Sunday, August 12, 2018

Book Brief - Educated: A Memoir by Tara Westover


by Tara Westover
Random House, 2018
352 pages

Random House Audio, 2018
12 hours and 10 minutes
narrated by Julia Whelan

Motivation for reading: A combination of factors... primarily my curiosity about attending college without prior formal education and what childhood in a survivalist Mormon family might be like. Educated  was also an early selection of the PBS Now Read This book club.

Source:
ebook, borrowed from the library
audiobook, downloaded from the library via Overdrive

Publisher's summary:
Tara Westover grew up preparing for the End of Days, watching for the sun to darken, for the moon to drip as if with blood. She spent her summers bottling peaches and her winters rotating emergency supplies, hoping that when the World of Men failed, her family would continue on, unaffected.

She hadn’t been registered for a birth certificate. She had no school records because she’d never set foot in a classroom, and no medical records because her father didn’t believe in doctors or hospitals. According to the state and federal government, she didn’t exist.

As she grew older, her father became more radical, and her brother, more violent. At sixteen Tara decided to educate herself. Her struggle for knowledge would take her far from her Idaho mountains, over oceans and across continents, to Harvard and to Cambridge. Only then would she wonder if she’d travelled too far. If there was still a way home.

Educated  is an account of the struggle for self-invention. It is a tale of fierce family loyalty, and of the grief that comes with the severing of the closest of ties. With the acute insight that distinguishes all great writers, Westover has, from her singular experience, crafted a universal coming-of-age story, one that gets to the heart of what an education is and what it offers – the perspective to see one’s life through new eyes, and the will to change it.

Opening paragraph:
Chapter 1 
Choose the Good 
My strongest memory is not a memory. It's something I imagined, then came to remember as if it had happened. The memory was formed was I was five, just before I turned six, from a story my father told in such detail that I and my brothers and sister had each conjured our own cinematic version, with gunfire and shouts. Mine had crickets. That's the sound that I hear as my family huddles in the kitchen, lights off, hiding from the Feds who've surrounded the house. A woman reaches for a glass of water and her silhouette is lighted by the moon. A shot echoes like the lash of a whip and she falls. In my memory it's always Mother who falls, and she has a baby in her arms.
My thoughts:

This is quite a memoir!  Westover has a fascinating story to tell and she does it well - BUT it was also a harrowing reading and listening experience.

Ms. Westover's upbringing was shocking, to say the least. Her parents infuriated me with their abuse, medical neglect, and complete abdication of educational responsibility. Her brother was also extremely abusive. At times this book was painful to read and listen to.

Westover is able to look back on her experiences with impressive thoughtfulness and insight but, to me, her main focus is on family dynamics and abuse. The educational angle, to my disappointment, was secondary... and the title somewhat misleading.

While I recognize that this book is very well written, I will not be recommending it to anyone.






38 comments:

  1. Interesting that the title is misleading. I seem to have stumbled into a rash of books lately that either are badly titled, or the plot summary on the jacket is misleading. It's getting kind of irritating.

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    1. Amy - I was hoping for much more about her experiences at BYU, Cambridge, and Harvard... maybe a better title would have been Abused: A Memoir. ;-)

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    2. "maybe a better title would have been Abused: A Memoir." Yikes!!!

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  2. Exactly, I mean there was little or no focus on education, even home schooling really, and then suddenly BYU, Cambridge and Harvard Phd. I expected more.

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    1. Diane - Yes. Very disappointing in that respect...

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  3. I'm sorry it was a disappointment, but a non-recommendation (esp. from you!) is as beneficial as a recommendation

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  4. I found Educated to be a very "harrowing" read, too, although I have experienced a few of her childhood moments. Not to the extreme of hers, though. But...not a shock to me..

    It was a book that I would not categorize as "enjoyable," but I couldn't stop reading it.

    Thanks for sharing.

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    1. Laurel-Rain Snow - Definitely not an enjoyable read, but I needed to keep going, too. Had to see how she got away from it all...

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  5. It’s good to know that the title is misleading. I’ll still read this book eventually because it’s everywhere, and I’m curious.

    Aj @ Read All The Things!

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    1. AJ - I'd read reviews saying it was a tough reading experience, but my curiosity got the best of me!

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  6. I agree that the title is a bit misleading, but I still really liked Educated. I looked at her education as not just the time she was in formal education, but her life where she was educated in cruelty, inhumanity, and survival skills.

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    1. Susie - Looking at it that way, the title makes more sense. I rated this 4 stars immediately upon finishing, but it was in no way an enjoyable read.

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  7. Your response is one I've seen a couple of time, JoAnn. I'm still a little on the fence about it, but my library has so many holds on the audio right now, it will be months before it's available. I own the e-book. Thought I would wait and do a read/listen though. By the way, I'm so glad that you have talked and talked about getting audiobooks from your library. I think I said that I've really embraced that lately. I'm listening to a bunch of books that were published in 2017 or 2016 and were very popular, but now don't have holds. It's been a good thing for me. So thanks so much!!

