Gordon Book Review Blog

Educated A memoir

Mal had recommended our book selection for April, so he began our discussion with the question, ‘What’s the allure?’ Why is this book so popular? The writing was good, it’s a good story, but beyond that, why a best-seller?

Geoff suggested that one attraction is its insight into a kind of world that few readers knew existed. Bill countered that out West, you get to know people like that, those hill people who come down into town on occasion, for festivals or races, but then return to their country to live. It’s not so unfamiliar in the rural west. Or in New Hampshire, or Maine come to think about it.

This also gave insight into the effects of myopic views toward the world around us, a condition common in America today with ideological views bending reality to fit an ideological perspective. We agreed generally that personal experiences are a better foundation for developing ideas for life: in the words of Marvin Gaye, believe only half of what you see, and none of what you hear (earlier popularized by Edgar Allen Poe). Along that same theme, Pete added that much of today’s nationalist and religious conflict around the world arises from this myopic thinking.

The book is also a testament to how religion can play a powerful role in ideological re-ordering, though the author made a pointed warning not to conflate LDS / Mormonism with the dysfunction within her family. Agreed: Don’t conflate bad behavior with religion. Bad people will cloak themselves in religion to deflect or conceal their true color or their objectives. The mental health (bi-polar father and similarly mentally deranged brother) contributed plenty to fill that role; it wasn’t the religion.

The fundamentalist survivalist theme (Ruby Ridge) also provided a look into paranoia influenced action, in this case preparation for an attack by the government. We are all products of our own environments. We are all victims of our own biases. Same trailer, different park.

Next, we explored the question, how much of this story is really true? Bill, a writer by profession pointed out that the book shifted effortlessly and elegantly from plain spoken language to insightful conceptual reflection. This had the feel of a teamwork editor approach; the technique is incredibly difficult for a single person to do. A few of us countered, unless you have a 150+ IQ.

Adding to the question of accuracy were the descriptions of events: some described down to minute detail; others described with footnotes indicating alternative possible scenarios. But her description of the mountain before her leaving it, and her changing perspectives as she was exposed to BYU, to Cambridge, to Harvard, and her return to the Mountain (The Princess), was literary excellence. The irony that her PhD thesis was about the impact of historians getting to write history was not lost on us with Tara’s writing her story here.

We discussed the family, asking questions about many of the characters. We agreed that her mother was the most sympathetic character, though she was also complicit in the family’s dysfunction through her passivity. Her ability to take charge of her homeopathic salves business when father was recuperating from his immolation was impressive; her passivity upon his taking control when he became healthy was predictable but sad.

Family dysfunction clearly began with father, how he treated all the kids like mere tools. Clearly a smart man, his detachment from any concern for safety manifested itself in repeated life threatening injuries, including his son’s and his own self-immolation. How about operating the metal cutting machine? Not a job for a human to be around. That said, the father taught self-sufficiency, fortitude, hard work to the whole family, values that are liberating in themselves.

On the topic of mental health, we asked, Why did she go to the father first on that topic? Her bother (Sean) demonstrated plenty of mental health issues, though she never seemed to suggest his sickness, beyond descriptions of his behavior.

On reflection of the story, we asked, is Tara still scarred as a person? She seems to continue to seek acceptance from her father and brother. Her final letter to her father might have been cathartic to her in this struggle. Her own reflection included that you have to forgive your family to forgive yourself.

The part of the book where she received a grant was poignant and illuminating: once unshackled from debt and financial pressure, she became liberated to focus on her studies, her Education. Her freedom from debt was liberating, as it is with so many people.

We pondered, is ‘Educated’ the best title? It could have been Emancipated, Liberated, Aware, or a number of other titles. For the author, educated is actually all of these. As she wrote, “Positive liberty - the ability to take control of your own mind.” And “Emancipate yourself from intellectual slavery.” Powerful thoughts, especially today, in America’s politically splintered myopic world.

Overall, we found the book to be a great reference point for our discussion into life, into ideas, and into family dynamics.

Our next book is Bad Blood – the story of Theranos, one of Silicon Valley’s greatest con jobs

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