First Reading Section: Beginning to page 57
Syllabus: The Glass Castle Book Club, Day 1
April 29, 2009

Book Club Members: Alex F, Cate M, Melissa Z, Rachel S, Jordan S, Kira W


Today’s Focus Question: How does the way that Jeannette’s parents raise her affect how she lives her life both as a child and an adult?

Opening Focus Activity (10-15 minutes):
Visit the website, http://everything_everywhere.com and read about Gary Arndt’s travels. Look through the pictures, the places he has visited, his goals, and his blogs. Relate his website and anything interesting you found to The Glass Castle. Link back to the focus question and share findings with group.

Club Discussion Questions (20-30 minutes):
1. How much do her parents’ opinions matter to Jeanette? How does the importance of their opinions change throughout the book/her life?
2. Are the Walls’ parenting techniques helpful or harmful to the children? What are some good aspects (Demon?)? What are some bad aspects?
3. Has the parents’ neglect of their children initially make the kids stronger or weaker?
4. Which caused Jeannette to become ashamed of her parents? Her parents’ unique parenting techniques or the lack thereof?
5. On page 12, the mother says, “‘…I should have a say in how you’re raised’” (Walls 12). Should the mother have a say in how her daughter is raised now that we’ve learned what her parenting techniques are like?
6. “Even though her face was melted, she was still my favorite toy” (Walls 16). What does this say about Jeanette and how does this relate to her family life (if it does at all)? What is she trying to tell the reader?
7. In order to be successful and build the glass castle, the family must first find gold. What does this say about their beliefs and morals? Is it good to wait for luck to come around before becoming successful, or must you make your own success? What role does happiness play?
8. What is the significance of the quote, “The only animals that could survive around Midland were lipless, scaly creatures such as Gila monsters and scorpions, and people like us” (Walls 37)? What does this say about her life on the road? Her developed personality?
9. “‘It’s the Joshua tree’s struggle that gives it its beauty’” (Walls 38). How does this quote relate to Jeannette’s life on the road? How does this phrase build into her life as a child and an adult?

Closing Activity/Extension (10-15 minutes):
Listen to the song “This is Home” by Switchfoot and read over the lyrics. Relate the lyrics to Jeanette’s life on the road without a set home. Annotate the lyrics sheet and discuss findings with group.
“This is Home” by Switchfoot
I've got my memories
They're always inside of me
But I can't go back
Back to how it was
I believe it now
I've seen too much
But I can't go back
Back to how it was
Created for a place I've never known

[Chorus]
This is Home
Now I'm finally where I belong
Where I belong
Yeah, this is home
I've been searching for a place of my own
Now I've found it,
Yeah this is home
Yeah, this is home

Belief over misery
I've seen the enemy
And I won't go back
Back to how it was
And I've got my heart set on what happens next
I've got my eyes wide and it's not over yet
We are miracles
And we're not alone

[Chorus]

And now after all my searching
After all my questions
I'm gonna call it home
I've got a brand new mindset
I can finally see the sunset
I'm gonna call it home

[Chorus]

Now I know, Yeah this is home
I've come too far
No, I won't go back
This is home

The Glass Castle
Book Club Two Syllabus Pg. 58-93


Focus Question:
How do you think that Battle Mountain changed Jeannette's outlook on her life at the time?
Opening Activity: Getting to here from the author herself…


