Educated: A Memoir

“I can’t choose another book to read,” I told my department chair, as I scrolled through my audible account, trying to select a new book to listen to on my commute home from work.  “All the other books are stupid.”

I was experiencing what John Green might call a book hangover.  It’s the phenomenon that happens when the last book you read was so captivating and rewarding that you simultaneously want to:

  • Begin all over again.  Somehow travel back in time so you can have the experience of reading this book for the first time all over again.  Re-virginize yourself to this book.
  • Immediately start reading another book that is equally as amazing as the last one.

Basically, the book you have just finished has so captured your mind and heart, has so effectively taken you away to another world, that no other book will ever measure up to it.  Not even one of the great classics.  Austen, Bronte, Wilde- they’re all hacks!

What a delightful problem to have.

Educated is a memoir by Tara Westover.  She begins the first chapter by writing elegantly about a memory that never happened.  The mystery of this moment, and her awareness of the mystery around it is embroidered in the entirety of her book.  It was this thread that makes this memoir excellent.  Westover’s life experiences would certainly be an interesting read on their own.  But it is her awareness of the confusion and differing perspectives around her childhood memories that make her work artful.

I began looking forward to my commute while I was reading this book.  I stayed in the car for a few minutes when I got home, waiting for a good stopping point.  I listened to it while I walked to Starbucks to work on my thesis.  I listened to it for hours on one of my epic urban hikes around San Francisco.  While I walked, and while I drove, I followed Westover in her emotional journey.   I followed her to college, and was just as confused as she was when her class was utterly appalled by her ignorance of a very heavily charged word.  (The word was eventually revealed.  It was Holocaust.  She had never heard that word until she was a freshman in college).  I followed her when she cared for her brother Shawn as her protected her when he was in his mellow state.  I followed her through her panic and denial when he wasn’t in a mellow state.  I was there with her when she fell into a deep depression and binge watched Buffy the Vampire Slayer.

And eventually, the book ended.  It ended beautifully, but it still ended.  And I was left with a book hangover.

One of the ways to cure a book hangover is to make someone else read the book you have just read.  Invite someone else you know into this other beautiful world that you have recently experienced and don’t want to leave.  I’m telling everyone I know to read this book.   Please.  Help me out.  Read this book, and then come back and talk about it with me.

In the Classroom

I purchased a physical copy of Educated for my classroom.  It’s on display at the front of the room, begging a student to pick it up and start leafing through it.

If I was in charge of the book budget for my school, I would immediately order several class sets and begin teaching this book in one of my upper division classes.  I think that students would find this book just as engaging as I did.

While reading this book  we could talk and write about several important topics that impact our society: abuse, mental health, fundamentalism, education.  Moreover, we can examine the way Westover approaches perception and memory.  We can pair this book with The Things They Carried by Tim O’Brien, and discuss the ways we deal with our pasts.  We could end with an analytical essay about the ways authors approach memory and trauma in their writing.  Or, we could experiment with Westover and O’Brien’s techniques and write about our own memories.

So, what do you think?  Have you read Educated?  What would you do with this book if you were able to incorporate it into your class curriculum?




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