Educated: a memoir (Tara Westover)

educated

An unforgettable memoir in the tradition of The Glass Castle about a young girl who, kept out of school, leaves her survivalist family and goes on to earn a PhD from Cambridge University.

Tara Westover was 17 the first time she set foot in a classroom. Born to survivalists in the mountains of Idaho, she prepared for the end of the world by stockpiling home-canned peaches and sleeping with her “head-for-the-hills bag”. In the summer she stewed herbs for her mother, a midwife and healer, and in the winter she salvaged in her father’s junkyard.

Her father forbade hospitals, so Tara never saw a doctor or nurse. Gashes and concussions, even burns from explosions, were all treated at home with herbalism. The family was so isolated from mainstream society that there was no one to ensure the children received an education and no one to intervene when one of Tara’s older brothers became violent.

Then, lacking any formal education, Tara began to educate herself. She taught herself enough mathematics and grammar to be admitted to Brigham Young University, where she studied history, learning for the first time about important world events like the Holocaust and the civil rights movement. Her quest for knowledge transformed her, taking her 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 severing the closest of ties. With the acute insight that distinguishes all great writers, Westover has crafted a universal coming-of-age story 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.

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Educated: a memoir is making the rounds of bestseller lists right now. I saw an ad for it online and didn’t even realize that it was a new release. So the audiobook request in my library got scrapped, and I had to read it on my trusty old ipad.

I have to say, this is one book I could not put down. It is thoroughly engrossing and I read it in a day and a half. It is shocking that her story takes place in recent days. Ms. Westover was born in 1986. She grew up in the 90s and early 2000s. She was a child who watched Y2K madness on television, the same as me.

She also didn’t get a birth certificate until she was 9. She didn’t see a dentist or medical professional until she went to university. She had never heard of the Holocaust until she was a student at Brigham Young University. Her upraising, and that of her siblings, is so unique and atypical that it baffles the mind that whole networks of people still live like this, in the modern day, in the “first world”.

While reading Educated, I also streamed this interview she gave to The Economist on their youtube channel, which I highly recommend.

Learning about her survivalist prepper upbringing in an ultra-conservative family in the mountains of Idaho was super interesting. Especially given the juxtaposition between her childhood and the eloquent, thoughtful speaker she is today as a highly educated, well-travelled young woman.

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xx

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More than the Tattooed Mormon by Al Carraway

More than the tattooed Mormon is author Al Carraway’s personal story of growing up in a non-practising Catholic NY state family, her sidewalk meeting with two missionary boys in funny helmets and eventual conversation to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints. I have been following Al on social media for about a year now and I’m so glad I finally sat myself down to buy and read her book.

I read More than the tattooed Mormon as a part of the Read Harder Challenge 2016. It was my fictional or non-fiction book about religion 🙂

tatooed

Before I get into my review, here is her blurb, courtesy of Goodreads.

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Al Fox Carraway has spent the last four years inspiring the world with her story of conversion, redemption, and finding faith. As a blogger, social media personality, and award-winning public speaker, her message has reached millions. This moving biography and up-close account of her life and membership in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (sometimes called the “LDS” or “Mormon” church) will show you what it means to truly trust in the Lord.

“Don’t go, Al. You won’t fit in.”

Being baptized and following the Lord has made Al’s life harder than it ever was before. She endured criticism from friends and family for becoming a Mormon. She faced harsh judgments from Church members for her appearance. She gave up everything and felt more alone than she ever had in her life. All because she chose God.

Now she shares an up-close look at how trusting God has led her to places she never expected. As a blogger, YouTuber, and award-winning public speaker, her message has reached millions. Sharing her love of the Savior, Al goes beyond her own conversion and encourages readers to choose God above anything else. This uplifting book inspires readers to build a true relationship with the Lord that will bring them real, lasting happiness.

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I found Al’s testimony to be incredibly inspiring. She has such a positive and happy attitude towards life that I would consider her a role model for any person, regardless of religious beliefs. I admire her faith and inner strength. Taking steps on faith in God and trusting everything to work out with your best efforts put forth is much harder than it sounds, and something that I have been struggling with for a very long time.