Questions:
· There seems to be a repeated theme of finding rocks, and searching for gold. One part that I thought was really interesting was when she talks about her rock collection, “ My favorite rocks to find were geodes, which Mom said came from the volcanoes that had erupted to form the Tuscarora Mountains millions of years ago, during the Miocene period. Form the outside, geodes looked like boring round rocks, but when you broke them open with a chisel and hammer, the insides were hollow, like a cave, and the walls were glittering white quartz crystals or sparkling purple amethysts”(pg 60). At the end of this section she mentions the only thing she brings to Phoenix is one of these rocks. I know this is a memoir, but what do you think the search for something more than is there tells about her character, family, and society?
· What did you guys think about Billy Deel? Do you think his horrible actions are justified because he never grew up in a family with love? “He kept his Marlboros rolled up in one of his T-shirt sleeves, and he lit his cigarettes with a Zippo lighter stamped with a picture of a naked lady bending over. Billy lived with his dad in a house made of tar paper and corrugated tin, down the tracks from our house. He never mentioned his mom and made it clear you weren’t supposed to bring her up, so I never knew if she had run off or died” (pg 81-82). Oh and he is only eleven. What do you think he represents?
· What did you guys think about the kids meeting Ginger at the Green Lantern? What do you think the mystery behind the Green Lantern’s purpose signifies?
· What are your thoughts on the motif of fire? Jeannette Walls has many memories that she could have started the book with, but she chose the one where she was burned boiling hot dogs. So far fire has appeared many other times. What is this representative of?
· What did you think when Billy said, “’Aw, now, don’t go get all high-and-mighty on me,’ Billy said. ‘Don’t go and try and pretend you’re better than me. ‘Cause I know your daddy ain’t nothing but a drunk like mine.’” (pg 83)?
· On the same page her mom is speaking and says, “Unloved children grow up to become serial murderers or alcoholics. Mom looked pointedly at Dad and then back at me”. What are your thoughts on this passage?
· What about when Billy goes, “‘Guess what?’… ‘ I raped you!’”. Then she describes the scene saying, “I turned around and saw him standing there by the car, looking hurt and angry but not as tall as ususal.” (pg 87). Do you think that Billy was sexual abused by his parents?
· Do you think that it was fair to let Jeannette know her Grandma had died like they did?
· What were your reactions when her dad held her mom out the window?


Syllabus: The Glass Castle Book Club, Day 3 – Pgs. 94 - 159
May 4, 2009


Focus Question: What were your personal reactions to some of the events in this section? How do they differ from Walls’ description of them? How can these differences be explained by different upbringings and life experiences?

Opening Focus Activity (10 – 15 min.):

Group members share different childhood experiences. Compare your memories of it to people’s reactions to it. How does this compare to Jeannette Walls’ memoir and the groups / public’s reaction to it?

Club Discussion Questions (20 – 30 min.):

  1. What do you think Grandma Smith was like? How did she affect how Mom turned out?
  2. Pg. 95 – Why do the kids treat “gifted” as a joke? Can you relate their attitude towards it to your own life?
  3. Pg. 96 – What was your reaction to Mom’s disapproval of glasses?
  4. Pg. 99 – How does the kids’ attitude in Phoenix compare to their attitude towards Battle Mountain and Welsh?
  5. Pg. 103 – “It was essential that we refuse to surrender to fear.” Discuss!
  6. Pg. 104-105 – Why do you think Rex feels that way towards the church and what do you think of Mom’s attitude towards him/it?
  7. What do you think of Brian’s attitude towards Rex? How does it differ from Jeannette’s? Why is there a difference? (Pg. 107)
  8. What did you think of the cheetah incident and Jeannette’s recollection of it?
  9. Do you think the kids will ever start to place blame on their parents for their circumstances instead of accepting them? When will the adventures end?
  10. Pg. 111 – What do you think of Maureen’s imaginary friends?
  11. Why does the family ignore and condone Rex’s drinking problem?
  12. “When dad went crazy, we all had our own ways of shutting down and closing off, and that was what we did that night.” – Pg. 115. Discuss!
  13. Clarification – was Rex being overly dramatic with how giving up drink affected him? Was he being honest or trying to evoke guilt and sympathy?
  14. Why was Rex reluctant to go back to Welsh and his parents?
  15. What do you think Rex’s upbringing was like and how do you think it affected him?
  16. Pg. 138 – Why did the teacher and class react so negatively towards Jeannette?
  17. Pg. 140 – How does their Mom’s attitude foster self-dependency? Is this a good or bad thing in the long run?
  18. What do you think of Mom’s attitude towards Erma? What do you think of Erma?
  19. Pg. 146 – The kids are becoming more of an inconvenience as they grow older – what does this say about Rex and Mom as parents?
  20. Do you think Rex was sexually abused? The kids seemed to think it would explain a lot about their dad in the present – why / how? (Pg. 148).
  21. What does the glass castle and the foundation / garbage pit represent to Jeannette and the family overall?

