Friday, October 26, 2007

Reading List: The Glass Castle

One of my favorite ways to assess a book is by its first sentence. A good first sentence should demonstrate literary merit and a unique and engaging voice. It should create, just within its dozen or two words, a little mystery or question or intrigue. I love to read a book’s first sentence and then set the book aside for a while to just mull over that sentence and what might be next in store.

When I read the first sentence of The Glass Castle, I knew I was in for a treat. In fact, I was hooked and had to set aside the afternoon’s chores to get well and deep into the book.

Here’s it is. Read it and I bet you’ll be hooked too:

"I was sitting in a taxi, wondering if I had overdressed for the evening, when I looked out the window and saw Mom rooting through a Dumpster."

The way I came to this book is this. A few months ago, my famous and talented Aunt Nancy sent me a study on the right way to praise children. So I sent her an email with a few studies on child development I found interesting:

One study compared 1. babies who co-slept with their parents and were fed on demand 2. babies who were fed on demand but did not co-sleep 3. and babies who were neither fed on demand nor co-slept. The happiest, least fussy babies were those who were fed on demand but did not co-sleep.

Another study compared 1. children from warm and nurturing homes with low conflit 2. children from warm and nurturing homes with moderate conflict 3. children from warm and nurturing homes with high conflict and 4. children from homes with low conflict but not warm and nurturing. The children with the best social skills and highest self-esteem came from the homes that were warm and nurturing (of course) with moderate conflict. The idea being that normal family conflict is a good learning environment for appropriate assertiveness and good social skills.

No, it’s not a coincidence that both these studies validate somewhat out-of-control, overextended families (like mine). Nancy recommended The Glass Castle in response to those studies.

So if you read it, which you most certainly should, ask yourself these questions:

Of all the things the Walls parents do wrong, what is it that they do right that makes everything else almost okay? What do they do that contributes to their children turning out responsible, compassionate, and successful?

I’d love to know what you think.


  1. Angela's husband MarkOctober 26, 2007 at 10:50 PM

    we haven't taken the boys dumpster diving yet, have we? I'll bet there is serious loot up at the UoU apartment dumpsters when Spring term ends.

  2. Angela,

    I read this book a couple of months ago at the urging of my mom who kept telling me horror stories of this family and I just thought it was so impossible to be true. Ever since I've been itching to talk about it!

    What amazed me most about the family was that her parents were extremely intelligent--teaching their kids astronomy, binary, latin, etc, yet they were such idiots about everything else--the goverment, police, budgeting, healthcare, etc.

    In answer to your question, I think that their example was so extremely disfunctional that at least two of the kids (Jeanette and Brian) were so compelled to break the cycle. As I recall, it didn't quite happen like that for Maureen.

  3. I haven't read this book yet, but somehow I HAVE read that first sentence. I too, also love the first sentence of a book. I must have looked it up online one time while I was reviewing possible book-buys or something. Maybe I'll pick a copy up today to keep me company tonight.