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.
I enjoyed your book review, but it sounds a bit of a daunting read to me.
It IS dismaying and harrowing, but offers redemption. I could see how in certain seasons, one might want to skip it, though.
there is no way in a million years I could read this book you are very brave!
It was hard to take. But I was curious about her path out.
just finished reading The One Eyed Man by Ron Currie 2017 a brilliant dark yet very funny look at the the state of America
The Post review kind of pans it, but it certainly is an interesting and timely premise — a character moving and speaking and confronting others from a place of literal truth.
There were descriptive parts of this book that left me, not metaphorically, sick. Also, I had a little trouble nailing the time line together sometimes, but that didn’t really matter.
The Mormon component is fascinating to me. I have a dear friend who is Mormon, grew up in a situation similar (minus the scrap yard, but otherwise similar-poor, the oldest of 13 kids, isolationists, planning for the end of days, home ‘schooled’), and at the age of 15 or 16 snuck off to go to the local public high school and then told her parents she was now enrolled in school. She had never been to a doctor until she was (married and) pregnant in her mid 20s. Had never been to a dentist until just prior to her wedding when her dentist father-in-law-to-be insisted on fixing her teeth. Her high school teachers recognized the artist in her, and one teacher in particular walked her through the process of college applications. Amazingly, she is still a practicing Mormon and one of the most open hearted and loving people I know. And an absolutely amazing artist. And a Republican. And I love her nonetheless. She is in a constant state of self examination.
I can’t wait for your next book review!
Thanks for sharing about your friend, who exemplifies how complicated the various strands of upbringing. And how friendships aren’t about black and white.
Your friend, the outstanding artist. Tara Westover, an exceptionally quick study. If one is “average” is there a way out, I can’t help but wonder.
Parts of the book struck me hard in the gut, too. In particular the father. How he could so casually disregard the lives of his children and because of his “mission” never have to acknowledge the harm. There were more than a couple moments, too, where the lack of courage on the part of the mother (who was also abused, of course) sickened me.
Weird to rank the vile abuse of an older sibling so low on the list.
Lots of ways to be a human. An update in about 10 years would be interesting because she’s still so young and that kind of damage needs more than formal education. But it’s a start.
Thanks, Dee, I’ll watch for more book reviews and great comments!
You’re right. She is very young and some of her intellectual work has been directly related to her upbringing. I hope that writing the memoir was an important part of her healing.
Great review and discussion thread. I actually listened to the Podcast. Those gals just make too much sense. But, they’re so right, I shiver again (no heat this morning again yet more a soul shiver) “compelling and chilling evidence.” I’m grabbing for my ‘denial’ card and hope to get a little sleep before sun up.
Sleep tight, Michelle!