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    1. Kay - I love my library for audiobooks, both via overdrive and hoopla! The selection is more limited for hoopla, but there is never a wait. I tend to save my audible credits for longer books that I'd never be able to finish during the checkout period.

      I thought the audio version made the abuse even more disturbing...

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  8. Yeah although I have read & heard much of what the book is about, I don't have plans to read it. I'm just glad she got away from her family. The parents were so irresponsible and could've killed her with no medical care etc. I commend her for her accomplishments in school etc. & for flying the coop.

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    1. Susan - Westover is an amazingly strong and determined young woman, but I think she will be dealing with the psychological aftermath of her upbringing for a very long time.

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  9. Hi JoAnn,
    I agree with you that listening to Educated: A Memoir was indeed a harrowing experience.
    I think the publisher is the party totally to blame for any misunderstandings that occurred as a result of the title. The publisher's marketing group did readers a disservice by all of their blurbs and summaries that maintained that the author's formal education was at the heart of the book.
    I personally don't think the title was misleading. The author was "educated," in a sort of a double entendre, over and over. And it was for her to get the "education" through her mind and body that allowed her to gain the strength to pull away bit by bit, so that she finally could leave the messages of her family behind.

    The gender discrimination that is rife in all fundamentalist cultures, is just in another guise here, and it was so blatant and harrowing, that she could have been a younger Muslim daughter in a Pakistani tribal community.

    I think that there are so many universal themes in this book. I wish the best in the future for the author, but, based on my experiences in this life, she was certainly damaged by what she had to experience. I wish her the support of many people in her life and the thrill of academic work that can make up for much that was lost and was lacking.

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    1. Judith - She was certainly educated in many ways beyond a formal classroom and I absolutely agree with your final two paragraphs. I'm sure she'll be dealing with emotional issues from her upbringing for the rest of her life... I'm not sorry to have read the book, but can't really recommend it either.

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    2. I meant to echo your thoughts about recommending this to other readers. I certainly won't recommend it, but it was one of the most memorable reads of the past few years!

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    3. Yes, Judith, it will be one my most memorable reads in years, too. In a comment below Andi mentions The Glass Castle, and I think that book would be a good predictor of how readers might react to Educated. After our book club discussion of Glass Castle, I left my copy with a member who hadn't read it... with strict instructions NOT to return it. I also refused to see the movie. Those parents infuriated me, too. Have you read that one?

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  10. I'd like to read this one. It sounds emotional and very far reaching as well.

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    1. Mystica - It is a very emotional read... brace yourself!

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  11. I will skip this but memoir is not my thing!

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    1. Patty - This is definitely not a book for you!

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  12. I am finding more and more that new books are advertised either incorrectly or more sensational than they are. It makes me really annoyed. I'm glad you called this out. I am reading this book now. Good review.🤠🐧

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    1. Pam - That seems to be an annoying trend in publishing lately... makes me mad! I'll look forward to your thoughts on this book.

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  13. Oh, dear. You're not recommending this to anyone?! I bought the book (in hardcover - something I never do!) several months ago while shopping with my dear blogger friend, Robin and it's been on my shelf collecting dust. Maybe if I go into it not expecting the "education" angle, I'll be ok? It sounds a bit like Glass Castle, which was an outstanding memoir, but not one I can say I loved for the subject matter. Just a train-wreck of a story. I'll let you know!

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    1. Les - I was reminded of The Glass Castle over and over again. This, too, is an outstanding memoir (wanted to rate it 4 or 5 stars upon finishing) and an absolute train-wreck of a story. I never recommended The Glass Castle to anyone (gave my hard cover copy to a fellow book club member, with strict instructions not to return it!) and refused to see the movie. I'll be curious to hear how you respond to this book.

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  14. I've read several reviews that talk about her upbringing being the focus of the story and the formal education is secondary. I do find it frustrating when the blurb makes a book sound like something that it isn't. I've been thinking about doing the audio on this one because my library has it but hearing about how harrowing it is I think I need to be emotionally prepared for it. I don't think now is the right time.

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    1. Katherine - It seems like misleading blurbs are becoming more and more common.. very frustrating. I happened to be listening during some of the most painful parts of the book and, to me, the audio made it seem even more real. I couldn't read faster or skip parts.... had to experience it at the same pace as the rest of the story. You definitely beed to choose the right time for this one.

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  15. Sorry you didn't enjoy the book to recommend it.

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    1. "enough" to recommend it.

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    2. Vicki - I'm not sorry to have read it but, due to the harrowing nature of the abuse, it's just not book I can comfortably recommend to anyone. Westover has overcome a lot and achieved so much, but I think life will be a constant struggle for her.

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  16. This one is high on my list to read because it gives me Glass Castle flashbacks...a book that made me want to strangle the parents but had me so much in its thrall that I read it in a day. Here's hoping I enjoy (not the right word) this one, too. Love your review!

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    1. Andi - Enjoy is definitely not the right word, but I think your reaction to The Glass Castle is a pretty strong indicator of how you'll feel about Educated.

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  17. Seems like quite an experience for the reader to have read these two books!

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    1. Harvee - This one will stick with me for quite some time, and The Perfect Couple was the perfect antidote ;-)

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