Category Archives: Reading

Educated

By Tara Westover

Having grown up in the outskirts of very rural Idaho, Tara Westover had an unusual childhood. She never attended public school. Not highly unusual, considering the number of people who are homeschooled. However, Tara had almost no homeschooling either. She learned to read the Bible, but most other information that came her way was filtered through the lens of her father’s perspective of government conspiracies and preparation for the End of Days. Instead of school, Tara spent her time with her siblings, working in her father’s junkyard and roving the mountains. When one of her older brothers left home to go to college, Tara started to consider the possibility that she, too, might get an education. Through arduous efforts at self-teaching, she managed to pass the ACT and earn a spot as a college freshman. Her experiences at college shattered her limited perspective on the world and introduced her to everything from spaghetti strap shirts to the Holocaust. Through relentless efforts, Tara began to understand the classroom and the larger world around her. She eventually went on to graduate at the top of her class, but at great personal cost: every stride forward in education was a step farther from the family she knew, leaving her stranded and lost in an entirely different way.

“Educated” by Tara Westover is an astounding story of how someone can overcome, accomplish, and grow. Westover writes with candor and unflinching honesty about the situations she encountered as a child (injuries sustained in the junkyard on a regular basis by all members of her family, manipulation and violent abuse from an older brother) and as an adult (difficulty creating and sustaining relationships while trying to hide her background). All this is written from the perspective of someone much older and wiser. As Westover recounts her experiences, she simultaneously analyzes them and puts words to the emotions she felt at the time, but only recently began to understand and pull apart. While the stories she shares about her upbringing seem almost outrageous, the tone of her writing neither conveys nor encourages shock. She is merely telling her story as she remembers it, with footnotes when there are significant discrepancies between her memories and those of other family members. She shares her experience, as it is, for what it is, so that others may understand the privilege and cost of learning.

This book is absolutely riveting. I didn’t want to put it down. I felt a bit voyeuristic at times because her experience is such a far cry from the world and life I am familiar with, but it is incredibly compelling. The tone of her writing is a perfect combination of being both frank and reflective, so that the alarming parts of her youth are tempered by her adult “coming to terms” with it. I was also amazed at what she was able to accomplish, and somewhat jealous of her ability to teach herself algebra. Highly recommended for any and all readers.

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Artemis

By Andy Weir

Jazz Bashara grew up in Artemis, the city on the moon. With a population of 2,000, unregulated currency (unregulated because it is not legally recognized as currency, just a unit of payment), and a law enforcement system that acts as jury, judge, and executioner, the city has developed some level of stasis around legal and illegal activities. Everybody knows everybody else, and there is nowhere to hide because only the shielded bubbles of Artemis provide life-sustaining oxygen, so minor criminal activities are brushed off and major crimes are almost unknown. As a porter, Jazz constantly toes the line of illegal activities that could potentially get her deported to Earth. She earns her living by smuggling in contraband. When one of her regular customers offers her a more nefarious job with a significantly higher payout, she quickly develops a plan for how to carry out this seemingly impossible task. When her plan goes awry, she accidentally uncovers a much darker underbelly of Artemis. Pursued by the mob and uncertain about whether she can trust the law enforcement and government entities of Artemis, Jazz turns to her small network of friends in a desperate attempt to save both her own life and her beloved city.

“Artemis” by Andy Weir starts at breakneck speed and never lets up. At the start of the book, this involves catching up to the future portrayed in the novel. Weir gradually uncovers the backstory of how Artemis came to be, what daily life looks like in the city, and the legal and social norms that developed over time. Once the reader is familiar with the chemistry requirements and unusual physics of life on Artemis (fight scenes are pretty exciting in 1/6 gravity where you can literally throw your opponent across the room), the plot starts to race along. As with his previous novel, “Artemis” is laden with science. Weir deftly weaves in the limits of physics, chemistry, radiation, and other concerns that constrain life on Artemis, while at the same time giving his characters plausible strategies to work around these limits. Weir writes with a casual tone that feels conversational, which occasionally leads to re-reading passages with complex scientific descriptions. Overall, the story moves quickly and will likely take less time to read than the 6 days that pass in the novel.

I enjoyed “Artemis,” though it did seem to read very differently from “The Martian” (or what I remember of “The Martian”). To me, “Artemis” reads like a thriller set on the moon with lots of science thrown in there. Not that that’s a bad thing – I finished the novel in 4 days. Some of the chemistry and physics explanations went over my head, but I still understood the gist of the story while brushing over some of the more nuanced details. One of the things I like most about the novel is that it portrays a fairly unconventional future (it’s the first book I’ve read in which Kenya is the gateway to space). I certainly recommend it.

 

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