On My Bedside {The Glass Castle & Educated}

I recently finished up two similar memoirs, both similar in nature: The Glass Castle by Jeannette Walls and Educated by Tara Westover.

The Glass Castle

Of the two, The Glass Castle was my favorite. Before I go too far, it’s hard to call one of these a “favorite”. They aren’t lighthearted enjoyable reads, but I thought they were both worthwhile. The recount of Jeannette’s upbringing was beautifully told and vividly written. My heart ached over the poverty and parenting, but I was also inspired by Jeannette and her siblings (well, two of them) that overcame the greatest odds as surviving childhood to follow their dreams as teens. And, while parts of the story gave me pause and made me feel so hopelessly sad – and even angry – for this family there was still an unconventional sense of family and love throughout. I can’t make excuses for the parents or rationalize their behavior, but my overall feeling was that they were doing the best they could. If you haven’t already, add this one to your list.

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.


Educated was a harder read. While The Glass Castle had much neglect for the kids, Educated had page upon page of abuse. Many times I forgot that this wasn’t a period piece, rather the story of a girl ten years my junior. There is no doubt that Tara, like Jeannette, overcame odds that would be unsurmountable for many. But, I finished this book feeling sadness, regret and distress.

Born to survivalists in the mountains of Idaho, Tara Westover was seventeen the first time she set foot in a classroom. Her family was so isolated from mainstream society that there was no one to ensure the children received an education, and no one to intervene when one of Tara’s older brothers became violent. When another brother got himself into college, Tara decided to try a new kind of life. Her quest for knowledge transformed her, taking her over oceans and across continents, to Harvard and to Cambridge University. Only then would she wonder if she’d traveled too far, if there was still a way home.

I’d love your thoughts on these two, and also to know what’s on your bedside!

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4 thoughts on “On My Bedside {The Glass Castle & Educated}

  1. I have read both also. You summed them up both perfectly while they are tough to read they are written in a way that is moving and stays with you. Another one extremely similar to these (if you have it in your heart for one more) is the Sound of Gravel. It’s both heartbreaking but yet so unbelievable. It’s hard to recommend it as a good read due to the content but wow what a story….

  2. I have read both of these books. Both of their stories were riveting. What I admired mostly from both of their stories–were their drive, determination, and strong will to overcome dysfunction. Dysfunction in the family dynamic is in all demographics-rich, middle class, and the poor. We live in a great country that allows so many opportunities and resources for people to get out of poverty and their situation. But it takes grit! Hillbilly Elegy is another great read; part memoir, part historical and social analysis. I am from the Appalachian region of Southern WV and grew up in a small of coal mining town, Man. I will always be grateful to my parents who instilled a strong work ethic and the importance of education in me and my sisters.

  3. I read “American Dirt” – so so good. Real page-turner. Very much enjoyed “All Adults Here” (cute?) & “The Most Fun We Ever Had” -both about families with grown children.
    I was behind the times reading “Where the Crawdads Sing” – loved. “Leave the World Behind” was quick and great social commentary in a fictional book. I decided to see what all the fuss was with Stephen King as despite his churning out of books they are not a formula like Danielle Steele. First 2/3 was just a nice story, then it got dark.

    I read Educated and feel badly it didn’t resonate with me the way it did with everyone else.
    I think i will stick with fiction – I have tried 3 big selling memoirs and have to push through

  4. Loved The Glass Castle. Educated not so much. I also recommend reading the other books by Jeanette Walls they are just as good as The glass Castle.

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