Educated: a memoir (Tara Westover)

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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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Girl, Wash Your Face

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With wry wit and hard-earned wisdom, popular online personality and founder of TheChicSite.com founder Rachel Hollis helps readers break free from the lies keeping them from the joy-filled and exuberant life they are meant to have.

Founder of the lifestyle website TheChicSite.com and CEO of her own media company, Chic Media, Rachel Hollis has created an online fan base of hundreds of thousands of fans by sharing tips for living a better life while fearlessly revealing the messiness of her own. Now comes her highly anticipated first book featuring her signature combination of honesty, humor, and direct, no-nonsense advice.

Each chapter of Girl, Wash Your Face begins with a specific lie Hollis once believed that left her feeling overwhelmed, unworthy, or ready to give up. As a working mother, a former foster parent, and a woman who has dealt with insecurities about her body and relationships, she speaks with the insight and kindness of a BFF, helping women unpack the limiting mind-sets that destroy their self-confidence and keep them from moving forward.

From her temporary obsession with marrying Matt Damon to a daydream involving hypnotic iguanas to her son’s request that she buy a necklace to “be like the other moms,” Hollis holds nothing back. With unflinching faith and tenacity, Hollis spurs other women to live with passion and hustle and to awaken their slumbering goals.

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love this book.

Rachel’s experiences resonated with me on a deep level. Her stories are at turns heart-breaking, inspirational, up-lifting and empowering. The way she approached her book, by addressing a different lie she told herself in each chapter, makes it easy for her audience to absorb her messages. It also means that you can go back and reference specific lies and lessons easily, without re-reading the book cover to cover.

I borrowed the audiobook through my library Hoopla account, but – and this is the first time I can ever remember saying this – I am going to purchase a physical copy of the book as well, so that I can read and reference the book over and over. Not because I can’t get through the audiobook. I loved it. I just want a physical copy too.

Ya’ll, that is how real this book is.

Rachel reads the audio version herself, and both the writing and her narration are superb. It feels like “real talk” with a trusted girlfriend. I don’t find “ra-ra” cheerleader type self-help books to ever be applicable in my life. I’m too much of a cynic I suppose. Rachel’s book is much more grounded in real-life examples that are easy to relate to.

If there is only one self-improvement title you read this year, choose this book.

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Astrophysics for People in a Hurry (Neil deGrasse Tyson)

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The essential universe, from our most celebrated and beloved astrophysicist.

What is the nature of space and time? How do we fit within the universe? How does the universe fit within us? There’s no better guide through these mind-expanding questions than acclaimed astrophysicist and best-selling author Neil deGrasse Tyson.

But today, few of us have time to contemplate the cosmos. So Tyson brings the universe down to Earth succinctly and clearly, with sparkling wit, in tasty chapters consumable anytime and anywhere in your busy day.

While you wait for your morning coffee to brew, for the bus, the train, or a plane to arrive, Astrophysics for People in a Hurry will reveal just what you need to be fluent and ready for the next cosmic headlines: from the Big Bang to black holes, from quarks to quantum mechanics, and from the search for planets to the search for life in the universe.

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Astrophysics for People in a Hurry was on the bestsellers list for months in 2017 and 2018. It was the goodreads choice winner of 2017 and has sold more than one million copies. The author, Neil deGrasse Tyson, has been on numerous talk shows relating commentary on various topics, from his books to American politics and the infamous space force.

I chose to listen to this book, personally. It is read by the author and he is an excellent narrator, with a smooth voice. I do feel like I would have been able to remain more of the information had I read it … cosmology has always interested me, but I wouldn’t say my brain is particularly well wired to receive this type of information.

I definitely am not an astrophysicist in the making. Mathematics baffle me and philosophy infuriates me; there is a little too much of both in this science.

But I still love learning about the stars, the heavens, the big bang, evolution and various theories of the multiverse.

I do remember some random facts from Astrophysics for People in a Hurry. Such as this: thunderclouds produce gamma radiation just before the human eye sees the lightning flash. So as I told my Dad, I guess that still leaves hope for a real life Incredible Hulk.

Funny how it’s always the random, seemingly useless part of the explanation which will stick in my brain.

I highly recommend this book, and it really is a good choice for people in a hurry. The audiobook is less than 4 hours in length. I have good intentions of picking it up again someday and actually reading the print version this time, in the hope that I will retain more of the information.

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Born a Crime (Trevor Noah)

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The compelling, inspiring, and comically sublime New York Times bestseller about one man’s coming-of-age, set during the twilight of apartheid and the tumultuous days of freedom that followed.

