Archives For The Glass Castle

The Friends of the C.H. Booth Library Book Sale in Newtown, Connecticut, was opened this weekend, and the used book business was good! This is one of the premier books sales in the state: well-organized tables filled with excellent quality used books, lots of attentive check-out staff, and great prices. This year, I attended on Sunday, the day after the big rush, and there were plenty of bargains to be had for classroom teachers since the large crowds on Saturday had left something for the discriminating shoppers the following day.

The 38th Annual Book Sale is held from Saturday, July 13, to Wednesday, July 17, 2013, at the Reed Intermediate School, 3 Trades Lane Newtown, CT 06470

HOURS: 9:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. Saturday and Sunday (all items full price)
9:00 a.m. to 7:00 p.m. Monday (half price) and Tuesday ($5 a bag)
9:00 a.m. to 12 noon Wednesday (free).

Glass Castle coverThe paperback trade table is always my first stop, and the titles were alphabetized and arranged spines facing in the same direction for easy browsing. I immediately grabbed the remaining 21 copies of Jeanette Walls’s The Glass Castle for the English IV Memoir class. This book retails for $9.85; twenty-one new copies would have cost $206.85 as compared to the $21.00 I spent. Walls’s memoir of her childhood captures any reader’s interest on the first page when, on her way to a fancy dinner party, she spots her mother “rooting through a dumpster.” The following chapters chronicle Walls’s survival through childhood at the hands of her brilliant, but mentally unstable, alcoholic parents. The riveting story is one of the required readings for the Memoir class.

There were also multiple copies of Sandra Cisneros’s The House on Mango Street, two copies of Elie Wiesel’s Night, and three copies of Tim O’Brien’s The Things They Carried. Over in the drama section, there were newish Folger Library copies of Hamlet, Macbeth and Romeo and Juliet.

From the classic fiction table I selected several different editions of Charles Dickens’s Great Expectation, all in excellent condition; our freshmen honors students can handle working from different page numbers in class. Over in young adult (YA) fiction, a friend pointed out two copies of Sharon Draper’s Copper Sun, a book I have been looking to add to Grade 11 American Literature. This is an easy read, but with extremely mature subject matter that is bound to bring about interesting discussions..

A quick trip into the other large all-purpose room where children’s books and non-fiction are available, and I found four copies of Bill Bryson’s A Walk in the Woods, a non-fiction read that we are using in a mandatory English IV unit. Bryson’s journey through some of the Appalachian Trail is a hilarious read, and we intend to relate this trip with the journey student have completed after 13 years of education.

So what sociological study can be applied to this book sale? If the tables loaded with books donated by residents from Newtown could talk, they might say that Newtown residents:

  • Believe in providing their children with books at every age level;
  • Have enough “Chick Lit” books to warrant a separate table;
  • Have enough animal books to divide them into categories: “pets”, “farm animals”, etc;
  • Prefer paperback trades to hardcover fiction;
  • Have a respectable amount of mystery books;
  • Enjoy books about sports.

If there was any criticism, it must come in the form of their (intentional or unintentional) relentless promotion of one title: Seabiscuit. For some inexplicable reason, Laura Hillenbrand’s non-fiction award-winning book about the award-winning race horse was mixed in with almost every genre. As I shopped, I noted several copies in trade fiction, one copy in classic fiction, three copies in memoir, several copies in animals, one in psychology, and one copy in with the Star Trek series. Perhaps, they were try to interest readers of every kind in this great story?

Three bags full

Three bags full of books for $152.00

I ended up spending $152.00 for three FULL bags of books (see photo). This is $54.85 less than I would have spent on the 21 copies of The Glass Castle books had they been new copies. Three bags of books for classroom libraries for independent and assigned reading left nestled comfortably in the back of my car waiting for September.

Thank you, Friends of the C. H. Booth Library in Newtown, CT. Your efforts help keep students reading, extending the reach of your community!

PS: The friend who went to the book sale with me also reported a “find” in the books she purchased. When she got home, she noticed the almost new copy of Eloise was signed by the illustrator Hilary Knight!

The second quarter of school has started, and The Glass Castle has been assigned to the seniors in Memoir class. There is much grumbling; “You’re kidding…we have to read a book when we are leaving in a few months????” (It’s November-graduation is in June) There is even more grumbling when I tell them they will need to do about five pages of responses; “You mean we have to write about a book when we are leaving in a few months???” (Again, it’s November-there are seven months to go).

There are about 50 copies in the book room-total investment of $250

So, I distribute the books, and I read aloud the opening paragraph,

“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. It was just after dark. A blustery March wind whipped the steam coming out of the manholes, and people hurried along the sidewalks with their collars turned up. I was stuck in traffic two blocks from the party where I was heading. Mom stood fifteen feet away. She had tied rags around her shoulders to keep out the spring chill and was picking through the trash. It had been months since I laid eyes on Mom, and when she looked up, I was overcome with panic that she’d see me and call out my name. I slid down in the seat and asked the driver to turn around and take me home to Park Avenue” (3).

That certainly caught their attention.