I also thought that her book shed a lot of light on the LDS Church without being judgmental, or too wrapped up in the practices of the Church.  This might sound crazy for a book about religion, and admittedly there are verses throughout, but I didn’t find the book to be as “religious” as I expected. I felt as though Al was sharing her testimony in a positive way and hoping that it reached to the very souls of her readers, but not that she was attempting to convert the masses.

In full disclosure, I am a “convert” to the LDS Church myself. I identify as Mormon. But I’m kinda a lackadaisical convert. The nearest meeting house is only about 30 minutes away, but thus far I have been too nervous to go by myself, even though I can feel God telling me that is what I should do. I do own a bible which I have read through and the Book of Mormon, which I have rather fallen off the wagon from reading the last year. But I participate in the General Conference Sessions biannually and try to follow as many of the beliefs as I can.

So I feel like I can say Al’s book was more spiritual in nature than religious, because I didn’t learn too much more about the Church than I already knew (although hey!, apparently I am an investigator?!) but she did fill me with a desire to take further steps towards being baptized and receiving a Temple Recommend.

I would like to go to one of her firesides in person. I do feel like she might be a better public speaker than she is a writer, although Al freely admits she writes from the heart and it isn’t her strength. That is obvious at times and she does repeat herself sporadically throughout, but her message was so clear and pure that I know I will read her book again and again.

Here are some of the most important messages that I took away from The Tattooed Mormon:

We are all born with the Light of Christ; every single one of us has it. But when we receive the gift of the Holy Ghost, the promise that it is ours to keep and have always is very real. Oftentimes we as members don’t recognize His presence because of its consistency in our life. -Al Carraway

This passage was particularly meaningful to me because it spoke to my self-doubts and cynicism. I have begun to realize that maybe God speaks to me through my instincts, little feelings I get sometimes and that learning to “listen to my gut” will help me to better follow the path God has set before me. When others speak about God answering their prayers with wisdom and guidance, I scoff and doubt the veracity of the Church. But this passage made me wonder if I just can’t recognize God’s work in my life because he has always been there and I just never noticed.

Choosing God is choosing happiness. -Al Carraway

Yes! Happiness is a choice. It is a choice you have to make every day. Sometimes multiple time an hour every day. But it is a choice. I think it is one of the hardest and greatest gifts that we receive in this world, free agency. It is so very much harder to be positive and happy than it is to feel angry and bitter, to have a bad attitude, especially when life isn’t going perfectly. But happiness doesn’t come from invisible dust that the Happiness Fairy sprinkles about. She doesn’t deliberately skip you while visiting the rest of the world at night. Happiness is the clear choice, but it is so friggin’ hard. Choosing God does help me to slow down and keep perspective, to enjoy the simple things in life. Choosing God helps me to choose not to be offended or slighted. And to remember than I am in charge of more than just my emotions in the moment, I am in control of my happiness throughout this mortal life.

And in that moment, I thought of Christ. I thought of the time He fed the multitude and when He raised Lazarus from the dead. I said out loud, ‘Holy cow, those are great miracles!’ And while waving my hand up at Heavenly Father, I yelled, ‘That is what I need, a miracle!’ And I thought, what happened right before those miracles came? Well, Christ prayed, right? But they were prayers of gratitude. And I thought, Wow, what an incredible example. -Al Carraway

Al, you little genius. I asked God for a lot in my prayers. They are usually altruistic things, like helping a family member in need, to bring comfort to the sick or distressed, but I rarely think to thank God when things are going poorly. I say the occasional ‘thanks for providing for me’ or ‘thank you for this wonderful life’ but in no way do they come close to equalling out the requests, and usually only come during the rare moment everything is going right. Al’s thinking has turned mine on its head.

Ok, so I promise that I am not copying out all my favourite highlighted passages and I am still only up to Chapter 2. Clearly, this book spoke to me. So I’m going to leave off with one last quote, because I think it is one that is helpful to the religious and non-religious alike.

I remember having to make a decision. It’s a decision I had to make and continue to make; it’s a decision you have to make every single day: choose to get mad, choose to get bothered or offended, or choose to not. Choose to keep going, choose to trust, choose to have faith – or not. What it came down to and what it will always come down to is this: choose God or don’t. -Al Carraway

Well, maybe the end got a little religious. Sorry. It goes to my point though, you decide what emotions you want to feel. You have an angry, jealous and bitter wolf inside of you and a happy, positive, loving one. The one who grows is the one you feed.

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xx