Trevor Noah’s unlikely path from apartheid South Africa to the desk of The Daily Show began with a criminal act: his birth. Trevor was born to a white Swiss father and a black Xhosa mother at a time when such a union was punishable by five years in prison. Living proof of his parents’ indiscretion, Trevor was kept mostly indoors for the earliest years of his life, bound by the extreme and often absurd measures his mother took to hide him from a government that could, at any moment, steal him away. Finally liberated by the end of South Africa’s tyrannical white rule, Trevor and his mother set forth on a grand adventure, living openly and freely and embracing the opportunities won by a centuries-long struggle.

Born a Crime is the story of a mischievous young boy who grows into a restless young man as he struggles to find himself in a world where he was never supposed to exist. It is also the story of that young man’s relationship with his fearless, rebellious, and fervently religious mother—his teammate, a woman determined to save her son from the cycle of poverty, violence, and abuse that would ultimately threaten her own life.

The eighteen personal essays collected here are by turns hilarious, dramatic, and deeply affecting. Whether subsisting on caterpillars for dinner during hard times, being thrown from a moving car during an attempted kidnapping, or just trying to survive the life-and-death pitfalls of dating in high school, Trevor illuminates his curious world with an incisive wit and unflinching honesty. His stories weave together to form a moving and searingly funny portrait of a boy making his way through a damaged world in a dangerous time, armed only with a keen sense of humour and a mother’s unconventional, unconditional love.

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I recently listened to Born a Crime: Stories from a South African Childhood, which is read by the author, Trevor Noah. His narration is smooth and his accent enchanting.

I found this collection of essays to be thoroughly engrossing. They completely changed my perspective of who Noah is, which was formed by admittedly minimal viewing of The Daily Show, which he currently hosts. Noah isn’t uptight the way I imagined him to be. Nor is he the shining example of his neighbourhood, to have risen out of poverty and oppression in Apartheid South Africa and made it big in America. Or if he is, he isn’t ‘the golden child’.

Noah was one naughty kid and I bet he still is a bucket full of trouble (and laughs) as a grown man. I also had no idea that he has a comedy show and just recently learned that he was in the 2018 film Black Panther.

The description pretty much tells you everything you need to read about this book. It is a collection of stories from his childhood. It was not as heavily focused on oppression in a police state as I expected. The stories flow together so smoothly that I didn’t realize it was considered a collection of essays until I finished the audiobook and was reviewing the synopsis on Goodreads.

If you like memoirs, this is definitely one that I would recommend.

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The World Without Us by Alan Weisman

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Most books about the environment build on dire threats warning of the possible extinction of humanity. Alan Weisman avoids frightening off readers by disarmingly wiping out our species in the first few pages of this remarkable book. He then continues with an astounding depiction of how Earth will fare once we’re no longer around.

The World Without Us is a one-of-a-kind book that sweeps through time from the moment of humanity’s future extinction to millions of years into the future. Drawing on interviews with experts and on real examples of places in the world that have already been abandoned by humans–Chernobyl, the Korean DMZ and an ancient Polish forest–Weisman shows both the shocking impact we’ve had on our planet and how impermanent our footprint actually is.

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The World Without Us is a far-reaching overview of the world before us, the world after us and how humankind have shaped the world we inhabit.

Author Alan Weisman takes the reader on a tour of how the planet would change if humans were to suddenly disappear from the earth tomorrow. How long would it take your house, your city to disappear. He draws upon a wide variety of sources and experts in this examination.

I have always wondered how the world would adapt and evolve without people to mess up its natural systems, and Weisman does a great job of explaining this. He blends the disciplines of ecology, paleontology, archaeology and modern engineering to create a comprehensive view of our effects on the planet, and in many ways, how fleeting they are in terms of geologic time.

I listened to this book and it was very interesting! However, the book is written with the use of many sources and it sounds like Weisman used MLA style citations. He often explains, “so and so said” and includes that individual’s credentials as proof to his claims. While this makes his claims credible, as a listener, it was annoying. That is the one thing about reading versus listening – when reading you can skip those parts! It would have been better to omit those bits in the recording, IMHO.

I also found that the narrative became repetitious as time went on. I had to really push to get through the second half of this book. I would have preferred a few less examples and random facts, such as the linguistic origin of a specific place name.

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A Higher Loyalty by James Comey

Former FBI Director James Comey shares his never-before-told experiences from some of the highest-stakes situations of his career in the past two decades of American government, exploring what good, ethical leadership looks like, and how it drives sound decisions. His journey provides an unprecedented entry into the corridors of power, and a remarkable lesson in what makes an effective leader.

