One of the books top on my summer reading list was Educated by Tara Westover. The book shares a deeply personal, often-troubling, and raw memoir from Tara’s life growing up in a survivalist family in rural Idaho, and her anything-but-direct route to Cambridge. Tara’s education included extremes, from her family’s extremist upbringing which entailed junkyards, herbalism, religion, and even abuse. Her captivating story takes readers on a winding path of cringeworthy social settings, second-hand embarrassment, empathy, heartbreak, inspiration, incredulity, sorrow, and so many more emotions.
I left the book feeling SO MANY THINGS (the short list of which is mentioned above) and ultimately found myself scouring the internet for some sort of shared reflection, discussion, or… I wasn’t really sure what I wanted or needed.
And, as so often is the case, the Internet hath provide.
Below are 3 resources that can accompany your post-Educated journey.
Bill Gates’ Interview with Tara Westover
Bill Gates has not been shy to give Educated exceptional praise and in an eloquent and meaningful way. I found myself nearly hypnotised by Westover’s story, yet couldn’t quite put my finger on what I found so mesmerising. Gates’ articulates similar sentiments (did I just compare myself to Bill Gates? Moving on…), and I’m particularly appreciative of the following observation:
It reminded me in some ways of the Netflix documentary Wild, Wild Country, which I recently watched. Both explore people who remove themselves from society because they have these beliefs and knowledge that they think make them more enlightened. Their belief systems benefit from their separateness, and you’re forced to be either in or out.Bill Gates (https://www.gatesnotes.com/Books/Educated)
But unlike Wild, Wild Country—which revels in the strangeness of its subjects—Educated doesn’t feel voyeuristic. Tara is never cruel, even when she’s writing about some of her father’s most fringe beliefs.
Check out more of Bill Gates’ conversation with Tara Westover here.
New York Times Discussion Guide
Call me old-fashioned (
a nerd and a half), but I love a good book club discussion guide. This particular guide, published in the New York Times, divides the book into thirds and is intended to accompany Parts I-III in Educated. While there are a few guides floating around the web, I appreciated this one due to its detail-oriented questions, particularly after a few weeks after I’d read the book. I was able to precisely remember the context in which the questions were relevant and think a bit more deeply about the reading. In other words, it really focused my attention to the content and making meaning from the entire text, rather than invent surface-level connections (something of which I am certainly guilty with summer reading…). But, don’t take my word for it. Here’s a sample:
In the Author’s Note, Westover cautions that this memoir is not about Mormonism or “any form of religious belief,” and that she rejects a negative or positive correlation between believing or not believing and being kind or not being kind. But her father Gene’s faith informs how he sees the world. What did you make of Chapter 8, “Tiny Harlots,” which moves from Gene’s distrust of Westover’s dance recital uniform to his pride over her singing in church?“Now Read this” from the New York Times Discussion GUide for Educated (https://www.nytimes.com/2018/05/08/books/educated-tara-westover-discussion-questions.html)
Tyler Westover’s Response & Corroboration
I’m a hopeless critic. Give me the greatest book in the world, and I’ll immediately Google “criticism of ___name of book____” upon completion. I’m not implicitly negative or spiteful (promise!), but having spent enough time in the world of science, I’ve learned the value of taking a critical approach– to consider the source and what would need to be untrue (or less true) in order to allow something to be true (or more true). In any issue, there’s always another side, another perspective, and even if it’s not entirely true, it adds value and/or texture to our understanding.
And so, I found my curiosity piqued shortly after completing Educated, and thus, Googling things like “Westover family response to Educated” and the like. The Westover family is large and dynamic, and while Tara’s perspective and story are incredible, one cannot consider the entire story without the viewpoints of others involved. Tara’s mother is relatively active on social media, and there are a few comments from Richard, one of her older brothers. However, the most detailed response I’ve found has been Tyler (another brother) Westover’s response to Educated. Tyler’s perspective is particularly compelling to me, as he, it is presumed, lived a life closely paralleling Tara’s…from upbringing to leaving for a university education to navigating Westover relations into adulthood.
Tyler’s response to Educated at first was jarring. In many ways, he validated Tara’s story and seeks not to undermine her experiences. In other ways, he is clear to say that her experience is not what he witnessed or experienced himself.
In her book, in numerous places, Tara interprets for me and other members of my family things that we did, said, thought, and even felt. I cannot speak for the other members of my family, but in my case I think in many instances she greatly incorrectly conveyed my experiences.Tyler Westover (https://www.goodreads.com/questions/1337824-i-saw-mentioned-that-tyler-westover-has)
This account, in particular, was the first indication that perhaps Tara’s story includes inaccuracies or misremembrance of events. This is, of course, expected to some degree in all memoirs. It’s the recalling of human experience, a process that is deeply personal and true to one person and one person alone. Tyler’s review and response actually helped create more poignancy in Tara’s story, yet also made me wonder to what degree memories were clouded or a product of misinterpretation.
- What other resources exist for Educated?
- What were some of your biggest takeaways from Educated?