out by a professor for not understanding the plight of homeless people; instead of defending herself, she keeps quiet. Why do you think she does this?

10. The two major pieces of the memoir — one half set in the desert and one half in West Virginia — feel distinct. What effect did such a big move have on the family — and on your reading of the story? How would you describe the shift in the book’s tone?

11. Were you surprised to learn that, as adults, Jeannette and her siblings remained close to their parents? Why do you think this is?

12. What character traits — both good and bad — do you think that Jeannette inherited from her parents? And how do you think those traits shaped Jeannette’s life?

13. For many reviewers and readers, the most extraordinary thing about “The Glass Castle” is that, despite everything, Jeannette Walls refuses to condemn her parents. Were you able to be equally nonjudgmental?

14. Like Mary Karr’s “Liars’ Club” and Rick Bragg’s “All Over But the Shoutin’,” Jeannette Walls’ “The Glass Castle” tells the story of a wildly original (and wildly dysfunctional) family with humor and compassion. Were their other comparable memoirs that came to mind? What distinguishes this book?

Please comment on these questions in the space below. Thank you!

March Book Selection

Start Something That Matters by Blake Mycoskie (founder of TOMS)


Start Something That Matters is the inspiring story of a movement, a manifesto for the next stage of American business, and a blueprint for the new generation of entrepreneurs who want to live a meaningful and successful life.

Why this book is for you:

- You’re ready to make a difference in the world–through your own start-up business, a not-for-profit organization, or a new project you create within your current job.
- You want to do the things you love, serve people in need, and create a meaningful career–”all at the same time.”
- You’re inspired by organizations like charity: water, FEED Projects, and Zappos and want to know how “you too” can give back in extraordinary ways.
- You’re curious how someone who never made a pair of shoes, attended fashion school, or worked in retail created one of the fasting growing footwear companies in the world by “giving” away shoes.
- You’re looking for a new model of success to share with your children, students, co-workers, and members of your faith-based community.

You’re ready to start something that matters.

Can You Imagine Life Without Shoes or Books?

Better World Books holds a similar philosophy as Blake’s TOMS shoes and sunglasses – in that we are a one for one business model where giving back is ingrained into our mission. Thanks to our passion for working as a social enterprise – a company which is triple bottom line for people, planet, and profit – we are excited to host an in-person book club event featuring “Start Something That Matters” on TOMS A Day Without Shoes – Wednesday April 10th – in Atlanta. We’d love for you to host a satellite event too. Please email me at 11@betterworldbooks.com if you are interested.

6 Comments

  1. Kris Rudin (@krisrudin) says:

    Our book club read ‘The Glass Castle’ last year, and it was a pretty unanimous “didn’t like”. While it was interesting, I was not able to really connect with the narrator, and, frankly, didn’t like her too much! I don’t know if the story was too much of a downer, or what, but it just didn’t resonate with me, nor with the rest of our book club (all women, of widely varying ages, beliefs, etc).

  2. AMAZING! I read this book at the recommendation of a good friend. This book isn’t a ‘downer’-this is a story of personal triumph and the strength of family. I applaud Jeanette Wells for sharing her story. So many of the happenings in the book make you stop and think, “Seriously! Did that just happen?” Jeanette has a wonderful writing style and does a great job with physical descriptions-she really takes the reader with her on her journey. You’ll laugh, you’ll cry, and you’ll want the book not to end.

  3. Vicki Slaughter says:

    I have read both her books and find her to be an incredible writer. I only wish that the books were longer. When can we look for a new one? We can see from her books that not all of us had a storybook life, but most of us remember what we had and wouldn’t change most of it all.

  4. I am a fan of Ms. Walls, and have read all her books. Glass Castle first. Only after becoming Homeless myself did I read it again, and find it more interesting. This was a family, a hard working family, yet still enjoyed life in only the way they knew how.

  5. Crystal Kieloch says:

    Jeannette Walls is an excellent writer with an inspiring story to tell. I actually live near the town she lived in in West Virginia and know that the circumstances surrounding her experience ring true. I also have a colleague that taught her while in high school and we are fortunate enough to have had Jeanette visit our campus and speak to our students. Her experience is a reality in improverished areas like the deep hills of the Appalachias and there are those who are might be considered back woods who are brilliant individuals who just need the opportunity to rise above their circumstances.

  6. My book club also read “The Glass Castle” and it was our most spirited discussion all year. Rarely does a book make me feel such a wide range of emotions. I found myself, instead of feeling sorry for the hand that Walls was dealt growing up, rooting for her, admiring her spirit, and in awe of her coping skills. Her family life was certainly interesting, but I loved how in any crazy idea Walls’ dad came up with them family went along with it and stuck together. I can’t wait to read Walls’ other works.

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