"The Glass Castle" by Jeannette Walls, Parts I and II

In this memoir Jeannette Walls recounts a turbulent childhood with her eccentric and dysfunctional family.

Here are the links to our lists for the memoir: Parts I and II; Parts III, IV, and V

Activities for this list:

definitions & notes only words
  1. potential
    existing in possibility
    Mom’s gestures were all familiar—the way she tilted her head and thrust out her lower lip when studying items of potential value that she’d hoisted out of the Dumpster, the way her eyes widened with childish glee when she found something she liked.
  2. tentatively
    in a hesitant manner
    The wiener was hot, so Juju licked at it tentatively, but when I stood up and started stirring the hot dogs again, I felt a blaze of heat on my right side.
  3. stunned
    in a state of mental numbness as resulting from shock
    I put it in my mouth and was stunned by the sharp sweetness.
  4. vulgar
    conspicuously and tastelessly indecent
    It was a disgusting low-class habit, and the nurse should have consulted her before encouraging me in such vulgar behavior.
  5. lopsided
    having one side lower or smaller or lighter than the other
    Tinkerbell’s once perfect little nose had completely disappeared, and her saucy red lips had been replaced with an ugly, lopsided smear.
  6. accelerate
    move faster
    Quixote landed with a screeching meow and a thud, Dad accelerated up the road, and I burst into tears.
  7. sentimental
    marked by tender, romantic, or nostalgic emotion
    “Don’t be so sentimental,” Mom said.
  8. rousing
    capable of stirring enthusiasm or excitement
    To distract us kids, Mom got us singing songs like “Don’t Fence Me In” and “This Land Is Your Land,” and Dad led us in rousing renditions of “Old Man River” and his favorite, “Swing Low, Sweet Chariot.”
  9. executive
    a person responsible for the administration of a business
    Sometimes he would make mysterious references to executives from Standard Oil who were trying to steal the Texas land that Mom’s family owned, and FBI agents who were after Dad for some dark episode that he never told us about because he didn’t want to put us in danger, too.
  10. unidentifiable
    impossible to recognize
    That way, he explained, he burned up the brand name, and if the people who were tracking us looked in his ashtray, they’d find unidentifiable butts instead of Pall Malls that could be traced to him.
  11. nomad
    a member of a people who have no permanent home
    We moved around like nomads.
  12. desolate
    providing no shelter or sustenance
    The more desolate and isolated a place was, the better Mom and Dad liked it.
  13. thrive
    make steady progress
    Most people had trouble surviving in the desert, but Mom thrived there.
  14. insulate
    surround with material to protect from heat, cold, or noise
    One time when a neighbor’s TV set broke, Dad opened the back and used a macaroni noodle to insulate some crossed wires.
  15. foolhardy
    marked by defiant disregard for danger or consequences
    “There’s many a damned foolhardy thing that your old man has done, but this one was harebrained even for a crazy sonofabitch like Rex Walls.”
  16. verge
    the limit beyond which something happens or changes
    Dad was on the verge of perfecting his cyanide gold process, Brian and I had the desert, Lori and Mom painted and read together, and Maureen, who had silky white-blond hair and a whole gang of imaginary friends, was happy running around with no diaper on.
  17. immortalize
    make famous forever
    It grieved Mom that the mine was destroying so much white rock—she said it was real marble and deserved a better fate and that, by making her sculptures, she was at least immortalizing some of it.
  18. primitive
    characteristic of an earlier ancestral type
    She didn’t have any particular style; some of her paintings were what she called primitive, some were impressionistic and abstract, some were realistic.
  19. blasphemy
    profane language
    Mom got upset at Dad’s blasphemy, reached her foot over to the driver’s side, and stomped on the brake.
  20. irrigation
    the act of supplying dry land with water by artificial means
    He dug a bunch of irrigation ditches that drained water out of the Colorado River to grow lettuce and grapes and broccoli right there in the middle of all the cactus and sagebrush.
  21. stagger
    walk with great difficulty
