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.
By Thor Heyerdahl
In 1947, when nobody in the academic world believed it was possible that the South Pacific islands could have been settled from South America, Heyerdahl, who put forth the article that was rejected time and again, decided his only option to prove it was possible was to do it himself. With plenty of conviction and an unrealistically short timeline, Heyerdahl set out to garner funding, material support, and a crew to set out on an unpredictable journey across 4,300 nautical miles using nothing other than ocean currents and wind patterns. Intent on providing it would have been possible centuries earlier, Heyerdahl and his crew cut down enough balsa trees to build a raft in traditional style a cabin large enough for the 6-person crew to sleep in, and a mast, sail, and steering oar as their only means of directing their travel. Putting their fate in the hands of nature, the crew set out from Peru with hopes that the Humboldt current would take them to the South Pacific. Through calm seas, massive storms, and a veritable universe of unknown sea creatures, the crew made landfall on an uninhabited island paradise after 101 days at sea. This book tells the unbelievable journey.
“Kon-Tiki” by Thor Heyerdahl is the true story of how a handful of people managed to survive across vast stretches of ocean on nothing more than a bunch of logs tied together with woven ropes. Their singular experience offered them unique opportunities: the first to see species of fish that were unknown before, an acute awareness of the massive expanse of nature, and the technological solitude to an almost unfathomable degree in Western society today. Heyerdahl writes a narrative of the adventures that includes a few particularly notable snippets from the ship log (more accurately called the raft log), but is generally compiled of the adventures of the team, his observations, and some meandering thoughts about the journey. Other than a few densely nautical passages, his writing style is easy and compelling to read. Chapters are broken up according to segments of the journey, starting with the initial conception of the adventures, through planning, all the way until they are taken off the South Pacific islands to be returned to Western society after months of isolation. Although the weight of evidence in recent decades has shown that the South Pacific islands were settled from Asia rather than South America, their journey is nonetheless remarkable and fascinating.
As someone who is highly skeptical of any sea-faring story since reading the supposedly true (but actually fictional) story of “Life of Pi,” I was well into details of how they planned the journey and built the raft before I accepted that this might be a true story. And what a story! Although I skimmed some of the details about what happened astern of the boat and checking the lines beneath the boat, I was absolutely captivated by every aspect of the journey. I highly recommend this book, and might even consider lending you my copy.