Closing Activity / Extension (5 – 10 min.):

Each group member draws a version of their own “glass castle” and shares what makes it awesome, and if it will ever be built.


Syllabus: The Glass Castle Book Club, Day 4
May 6, 2009

Book Club Members: Kira W, Alex F, Melissa Z, Rachel S, Jordan S, Cate M

Today’s Focus Question: Do you think that all of the deplorable conditions of Welch leave Jeannette scarred for life? She seems to be really strong in physicality and mental stability, but underneath, her repressed self, do you think that Welch will have a damage on that? It is the longest place she has lived.

Opening Focus Activity (10-15 minutes):

Watch…


Club Discussion Questions (20-30 minutes):
1. “She told us we should forgive her the same way we always forgave dad for his drinking. None of us said a thing” (174 Walls). What do you think about this quote? Why do you think that it is so much harder for them to forgive their mom than their dad?
2. What do you think about the child care guy? Do you think that he really cared? If he had, don’t you think he would have tried a little harder to help?
3. What do you think about Dinitia? She seems to have hardened so much and seems to no longer even have any interest in Jeanette. Why do you think she would become so closed? Why do you think Walls even wrote about this? There were probably many other people that she was closed off from, but she chose to write about her experiences with Dinitia.
4. Do you think that she is glad that her dad is proud of her braces, or do you think she may have some resentment because of her ingenuity he said “You take after your old man” (202 Walls).
5. Do you think that Jeanette and Lori should have gotten the money to make the budget, or do you think that the parents should have kept it to make poor decisions but have it because they are the parents?
6. I really liked the line “what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger” mom said. “if that’s true, I should be Hercules by now” (179 Walls). Do you think that this is a true insight into their emotions?
7. Why doesn’t her mom ever defend her? It’s her mom! Like with Uncle Stanley. Why isn’t there a stronger motherly love?
8. She’s still daddy’s little girl, but she pushes the envelope with telling her mom that she needs to leave Rex. Why do you think mom would have said no when there were so many valid reasons to leave? Did she genuinely love him?
9. Why do you think she added the short paragraph about laughing with her dad on the porch? Do you think she wants us to see both sides of him? (189)
10. It’s hard to comprehend how segregated it still was back then. Even thought it was outlawed, it was still such a strong presence. At the free pool swim, do you think that there was anything significant about that?


Closing Activity/Extension (5-10 minutes):

Watch…



Syllabus: The Glass Castle pgs. 204-235
May 8, 2009


Focus Question: As the book unravels, we see the demolishing power of these parent's and how dreams are quickly and easily squashed. How does this struggling aspect of their childhood prepare or hurt them for the future? What does this life they lead mean for their future success?

Opening Activity (10 min.): Write about a quick memory where you had worked hard to achieve a goal, and someone ruined what you had worked for. Illustrate a time that you were let down, or put in a tough situation. The point of this is to find a point of our life where we can relate to what these children are experiencing, yet they experience this trauma daily.

