St. John's Laurys Book Club

Reading books for enjoyment, perspective and discussion

Meets the First Thursday of each month at 6:30pm
     Please use the West Entry Doors and follow the trail of books to the meeting room

Contact Brenda Frantz or Karen-Berry Frantz for more information.

 

July 6 Meeting
The Glass Castle: A Memoir
by Jeanette Walls

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.

For two decades, Jeannette Walls hid her roots. Now she tells her own story. A regular contributor to MSNBC.com, she lives in New York and Long Island and is married to the writer John Taylor.

The Glass Castle is a remarkable memoir of resilience and redemption, and a revelatory look into a family at once deeply dysfunctional and uniquely vibrant. When sober, Jeannette's brilliant and charismatic father captured his children's imagination, teaching them physics, geology, and how to embrace life fearlessly. But when he drank, he was dishonest and destructive. Her mother was a free spirit who abhorred the idea of domesticity and didn't want the responsibility of raising a family.

The Walls children learned to take care of themselves. They fed, clothed, and protected one another, and eventually found their way to New York. Their parents followed them, choosing to be homeless even as their children prospered.

The Glass Castle is truly astonishing--a memoir permeated by the intense love of a peculiar but loyal family.

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Jeannette Walls graduated from Barnard College and was a journalist in New York. Her memoir, The Glass Castle, has been a New York Times bestseller for more than six years. She is also the author of the instant New York Times bestsellers The Silver Star and Half Broke Horses, which was named one of the ten best books of 2009 by the editors of The New York Times Book Review. Walls lives in rural Virginia with her husband, the writer John Taylor.

Reading Group Guide:  Topics & Questions for Discussion

1. Though The Glass Castle is brimming with unforgettable stories, which scenes were the most memorable for you? Which were the most shocking, the most inspiring, the funniest?

2. Discuss the metaphor of a glass castle and what it signifies to Jeannette and her father. Why is it important that, just before leaving for New York, Jeannette tells her father that she doesn't believe he'll ever build it? (p. 238).

3. The first story Walls tells of her childhood is that of her burning herself severely at age three, and her father dramatically takes her from the hospital: "You're safe now" (p. 14). Why do you think she opens with that story, and how does it set the stage for the rest of the memoir?

4. Rex Walls often asked his children, "Have I ever let you down?" Why was this question (and the required "No, Dad" response) so important for him -- and for his kids? On what occasions did he actually come through for them?

5. Jeannette's mother insists that, no matter what, "life with your father was never boring" (p. 288). What kind of man was Rex Walls? What were his strengths and weaknesses, his flaws and contradictions?

6. Discuss Rose Mary Walls. What did you think about her description of herself as an "excitement addict"? (p. 93).

7. Though it portrays an incredibly hardscrabble life, The Glass Castle is never sad or depressing. Discuss the tone of the book, and how do you think that Walls achieved that effect?

8 Describe Jeannette's relationship to her siblings and discuss the role they played in one another's lives.

9. In college, Jeannette is singled out by a professor for not understanding the plight of homeless people; instead of defending herself, she keeps quiet. Why do you think she does this?

10. The two major pieces of the memoir -- one half set in the desert and one half in West Virginia -- feel distinct. What effect did such a big move have on the family -- and on your reading of the story? How would you describe the shift in the book's tone?

11. Were you surprised to learn that, as adults, Jeannette and her siblings remained close to their parents? Why do you think this is?

12. What character traits -- both good and bad -- do you think that Jeannette inherited from her parents? And how do you think those traits shaped Jeannette's life?

13. For many reviewers and readers, the most extraordinary thing about The Glass Castle is that, despite everything, Jeannette Walls refuses to condemn her parents. Were you able to be equally nonjudgmental?

14. Like Mary Karr's Liars' Club and Rick Bragg's All Over But the Shoutin', Jeannette Walls' The Glass Castle tells the story of a wildly original (and wildly dysfunctional) family with humor and compassion. Were their other comparable memoirs that came to mind? What distinguishes this book?

 

August 3 Meeting
Still Summer
by Jacquelyn Mitchard

Secure your life preserver. Tie yourself to the mast. It's late August, but it's still summer, and Jacquelyn Mitchard is taking you on a thrill ride you won't forget.

Mitchard made her mark in the literary world in 1996 when TheDeep End of the Ocean was chosen as the first pick for Oprah Winfrey's now-legendary book club. Since then, she has written six other novels, but none matches the suspenseful pitch of Still Summer.

It's a tale of terror on the high seas, but this is no Pirates of the Caribbean wannabe.

Readers know something terrible is going to happen, but Mitchard ratchets up the suspense by allowing her story to unfold at a leisurely pace. She painstakingly fleshes out her characters, because as readers will discover, their temperaments and personalities are as crucial to the story as the mounting disasters.

Tracy Kyle, Holly Solvig and Olivia Montefalco, lifelong friends in their early 40s, charter a yacht and two-man crew for a sailing vacation that will take them from St. Thomas to Grenada.

The trip starts out as an innocent adventure in paradise until two accidents in quick succession strand the women without their crew. What else can go wrong? In a word, everything. The engine conks out, the sails are torn, lack of electricity spoils their food and limits their drinking water - and then there's the injury to Holly's leg.

Nature's fury, murderous drug dealers and, possibly most deadly of all, their own frailties and secrets are added to the list.

Readers will wring their hands with frustration, weep with sadness and second-guess the choices these women make. But since characters must do the bidding of the authors who create them, we can only sit back - or sit on the edge of our seats - and let Mitchard's terror-filled tale wash over us.

