Don’t mind me. I’m trying to figure out how to organize content. A little. I’ve read some really great books since Christmas and want to force my hand here, so I’m dedicating this week (mostly) to books.
First up: Educated by Tara Westover. This award-winning memoir is a page turner. An inspiration. Like “Hillbilly Elegy,” it’s a tale about the elevating and redemptive powers of education. While JD Vance overcame neglect, poverty, and a community riddled by addiction, Westover overcame the damaging isolation of a survivalist childhood, physical and emotional abuse, and her father’s severe mental illness. I agree with the NY Times review that stated, “‘Educated’ makes Vance’s tale seem tame by comparison.”
A Mormon with eyes on the Rapture, Westover’s father did construction and ran a scrap yard in the hills of Idaho. Probably bi-polar, his mania was fueled by panic about being ready for the end of the world. His frenetic pace created a wanton disregard for the basic safety of his off-spring. Limbs nearly severed. Rebar thrown like lethal spears. Avoidable explosions. The hair-raising mishaps in the scrap yard were truly horrifying.
Tara was not even home schooled. Like her siblings, she worked in the yard or in the kitchen. Thank god Westover aced the ACTs in her late teens or one wonders how she would have fared.
To begin her exit from the family, Westover had to start at the very beginning: obtaining a birth certificate. Her mother didn’t even know the exact month of her birth. A day or two on either side, okay — but forgetting the month? It’s staggering.
One brother escaped and reappears periodically. Encourages his sister. Another brother torments her with both emotional taunting and physical abuse. The classic cycles: battering followed by contrition; shaming followed by gifts. Another reader I know speculated that there was sexual abuse as well. As soon as she said so, it seemed correct. But Westover doesn’t mention it and in a way, it doesn’t matter.
The mother says nothing. Complicit.
Eventually (no surprise), the father is badly wounded. Meanwhile, the midwife mother has generated enough support for her herbal products to be running a small empire by book’s end.
Westover’s education takes up much of the latter part of the book.
Recommend. Starts out with a literary voice and loses that early on, but still a worthy read. Edifying.
Good pairing: JD Vance’s “Hillbilly Elegy.”
Frightening current parallels: Mike Pompeo and John Bolton (secretary of state and national security advisor, respectively) are both End Times guys, leading two shrewd political commentators* to suggest that this administration is turning even the future into a commodity, one that most of us don’t deserve and can’t afford. A planet with huge reductions in population would leave more resources for the elite, now wouldn’t it? Denials of climate change, mere ruses. Nuclear war, a means to an end.
Sound like fundamentalism? Sorry to say that while speculation underpins this view, there is also compelling and chilling evidence for it.
- Gaslit Nation podcast, with Andrea Chalupa and Sarah Kendzior: The Trump Brand of Death.
PS I make no attempt to provide a thorough review of books and since I’m not being paid to do this, I feel entitled to my idiosyncratic approach. Plenty of official reviews are easily available online.