    One of her friends pushed me to the ground and kicked me in the face; then they all ran off, the girl I had hit holding her head as she staggered along.
  22. diminutive
    a word that is formed with a suffix to indicate smallness
    But we’d call the baby Maureen, a name Mom liked because it was a diminutive of Mary, so she’d also be naming the baby after herself but pretty much no one would know it.
  23. hazardous
    involving risk or danger
    Toxic and hazardous wastes were stored in another: corner of the dump, where you could find old batteries, oil drums, paint cans, and bottles with skulls and crossbones.
  24. ingenuity
    the power of creative imagination
    Before, whenever we were out of food, Dad was always there, full of ideas and ingenuity.
  25. fulfill
    meet a want or need
    She thought rules and discipline held people back and felt that the best way to let children fulfill their potential was by providing freedom.
  26. centrifugal
    tending to move away from a center
    They’d stick their heads into her classroom and see the students playing tag and throwing erasers while Mom was up front, spinning like a top and letting pieces of chalk fly from her hands to demonstrate centrifugal force.
  27. wheedle
    influence or urge by gentle urging, caressing, or flattering
    If she tried, he’d argue and wheedle and sulk and bully and plain wear her down.
  28. evasive
    deliberately vague or ambiguous
    So she resorted to evasive tactics.
  29. corrugated
    shaped into alternating parallel grooves and ridges
    Billy lived with his dad in a house made of tar paper and corrugated tin, down the tracks from our house.
  30. delinquent
    a young offender
    After all, Billy was a certified JD—juvenile delinquent.
  31. justifiable
    capable of being shown to be reasonable
    Dad had always said that self-defense was a justifiable reason for shooting someone.
  32. nuance
    a subtle difference in meaning or opinion or attitude
    We tried to explain that Billy had started it, that we’d been provoked and were defending ourselves and didn’t even aim to kill, but the cop wasn’t interested in the nuances of the situation.
  33. flourish
    grow vigorously
    “My art career is going to flourish in Phoenix. I can just feel it.”
  34. killjoy
    someone who spoils the pleasure of others
    Mom, however, said nuns were killjoys who took the fun out of religion.
  35. cajole
    influence or urge by gentle urging, caressing, or flattering
    Although we lived outside the district, Mom begged and cajoled the principal until he allowed us to enroll.
  36. feeble
    lacking strength or vigor
    They prevented people with feeble eyes from learning to see the world on their own.
  37. pithy
    concise and full of meaning
    If the typewriter keys were clattering away, she was at work on one of her novels, poems, plays, short stories, or her illustrated collection of pithy sayings—one was “Life is a bowl of cherries, with a few nuts thrown in”—which she’d titled “R. M. Walls’s Philosophy of Life.”
  38. scuttle
    move about or proceed hurriedly
    After a while, entire armies were scuttling across the walls and the floors and the kitchen counters.
  39. vagrant
    a wanderer with no established residence or means of support
    From time to time, a vagrant or a wino would wander through the front door, assuming the house was deserted.
  40. sweltering
    excessively hot and humid; marked by sweating and faintness
    Since the weather was sweltering, she suggested we cool off by jumping into the fountain in front of the building.
  41. hostile
    characterized by enmity or ill will
    He didn’t do it to be hostile.
  42. vigorous
    characterized by forceful and energetic action or activity
    Dad gave the cheetah the kind of hardy, vigorous petting you’d give a big dog.
  43. coincidental
    occurring or operating at the same time
    Even though it seemed awfully coincidental, I didn’t want to push my luck by asking too many questions about who this someone was.
  44. felonious
    involving or being or having the nature of a crime
    Lori said it sounded outright felonious, but Dad said all he was doing was outsmarting the fat-cat bank owners who shylocked the common man by charging usurious interest rates.
  45. sodden
    wet through and through; thoroughly wet
    Once the fire was out and the sodden, burned tree lay smoldering on the floor, we all just stood there.

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