“An education is not so much about making a living as making a person.”

Books on Tap met virtually to discuss Educated: a Memoir by Tara Westover. Unlike the memoir we read last month, this one was beautifully written and engendered much discussion. Westover grew up in Idaho as the youngest child in a family  under the thumb of a dictatorial father. Her birth wasn’t registered and her homeschooling was ignored when her labor was required in her father’s scrap yard. She recounts the numerous times she was physically and psychologically wounded by her father’s decisions and a brother’s abuse. With the encouragement of another brother, she taught herself math, took the ACT and enrolled at Brigham Young University. From there she finds academic mentors and studies at Cambridge University. Writing this memoir in her 30s, she explores the ways her education uncovers her talents but separates her from her parents and most of her siblings.

Westover draws on the journals she kept as a child but acknowledges that her memories are hers alone. When a brother is badly burned in an accident in the family scrap yard, each of her brothers who were there to witness it remember it differently.We are inclined to believe her versions because her recollections are visually vivid. In order to create a hook to sell the book, she has to include the trauma (which may distort her memories) and focus on her own perspective but she allows that her family has their own memories and interpretations. It’s her interpretation that she uses to inform the direction of her life as she moves from an isolated family cult to the wider world. 

Education is the key to this transformation. Westover grows up more isolated than her older siblings who had birth certificates and at least some classroom education. The family lives near a town, attends a mainstream Mormon church and has grandparents who offer her brief refuge from the chaos at home. However, her father’s mental illness seizes on the worst patriarchal aspects of religion to limit the family’s choices and consistently puts them at physical risk that results in permanent injury.  Westover’s first words are that this is not a Mormon story, and it is certainly not the definitive story of growing up Mormon but she misses the opportunity to explain how religion and survivalism was perverted in her father’s mind and how her mother was primed to follow him. Many of our readers were shocked that her mother did nothing to protect her children or herself, even shielding the sons that abuse their siblings. Westover generously forgives her parents and keeps inviting them into her new life but ultimately cannot be herself in the family. It was her big heart and excellent, clear writing that made this a group favorite. 

Books on Tap will meet again on October 1 via Zoom. For the link, please contact Krista Farrell (kfarrell at jmrl dot org).  We’ll be reading Treasure Island by Robert Louis Stevenson. JMRL owns this book in many formats. Please contact Sarah Hamfeldt (shamfeldt at jmrl dot org) for help accessing these titles for curbside pickup or by download. 

More Information:
About the Author
Author’s website
PBS interview with reader’s questions
Psychology Today article
Review in The Guardian
Butterfly Express (Westover’s mother’s business)

Books and Authors Mentioned in the Meeting:
Glass Castle by Jeannette Walls
I Am Forbidden by Anouk Markovits (novel)
Unorthodox: The Scandalous Rejection of my Orthodox Roots by Deborah Feldman
Books like Unorthodox
A List of Fake Memoirs

Upcoming Meetings:

October 1: Treasure Island by Robert Louis Stevenson November 5: My Sister, the Serial Killer by Oyinkan Braithwaite

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