Discussion Questions (25-30 min.):
1. How do you think working for her school newspaper will affect Jeannette's life in her adult years? Her dad said, "She was the first person in his life, he once told me, who'd showed any faith in him" (Walls 203). This woman is the one of the only people that made a positive impact on her father's life. Could she be a changing factor in Jeannette's life?
2. "At times I felt like I was failing Maureen, like I wasn't keeping my promise that I'd protect her-the promise I'd made to her when I held her on the way home from the hospital after she'd been born. I couldn't get her what she needed most-hot baths, a warm bed, steaming bowls of Cream of Wheat before school in the morning-but I tried to do little things"(Walls 206). Why does Jeannette take on the emotions and feelings of a mother, and she is the sister? How do you feel about this passage?
3. "A lot of her (Maureen) friends were Pentecostals whose parents held that Mom and Dad were disgracefully irresponsible and took it upon themselves to save Maureen's soul. They took her up like a surrogate daughter and brought her with them to revival meetings and to snake handling services over in Jolo" (Walls 206-207). Do you agree/believe it is OK that Maureen's friend's parents take her in like this and push her into their religion? Do the pros of having a more decent life out way the possible cons of taking this religion? Is this a great religion that could change her life?
4. "My mom was thirty-eight, not young but not old, either. In twenty-five years, I told myself, I'd be as old as she was now. I had no idea what my life would be like then, but as I gathered up my schoolbooks and walked out the door, I swore to myself that I would never be like Mom's, that I would not be crying my eyes out in an unheated shack in some godforsaken holler" (Walls 208). Reflect on this quote and realization of Jeannette? Do you think her other siblings feel this same way? What do you think of Lori's reaction?
5. "He knew I had a soft spot for him the way no one else in the family did, and he was taking advantage of it" (Walls 209). Jeannette thinks that laying down the law with her father would be easy, but it comes to be much harder than she thought. What do you feel about this situation her father has put her in and how it will place more issues in their future?
6. "So, with Dad's blessing, I went upstairs...In the car, Dad took out the money he'd won and counted off forty dollars, which he passed to me. 'We make a good team,' he said. I felt like throwing the money at him, but we kids needed it, so I put the bills in my purse" (Walls 212-213). Could this be the real turning point where Jeannette starts to cut off her dad, starts to harden her soft spot? Will she always have a tender heart for her father, no matter what he does?
7. The paragraph starting on page 216 going into 217 became an elaborate description of Jeannette's fears with stealing the watch. What does this say about her as a person and what she has experienced through her life? her parents give her little to no moral compass, and yet she has a great conscience; where may this have come from?
8. "She'd (Mom) attended lectures and she'd painted. She'd read stacks of self-help books, and they had made her realize that she'd been living her life for other people. She intended to quit her teaching job and devote herself to her art. 'It's time I did something for myself'..." (Walls 218). Is Jeannette's mom justified/right in feeling this way? What will happen with the family if she becomes so consumed in herself? Will anything even change?
9. (After Rex had just whipped Jeannette) "I walked out of the kitchen without looking at Dad. Mom was outside the door. She'd been standing there, listening to everything. I didn't look at her, but I could see from the corner of my eye her triumphant expression. I bit my lip so I wouldn't cry" (Walls 220). This is a jaw dropping section. How do you now feel about these parents? Is there any hope/sympathy for them? Was this a justified action of her father? How is this going to affect their future relationship/how will this hurt Rex?
10. (After they had gotten the Cadillac) "I wondered if the welfare agency had found some millionaires to be our foster parents and they had arrived to take us away, but dad was inside the house..." (Walls 224). What had changed Jeannette's view of the welfare agency? Just last year she was mortified they would even consider coming to her house and take her away, but now she is wishing a new family could take them away.
11. "'I'm only telling you this because I love you,' he said. 'And I don't want to see you hurt'" (Walls 228). One of the most famous lines of a parent, but Rex doesn't mean a single word of this. Do you think he really even cares if Lori goes off to New York? What made Jeannette remember this line he told her that she felt the need to write it in? Does this have a deeper meaning into their relationship?
12. " 'Why are you doing this to us, Dad?' I asked. 'Why?' / His face tightened with anger, then he staggered to the sofa bed and passed out. / 'I'll never got out of here,' Lori kept saying. 'I'll never get out of here.' / 'You will,' I said. 'I swear it.' I believed she would. Because I knew that if Lori never got out of Welch, neither would I" (Walls 229). We already know that they all get out of Welch and join society in the future, but if you were in their positions, would you believe that you could get out? Even from an outside perspective, at this point, do you think they could escape the demolishing power of their parents?


Closing Extensions (5-10 min.):
"...Lori began to see New York as a sort of Emerald City-this glowing, bustling place at the end of a long road where she could become the person she was meant to be" (Walls 222).
Each person has their own dreams, their own "Emerald City" and this chapter begins to reveal these aspirations of the characters of this story. Spend a few minutes on each person and go around the circle, discussing our own Emerald Cities, what it will take to get there, and how our personal cities differ from those Jeannette and Lori.


Syllabus for last reading 5/11/09


Focus Question:
How has the change in Jeanette and in relationships from the beginning of the book to end altered?

Opening Activity: go to http://postsecret.blogspot.com/ and discuss which mother’s day secret you feel best depicts similarly to or is most unlike Jeanette and her mother’s throughout the book.