Mr. Comey served as Director of the FBI from 2013 to 2017, appointed to the post by President Barack Obama. He previously served as U.S. attorney for the Southern District of New York, and the U.S. deputy attorney general in the administration of President George W. Bush. From prosecuting the Mafia and Martha Stewart to helping change the Bush administration’s policies on torture and electronic surveillance, overseeing the Hillary Clinton e-mail investigation as well as ties between the Trump campaign and Russia, Comey has been involved in some of the most consequential cases and policies of recent history.

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I LOVED this book!

I listened to the audiobook during my commute this week and found myself lingering in the car in my driveway, or sitting in the parking lot at work to eat my lunch, just so that I could keep listening.

There is so much information and misinformation out there right now, especially in the realm of American politics, that I didn’t know how I felt about the firing of Director Comey. I knew I didn’t respect how it was done, but then Trump can always be counted on to show little to no class. But as to the substance behind the firing? I just didn’t know what to think.

This book has completely made up my mind.

Admittedly, I am only receiving one opinion – that of James Comey. However, his arguments are clear, concise and logical. In his book, he comes across as confident but still possessing of humility. He admits when he was wrong, and when he could see another person in his position making a different call, and still find it justified.

In the end, Director Comey was caught in the middle of the nasty crossfire of partisan politics in the lead-in to – and following – 2016’s election. There really was no win there.

Listening to this book makes me hope that in the near future, after the Russia investigation is completed, Robert Mueller will also write a book. And that it will be read by Mr. Comey. All else aside, the former FBI director has a very soothing voice and is a great companion during the daily commute.

I highly recommend this book and have just passed it over to my Mum to read, as she and my Dad were both interested when I told them about it 🙂

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Kisses From Katie: A Story of Relentless Love and Redemption

 

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What would cause an eighteen-year-old old senior class president and homecoming queen from Nashville, Tennessee, to disobey and disappoint her parents by forgoing college, break her little brother’s heart, lose all but a handful of her friends (because the rest of them think she has gone off the deep end), and break up with the love of her life, all so she could move to Uganda, where she knew only one person but didn’t know any of the language?

A passion to make a difference.

Katie Davis left over Christmas break her senior year for a short mission trip to Uganda and her life was turned completely inside out. She found herself so moved, so broken by the people and the children of Uganda that she knew her calling was to return and care for them. Her story is like Mother Teresa’s in that she has given up everything—at such a young age—to care for the less fortunate of this world. Katie, a charismatic and articulate young woman, has gone on to adopt 14 children during her time in Uganda, and she completely trusts God for daily provision for her and her family, which includes children with special needs.

To further her reach into the needs of Ugandans, Katie established Amazima Ministries. The ministry matches orphaned children with sponors worldwide. Each sponsor’s $300/year provides schooling, school supplies, three hot meals a day, minor medical care, and spiritual encouragement. Katie expected to have forty children in the program; she had signed up 150 by January 2008; today it sponsors over 400. Another aspect of the ministry is a feeding program created for the displaced Karamojong people—Uganda’s poorest citizens. The program feeds lunch to over 1200 children Monday-Friday and sends them home with a plate for food; it also offers basic medical care, Bible study, and general health training.

Katie Davis, now 21, is more than fascinating, she’s inspiring, as she has wholeheartedly answered the call to serve.

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I chose to read Kisses from Katie because I was initially intrigued by her experiences with adoption. As I mentioned recently in Instant Mom , adoption is near and dear to my heart. It is definitely a path that I feel called to in my life.

Katie adopted 14! children from Uganda, and she lives there with them in the ministry that she has built through her nonprofit organization. This is definitely a very different adoption path from what I would take – I’m not not proposing I move to Africa – however it was still incredibly inspiring to read about her joys and struggles.

This book is heavy on God, Jesus and the Christian faith. I am religious although my relationship with God is one I usually describe as “complicated”. I was raised in a family that believes in the Heavenly Father but did not attend church for anything other than weddings and baptisms.

At first, I was rolling my eyes at the amount of “God stuff” included in this book and was unsure if I wanted to finish it. But I pushed through because lately I haven’t been reading much and just wanted to get something finished. I am so glad that I did. Katie has inspired me to let go of some of the control that I try to exert over my life and trust that God will provide. I am such a stress case 98% of the time, but I have never been forced to go without life’s necessities. God has a pretty good track record of seeing me through hard times and I am going to just let go and trust that the means will come forth to provide.

Katie’s story is inspiring and one I would recommend to anyone interested in faith, missionary work, adoption from Africa and children’s advocacy. Many children in Uganda face unimaginable circumstances and it makes my heart ache to think of their suffering. This story has definitely inspired me to be a better person. There are opportunities everywhere you look to do a good turn.

Katie has recently published a second book called Daring to Hope. It will definitely be one I read soon.

You can learn more about Katie’s organization here.

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