On the last Sunday of February, at 5pm Lisbon time, I logged into a video call, joined by four of my friends to run my first digital book club and discuss Tara Westover´s memoir – Education. I had announced the interactive book club edition on Instagram and though more people signed up (I kept the limit at ten), we ended up being just five – and this turned out to be the perfect number so that everyone would be heard and voice their opinions. The conversation flowed for almost two hours, moderated by me and supported by some questions I prepared before hand, and so I thought I´d share them here, along with my review of the book, as I left it out of last month´s book club review article.
What I Thought of the Book
If you read through the questions I guided the conversation with, you´ll notice I asked people to rate the book. Initially I suggested the goodreads rating system – from 1 to 5, but we quickly agreed that that system was too limiting and a 1 to 10 would be much better. As such, I rated it a 5 on goodreads (a 4.5 in reality) and would give it a 8/9 if the scale went up to ten. That being said, I really loved the book. I read it in 24 hours and would definitely read it again in the future. I wouldn´t necessarily recommend it to everyone, but that is just because, (as the girls on the call also pointed out), not everyone would “get it”.
My elevator pitch about it is: “Girl raised in an extreme religious (Mormon) community overcomes a hell of a lot of adversity to gain an education and as such begins to process her life.” You see, not everyone would find it as interesting as we did. But the book is not just interesting and gives a brilliant insight into Tara´s extremely difficult life, it is also extremely well written. I probably have never witnessed such well titled chapters in all my readings. Some examples: “Silence in the Churches”, “Disloyal Man, Disobedient Heaven” or “What We Whispered and What We Screamed”.
The content of the book is not an easy one, and as my friend, Fátima pointed out, the knowledge that it is a true life story might make you feel like you need to repeatedly put it down. It´s a story that might or might not hit close to home, but it will quite possibly leave you angry and sad. While eventually, spoiler alert, Tara does get an education, and a pretty darn good one, she goes through some awful couple of years before achieving that. Religious radicalism, serious mental illness, physical and emotional violence – it is all part of her life, and denied and questioned again and again by not only the people around her, but ultimately herself even, in an attempt to justify it.
I´d recommend this book to you if you´re open to reading a story that will possible enrage you and if you´re willing to analyse and empathise with some pretty hard to digest characters. If you´re reading it to draw some learnings from a psychological point of view, you´ll probably like it. If you´re reading it to learn something entirely new, depending on your upbringing, you might or might not find what you´re looking for. And in line with that, here are some questions that guided our almost two hour conversation.
20 Questions to Guide your Conversation
(some more general and applicable to other books you want to debate, others specific to this one)
If you had to do an elevator pitch about what this book is about, what would you say?
If you had to give this book a different title, what would it be?
From the two covers this book has been printed in, which do you think is better and why?
How did reading this book make you feel?
How many stars (out of ten) are you giving the book? Would that answer still hold if the same book was a work of fiction?
Are you able to empathise with Tara´s family – particularly the parents and Shawn?
Would you read a book that told the father´s account of how everything went down?
Did you notice that the author uses the word “Mother” whenever she talks about her mom, but that she most of the times uses the more endearing form of “Dad” for her father? Do you read any meaning into this?
What meaning you think that the capitalising of Mother, Grandmother, Grandfather, Dad has to the author?
What scene touched you most in the book?
What enraged you most in the story?
Any favourite quotes you’d like to share?
When Tara´s mom says about her migraines after the accident “sometimes I think we choose our illnesses, because they benefit us in some way” – what do you think of that? Can you related that to the fathers bipolarism?
Do you agree with Tara´s decisions? Do you think you would have acted differently in her shoes?
What do you think of the ending?
What do you think would happen if Tara´s family read her book?
What do you hope for Tara´s future?
Did this book make you seek out any information on a topic you wanted to deepen your knowledge on?
And that´s a wrap! Let me know if you can think of any other interesting questions about Educated.