Discussion questions:
1. When the Walls children first arrive in New York do you think they were prepared to live alone?
2.
“This is just a drizzle,” she said. “Monsoons could be ahead!” pg. 259 when do you believe the Wall’s family experienced their ‘monsoon’ or their lowest point?
3.
“Things usually work out in the end.” “What if they don’t?” “that just means you haven’t come to the end yet.” Pg. 259 Do you believe that this kind of optimism justifies the way Jeanette’s parents live their live? If not do you think anything does?
4.
“But if the physic – the quantum physics – suggest that God exists, I’m more than willing to entertain the notion.” Pg. 261 What do you think of Rex’s sudden change in faith? Do you think it is selfish to only believe when he comes close to death to comfort him when he spent so long trying to push his logic on his kids?
5.
“This crazy-ass mother of yours, can’t live with her can’t live without her. And damned if she doesn’t feel the same about me.” Do you think the parents relationship influences the kid’s idea of love and marriage for the future considering how different all their love lives are in the end?
6.
“you must be mighty ashamed of your old man,” he said “You think I’m some sort of goddamn charity case.” Pg. 263 Do you, or did you ever, feel any sympathy towards Rex? Do you think his efforts outweigh the damage? Is it enough to want to change?
7.
“After all those years of roaming, they’d found home.” Pg. 267 What do you think the various Walls family members define home as? What do you consider home to mean?
8.
“What I wanted to say was that I knew Eric would never try to steal my paycheck or throw me out the window, that I’d always been terrified I’d fall for a hard-drinking, hell-raising, charismatic scoundrel like you, Dad, but I’d wound up with a man who was exactly the opposite.” Pg. 268 Do you think Jeanette is just settling for Eric because he is secure? Is she searching for love or just someone who is least like her dad?
9.
“That’s what I’m worried about,” Mom said, “Look at the way you live. You’ve sold out. Next thing I know, you’ll become a Republican…. Where are the values I raised you with?” pg. 269 What values do you think she is talking about? What do you think Jeanette’s mom is really trying to convince Jeanette?
10.
“I wanted to let the world know that no one had a perfect life, that even the people who seemed to have it all had their secrets.” Pg. 270 What does this say about Jeanette as a person?
11.
“Lori was the smart one, Maureen the pretty one, and Brian the brave one. You never had much going for you except that you always worked hard.” Pg. 270 How do you think each kid acquired the quality their mother assigned to them and who benefited in the future the most?
12.
“My life with Eric was calm and predictable.” Pg. 272 Do you think relationships like this are good or bad?
13.
When Jeanette’s mother admits to the worth of the land she owns what was your reaction? Do you think she had a good enough reason to not sell it?
14.
What did you think about how Maureen grew up and how she became the way she was in New York?
15.
“I just stood there looking from one distorted face to another, listening to this babble of enraged squabbling as the members of the Walls family gave vent to all their years of hurt and anger, each unloading his or her own accumulated grievances and blaming the others for allowing the most fragile one of us to break into pieces.” Pg. 276 why do you think Maureen’s arrest caused the family to finally find a release for their lifetime of suppression?
16.
“But despite all the hell-raising and destruction and chaos he had created in our lives, I could not imagine what my life would be like – what the world would be like – without him in it.” Pg. 279 what do you think of Jeanette’s feelings towards her dad when she finds out her dad is going to die? Do you think the absence of any apologies or forgiveness from either change anything? Do you think she regrets that now?
17.
“A year after Dad died, I left Eric.” Pg. 280 What do you think inspired this decision?
18.
I’d never met a man I would rather spend time with. I loved him for all sorts of reasons: he cooked without recipes; he wrote nonsense poems for his nieces; his large, warm family had accepted me as one of their own. And when I first showed him my scar, he said it was interesting.” Pg. 286 Do you think the life Jeanette has lived has influence who she fell in love with?
19.
What feelings at the end of the book had changed from the beginning of the book?
20.
What is one lesson you took away from this book?
21.
Even though the Glass Castle was never built what do you think it meant to Jeanette even after her dad died?

Closing activity:

Choose another example of what you consider to be your “Glass castle” that represents your relationship with someone in your life and decide if and why it has changed from your earlier one.