I was in the nail salon getting my toes polished an earthy, mocha pink, when the woman next to me leaned over and asked what I was reading.
“The Glass Castle. I’m a little late to the party, but I’m making up for it now with the movie set to come out soon,” I said.
The Glass Castle had spend 261 weeks on the bestsellers list in 2005 so I wasn’t just a little late, I was a decade and some change late.
“Ooooh, yes,” the woman said with recognition.
“Have you read it?” I asked
“No,” she said. “I didn’t want to be sad. Is it sad? I heard it was.”
“Oh no!” I said “It’s not sad! I mean, it’s not a happy memoir, but it’s not sad. Well it is, but, what I’m trying to say, is that the author writes about her life in such a healed way and spins gold into her words and stories which is laced with rich understanding…if that makes sense. It’s a sad story, maybe, but it does not make you feel sad. It’s mostly just fascinating.”
And that’s exactly what I’d want you to know.
Except then, my friend, Sally, came to visit me a few weeks later. She saw the book on my counter and remembered me asking her if she read it. “Oh, Krysta, to answer your question, yes, I did read some of The Glass Castle, but then I stopped” she said.
“What do you mean you stopped?” I asked, sort of surprised. Sal and I have had many conversations about the two kinds of readers: book abandoners or book loyalists. Book abandoners skim and read a few chapters, get the information they need and then loose interest before eventually setting it down. Book loyalists usually read the whole book through, even if they don’t particularly like it. We are book loyalists.
“Well, isn’t that the one where they travel around a lot in the car and are living in tiny towns in the desert like, Nevada and New Mexico?” she asked.
“Yes,” I said .“But there’s so much more. That’s the beginning.”
“Yeah, I just couldn’t do it. It was so sad, her life. I had to stop.” She answered.
I took a hot minute to try and reconcile this information.
“Hmm. I understand that it’s dysfunctional, but I thought the author did such a great job of making the reader understand and empathize with all her family members, even when the things they said or did was pretty bad. And it’s so interesting! Didn’t you find it interesting?”
“Yeah. Just also sad.” she said
“Well, I bet if you kept reading it would have gotten better— less sad. I wasn’t sad,” I reasoned.
It was not a sad book. Sally had just not given it a full chance.
Except then, I loaned the book to my sister.
Here is the text conversation that ensued:
Kaylee: “Krysta, this book is incredibly difficult to read.”
Me: “What? Why?”
Kaylee: “I’ve been crying basically the entire time.”
Me: “What? Why?”
Kaylee: “On page 50 and I think I’ve cried on every page.”
Me: “What? This had not been my experience.”
Kaylee: “It’s a lot of different emotions.”
Me: “What makes you sad?”
Kaylee: “Well, she was on fire, then cooking hot dogs again, she fell out of the car and was almost left, her dad was almost running over her very pregnant mom, drunk, and then she is six, holding her newborn sister in the back of a pitch black haul while the doors are open and her brother almost falls out. And it make some angry. And sad. And she does a wonderful job writing it in her perspective as a clueless child.”
Me: “But do you like it? It’s ultimately a story about what she lived through and the kind of person who triumphs after that, and what that looks like. I find it fascinating and I like how you can empathize with everyone because she shows you their good and bad. Sally says to tell you ‘it’s so sad, I stopped reading it’ but I don’t think it leaves you sad overall, but then again, I didn’t know you’d cry either.”
Kaylee: “I love it. I haven’t put it down. It is fascinating, but it brings up a lot of emotion. I don’t think it’s a bad thing though.”
Then it hit me, something was familiar. I had a comparison! The Glass Castle is like Les Miserables! Everyone loves Les Miserables, yet it’s a sad story, but a redemptive one, and you don’t feel sad in the end, you just feel a lot of emotion. And maybe a little sad, but it’s mixed with love and so you are confused, but you just think, “that was stunning display of humanity.”
Except then, I realized comparing The Glass Castle to the most stunning, moving, redemptive story on planet earth might be a little heavy handed. However, the only other time I’ve swooned over a story and been met with “but it’s so…sad” was Les Miserables. And I’m always confused like I am now. I always think yes, it’s incredibly sad, and powerful and it leaves you hanging with your jaw on the floor and tears puddled on your chin but you feel nothing but reverence for the story. As I’ve disclosed, I didn’t shed tears during the reading of this book, but I was moved and captivated.
So look, you might think The Glass Castle is incredibly sad. You might get angry. But when you get done, you’ll have a better understanding of the worlds people and make sense of love mixed with grief and you’ll just FEEL.
If you are overwhelmed with feeling right now, maybe don’t read the book. You need a margarita and sunshine and something that will make you laugh. That is my disclaimer.
Jannette Walls is an extraordinary writer. This book wouldn’t fall into the category of “page turner” per se— what with it lacking the thrilling, leave-you-on-the-edge-of-your-seat feeling that most page turners (a la Gone Girl) evoke— but I can tell you that it’s almost precisely that without any of the drama. From the first paragraph, I was caught up and wanted to know more. She pulls you in, which is the kind of magic I love in a book. I want a book to demand my attention. This one does.
My sister read this is two days. And she is not a big reader.
That’s what I’m talking about.