Sunday, March 22, 2020

Educated: A Memoir by Tara Westover

Book club book #10

I'm not really sure I liked this book. The message felt muddled. The writing isn't that good. I know a memoir is a real story, so there's not a lot of control, but I feel it has to have a preconceived endpoint. Titling this book Educated leads one (or maybe just me) to think the end is headed in a certain direction, but the book never gets there.

Growing up as a sheltered, "home-schooled" child, in an environment I can hardly believe she survived, Tara's introduction to formal education, when she starts college, should be the real place the story starts. The shock of knowledge and the adjustment to the "real" world should stand front and center. It's interesting and different. It's inspiring and amazing that she begins her formal education so late and goes through to earn her Ph.D. Her transition to welcome new knowledge rather than fear it -- that's the heart of the story for me. I love it, but it's barely told; glossed over by her internal struggle to defy and ultimately break from her parents.

Her real education is the rude awakening that her parents can be wrong, and that she's not obligated to blindly acquiesce. Their truth doesn't have to be reality. It's also a strong story, but more common in its essence. Tying her emotional education into her formal learning pushes the schooling into the background and somehow muddles the whole story. At times I felt like she was just transforming lists into paragraphs. I saw these things...I felt these things...I did this stuff...

Tara had to overcome so much mental and physical abuse to finally figure out how to live her life but it wasn't her education that did it. It was her bravery. She decided to leave her home and accept that there were alternative ways to do even the simplest of things. It was a choice to not live in fear, but thrive through curiosity. Her education opened the world to her, but it didn't inspire all this growth based on how the book is written. There's no important point at the end, no strong moment that's allowed to live on its own. Each step forward is accompanied by a long glance backward and it bugged me.

This story will affect people in different ways, and I'm sure my sentiment isn't the popular one since this book has done so well. I personally wouldn't recommend it, but I think it's a good book for conversation, so would suggest you add it to your book club reading list.

Wednesday, March 11, 2020

The Book of Dust Volume II: The Secret Commonwealth by Philip Pullman

I'm at a loss for how I want to write about this book. It sadly was just a means to an end, slowly building suspense only to leave you dangling on a cliff at the end. Minor revelations keep you reading, but you're constantly asking, "Why do I need to know this?" 

Even if it's going to all make sense in the end, the payout lies in a book not yet published. It's not like a movie where the suspense climaxes to a resolution all in one swoop. I've no idea how long the wait will be for the third book. I don't know what I'll remember by that time either. If I forget something, is the third book going to disappoint too? It's a tough call on how I feel here, since I love the characters and love this world Pullman has created.

The book begins further into the future of Lyra's life than we've ever gone before. She's an adult, a young one, going to college and preparing for the world. The lustre from her adventures in the His Dark Materials trilogy has worn off a bit, and she's settled into a regular life more or less. She's still odd, especially because she can separate from her daemon, Pantalaimon. It's so uncommon that they keep it a secret even as it continues to cause a rift in their relationship. Pan eventually abandons Lyra and everything changes overnight. The story goes into ultra-complicated mode as all the characters -- Malcolm, Alice, and Hannah -- from the first volume of The Book of Dust reemerge in Lyra's life.

We now have to keep up with five primary good characters who all move in a totally different direction. There are also two bad guys who aren't always together, that the story tracks. It gets complicated so fast, but they're all on the move because of this mysterious building, in a desert, where a special rose grows. The characters either want to understand it or destroy it. Along the way, everyone interacts with about a million other people in so much detail that I was quickly overwhelmed by names and confusing who knew whom. It's all relevant to driving the story onward, but it's a lot. 

If I were able to look deeper into the text, which is hard to do, I'd say this book is really about love, truth, and faith. But, the complexities of the story itself detract from the deeper thoughts and the emotional connections. My brain is too muddled to keep up.

I just can't say I liked this book, having read the rest of Lyra's story, but I know I had to read this so everything going forward makes sense. I feel like I was trapped, and that gave Pullman a hall pass to put everything he could possibly think of into a single book. It's so busy, that it's frustrating to read. On top of that, you don't really get anywhere by the end, but I guess, for the sake of the story, it must be read.

Before you read this book, make sure to read The Book of Dust Volume I: La Belle Sauvage.