From Booklist Family tragedies are Mitchard's stock-in-trade, and here she adds a suspenseful twist. Friends since childhood, Tracy, Holly, and Olivia charter a private yacht for some girl-time R & R, bringing along Tracy's 19-year-old daughter, Cammie. Manning the vessel are two Virgin Island residents: Lenny, the captain, and Michel, his mate. Just as some mounting mother-daughter tension between Tracy and Cammie begins to dissipate amid the tropical setting, Cammie and Michel commence a flirtation that seems at first innocent but progresses too quickly for Tracy. The youngsters' courtship becomes secondary, however, as bad weather separates the women and the boat from the crew, and Tracy takes the lead by default. Diminishing food supply, piqued anxiety, and increasing desperation conspire to undo the group, revealing one of them to be vindictive and conniving--and possibly vicious when survival is at stake. Though not nearly on par with Mitchard's Oprah title, The Deep End of the Ocean (1996), fans will enjoy this mix of seafaring adventure and romantic suspense.

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Jacquelyn Mitchard’s first novel, The Deep End of the Ocean, was named by USA Today as one of the ten most influential books of the past 25 years – second only to the Harry Potter series by J.K. Rowling (but second by a long shot, it must be said.)

The Deep End of the Ocean was chosen as the first novel in the book club made famous by the TV host Oprah Winfrey, and transformed into a feature film produced by and starring Michelle Pfeiffer.

All of Mitchard’s novels have been greater or lesser bestsellers – and include The Most Wanted, A Theory of Relativity, Twelve Times Blessed, The Breakdown Lane and Cage of Stars. Critics have praised them for their authentic humanity and skilful command of story. Readers identify because they see reflected, in her characters – however extreme their circumstances – emotions they already understand.

Mitchard’s first story of adventure and her eighth novel of realistic contemporary fiction is Still Summer (August, 2007). In the same month, the paperback version of her most critically acclaimed novel, Cage of Stars (August 2007), appears from Warner Books.

Mitchard also has embarked on four novels for young adults.

The first, Now You See Her, from HarperTeen, is the story of a pampered, driven young actress who fakes her own abduction.

Next spring, also from HarperTeen, All We Know of Heaven will tell the story of lifetime best friends Bridget and Maureen, who are just sixteen when a fatal crash on an icy road and a poignant case of mistaken identity divide their small Minnesota town forever.

Now You See Her also is the first novel made “visible,” in a short series of beginning episodes on the Internet site YouTube, where actress Lauren Collins Peterson appears in several vlogs (or video blogs) as the fictional Hope Shay.

In summer, 2008, The Midnight Twins, first in a trilogy of teen mysteries about identical twin sisters born on New Year’s Eve – one a minute before and a minute after midnight – appears. Meredith and Mallory Brynn learn on the night they turn thirteen that their psychic abilities will force them to intervene in dire events, although one twin can see only the future and one can see only the past.

Meanwhile, Mitchard is completing her next adult novel and continues as a contributing editor for the Disney parenting magazine Wondertime, as well writing pieces for More, Parade and Real Simple, among other magazines. Her syndicated column for Tribune Media appears in newspapers around the nation.

At the local coffee shop, Mitchard is best-known as the mother of Rob, Dan, Marty, Francie, Mia, Will and Atticus – and she can repeat those names in sequence in the space of two seconds – the wife of handsome Chris Brent and the best pal of the extremely photogenic mutt, Hobbes.

They divide their time between a big Italianate house built by Mitchard’s husband on Story Hill in south central Wisconsin and a villa on the Amalfi Coast (well, one can dream!)

Her favorite color is periwinkle blue; her favorite holiday is Halloween; her favorite flower is freesia; her favorite word is "smite," and her second favorite is "Massachusetts"; her lucky number is 119 (anyone who can guess where that comes from wins a pair of startlingly cool earrings or a University of Wisconsin ball cap). Her favorite place on earth is Cape Cod – where, very unlike the writer Isak Dinesen in Nairobi – she owned a home for ten years, and does believe the shadows in the driveway remember her shape.

Her pet peeves are PhDs who cannot and will not learn the difference between “lie” and “lay” and family signs pluralized with apostrophes.

She still hopes that Dick Wolf can find it in his heart to let her appear on just ONE episode of any incarnation of ‘Law and Order,’ as has everyone else in America. She still is willing to play the role of a murder victim – except one found by earth-moving equipment in a landfill

 

Past Readings

July 2017 The Glass Castle: A Memoir by Jeanette Walls
June 2017 Marrow: A Love Story by Elizabeth Lesser
May 2017 The Red Tent by Anita Diamant
April 2017 The Lake House by Kate Morton
March 2017 The Thirteenth Tale by Dianne Setterfield
February 2017 The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins
January 2017 A Tree Grows in Brooklyn by Betty Smith
December 2016 Skipping Christmas by John Grisham
November 2016 My Grandmother Asked Me to Tell You She's Sorry by Fredrik Backman
October 2016 Cutting for Stone by Abraham Verghese
September 2016 Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet by Jamie Ford
August 2016 Me Before You by Jojo Moyes
July 2016  The Nightingale by Kristin Hannah
June 2016  The Fault In Our Stars by John Green
May 2016  The Invention of Wings by Sue Monk Kidd
April 2016  Forgiven by Terri Roberts and Jeanette Windle
March 2016 The Shell Seekers by Rosamunde Pilcher
February 2016 Go Set A Watchman by Harper Lee
 January 2016  The Storyteller by Jodi Picoult