Jeanette Walls, author and gossip columnist for MSNBC, incorporates both the misery of living in a dysfunctional family with the excitement and joys of childhood in her page-turner of a memoir. Chapter Two opens with the deadpan line-“I was on fire,” where Walls mater-of-factually recounts how she was set ablaze by the fire on the stove while cooking herself a hotdog at the young age of three. Her resilience is remarkable, but more remarkable is her generosity in the remembering her father who  employed the “skedaddle” staying one step ahead of the authorities, who bestowed stars as Christmas presents, and who promised a home to his children -a glass castle. Similarly, the portrayal of her mother as an talented artist who prized independence and who believed that “being homeless is an adventure” is unflinchingly honest.

I first bought 20 copies of The Glass Castle three years ago at the retail price of $10.50 each. This memoir was one of the first offered in the newly designed Memoir Class, in fact, the course was built around the book as a core requirement. Since then, there have been some 30+ copies added ranging in price from $.50-$2.00 from used book sales. The total investment for the 50 copies now in the book room is about $250.00. The book’s popularity with area readers makes it relatively easy to find at Goodwill and public library book sales.

After the students were introduced to the book, I showed a short video of Walls with her mother. At first, several of my students were outraged that Walls would admit to avoiding her mother who appeared so desperate. Indeed that was Walls’s fear when she first drafted the memoir, but as the students read the text, they have become more forgiving and understanding. In the memoir parental failure was complicated by a toxic mixture of mental illness and alcohol, problems unfortunately not unknown to some of the students. The video helped to reassure them that Walls is not the heartless daughter they initially believed.

Walls is a great storyteller in the genre of non-fiction. Her episodes in the The Glass Castle recalls to mind the work of the great fiction writer Tolstoy who famously stated, “Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way. ” Walls combines the happy and the unhappy in an engaging read….especially since there are seven months left in the school year.

Student choice is the driving force behind purchasing used books, and we (the junior English teacher and I) just finished loading in the 800+ books purchased at the Newtown, CT, and Stockbridge, MA, book sales into the closet we use as a book room. (They certainly FELT like 800 books!) The room is conveniently (?) located behind a large bathroom, and teachers must patiently wait for us to leave when we rummage for texts during the school year. There are shelves along the walls and a set of two mobile (and very unstable) wooden rolling shelf units. We have successfully expanded our holdings enough in one year to crowd out all other groups using the room as storage.

Since the books I am purchasing average $1.00 in cost, I have the ability to experiment with texts for independent reading. Before I started purchasing used books, I would spend a great deal of time researching a book, looking for the best price, and anxiously await complaints from students (“…this is the worst book EVER!”) or teachers (“…does not work in this unit…”). I have had my successes in The Things They Carried and The Road; I have had few takers with Nectar in a Sieve. When new trade paperbacks average $8/copy from discount booksellers, I have concerns about committing $240.00 of the department’s money for 30 copies of an untested title. However,  at $1.00/text, or $30 for a class set, I can afford to make a few mistakes in determining what students might read.

One required text

As I have shopped, I have been adding to the Memoir elective that runs during the fall semester for 12th grade students. Students are assigned two core texts, one of which is A Hole in My Life by Jack Gantos but this title is never available in used book sales.

One Required Text

The other assigned text is The Glass Castle by Jeanette Walls, and there are usually several used copies at each book sale. Students will have to choose at least two other memoirs to read independently during the course as well as write an abbreviated  memoir of their own.

Seniors are 17-18 years old, so I do not have the same concerns about censorship due to topic or language. Since independent reading is a matter of choice, I am comfortable offering some of the more “mature” texts. This year, there are several new titles I will be offering to students as independent choice books this fall since I have found 5-6 copies of each of the following:

New option for Memoir Class

Ambulance Girl by Jane Stern-$11.16/paperback at Amazon: “Ambulance Girlis the absorbing true story of how and why Jane Stern, a depressed and anxious borderline agoraphobic, decides to become an Emergency Medical Technician.” ($55.80 for 5 new copies versus $5 for 5 used copies)

New Option for Memoir Class

Hypocrite in a Pouffy White Dress by Susan Jane Gilman – $11.19/paperback at Amazon: “Gilman has a gift for showing the humor in the ordinary. Her memoir takes readers from her childhood in the late 1960s and early ’70s through adulthood and marriage.” ($55.95 for 5 new copies versus $5 for 5 used copies)

New Option for Memoir class

Beautiful Boy by David Sheff- $9.60/paperback at Amazon: “Sheff chronicles his son’s downward spiral into addiction and the impact on him and his family. A bright, capable teenager, Nic began trying mind- and mood-altering substances when he was 17. In months, use became abuse, then abuse became addiction.”
($48.00 for 5 new copies versus $5 for 5 used copies)

Total savings of including offering used titles versus new? $144.75

These new titles will be placed alongside the other titles I have already collected in the used book market including:

Lucky by Alice Sebold
Lost in Place and Iron and Silk by Mark Salzman
Running with Scissors by Augusten Burroughs
Zippy by Haven Kimmel
This Boy’s Life by Tobias Wolff
The Liar’s Club by Mary Karr
A Million Little Pieces by James Frey (Yes, I know….a discredited memoir, but some students like this gritty story)
The Tender Bar by J. R. Moehringer

The other book used during the course is Angela’s Ashes by Frank McCourt. There are already 60 copies in the bookroom that were purchased new. I could always add extra copies because there are always copies of this title on used book tables and shelves. Students are also free to choose another memoir from the school library if they want.

I give students some time to choose a book, so I need to have copies available for them to try. When a student lingers over a text on the shelf, I’ll say, “Try it…you might like it!”