Tara Westover

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Nonfiction November Week 4: Reads Like Fiction

Published November 24, 2018 by bibliobeth

Hello everyone and welcome to the fourth week of Nonfiction November! If you’d like to find out what it’s all about, please see my post two weeks ago where I revealed my Nonfiction November TBR. my post for Week 1 where I talked briefly about my year in nonfiction so far and Week 2 where I paired up three nonfiction books alongside similar fiction tomes. Week 3 invited us to Be The Expert/Ask The Expert/Become The Expert.

This week as the title suggests, it’s all about non-fiction that “reads like fiction,” and is hosted by the lovely Rennie from What’s Nonfiction. You can check out her post HERE.

Nonfiction books often get praised for how they stack up to fiction. Does it matter to you whether nonfiction reads like a novel? If it does, what gives it that fiction-like feeling? Does it depend on the topic, the writing, the use of certain literary elements and techniques? What are your favorite nonfiction recommendations that read like fiction? And if your nonfiction picks could never be mistaken for novels, what do you love about the differences?

I’ve found this topic so interesting this week and have been racking my brains regarding my personal thoughts on it. I have to admit, it took me a little while to find my niche in nonfiction, I used to read solely fiction and found the nonfiction I was picking up a little dry and uninspiring. It’s only over the past six or seven years or so (and mainly due to the interaction with all you lovely bookish folk) that I’ve found nonfiction that really works for me.

As I mentioned in my previous posts this month, this tends to fall in the categories of popular science (particularly neuroscience but I’ll read anything really!), psychology, feminism, books about books and anything animal/nature related. I’ve only recently started getting into memoirs after reading two stonkingly good ones this year – I Am, I Am, I Am: Seventeen Brushes With Death by Maggie O’Farrell and Educated by Tara Westover and am dipping my toes into the true crime genre after enjoying I’ll Be Gone In The Dark by Michelle McNamara.

Nonfiction doesn’t have to read like a novel for me to get something personal or moving from it – the memoirs I’ve mentioned above are a perfect example but I have to say, the O’Farrell and the Westover did have a bit of a “fiction flair,” and gave me the same sort of feeling as if I was reading a novel i.e. all the emotions and all of the pace and grittiness that you get from a captivating story. Then there’s the books that fall in the middle. They don’t necessarily read like fiction but at the same time you’re completely gripped throughout and find it difficult to put the book down.

Animal:The Autobiography Of A Female Body by Sara Pascoe for me is one of those in-between books which I read and reviewed last year and if you’re interested you can read my review HERE. It was hilariously funny, eye-opening, feminist and frank and made me angry for all the right reasons. I find it difficult to give nonfiction five stars usually as there’s almost always a certain point of the book, no matter how brief where either the pace slows or the topic becomes a little dry. This wasn’t the case with Animal, it was an easy, no-brainer of a five stars and I thoroughly enjoyed every moment.

On the other hand, a lot of the popular science I read certainly doesn’t have a story-telling or gripping “must read another page right now” style and that’s okay too – sometimes when I read a nonfiction, I want to be informed, educated and learn something a bit different and usually, I prefer to read these books in smaller chunks to absorb all the information I’m being given.

One book that pops into my mind is Stiff: The Curious Lives Of Human Cadavers by Mary Roach, which I read in my pre-blogging days but was another automatic five stars from me. It is a fascinating and occasionally humorous look at death and what happens to our bodies postmortem and was a completely fascinating and illuminating read. It’s a book filled with mind-boggling facts that I read in small doses but was written in such an approachable way that I never felt overwhelmed with the scientific aspects of the topic. I must get round to reading some more Mary Roach soon!

Hope you enjoyed reading this post and have found something you might be interested in reading too. I’d love to know your thoughts on the books I’ve mentioned so please let me know in the comments below if you’ve read them or want to read them!

Coming up next week on Nonfiction November Week 5: New to My TBR (hosted by Katie @ Doing Dewey) – the last week of Nonfiction November!

 

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Educated – Tara Westover

Published November 13, 2018 by bibliobeth

What’s it all about?:

Tara Westover grew up preparing for the End of Days, watching for the sun to darken, for the moon to drip as if with blood. She spent her summers bottling peaches and her winters rotating emergency supplies, hoping that when the World of Men failed, her family would continue on, unaffected.

She hadn’t been registered for a birth certificate. She had no school records because she’d never set foot in a classroom, and no medical records because her father didn’t believe in doctors or hospitals. According to the state and federal government, she didn’t exist.

As she grew older, her father became more radical, and her brother, more violent. At sixteen Tara decided to educate herself. Her struggle for knowledge would take her far from her Idaho mountains, over oceans and across continents, to Harvard and to Cambridge. Only then would she wonder if she’d travelled too far. If there was still a way home.

EDUCATED is an account of the struggle for self-invention. It is a tale of fierce family loyalty, and of the grief that comes with the severing of the closest of ties. With the acute insight that distinguishes all great writers, Westover has, from her singular experience, crafted a universal coming-of-age story, one that gets to the heart of what an education is and what it offers – the perspective to see one’s life through new eyes, and the will to change it.

What did I think?:

I honestly don’t think I’ve heard a bad review of this memoir so I was super excited to listen to it in audiobook format (which I’ve also heard highly praised) recently. I’ve recently started listening to more books by audio and I always thought the format wasn’t for me – I found I got easily distracted, lost into daydreams and hadn’t listened to a word the narrator had said in the past five minutes or so, leaving me completely lost! However, I don’t find this problem with non-fiction and if it’s a genuinely compelling narration, my thoughts don’t seem to drift as much. This was definitely the case with Educated where the narrator, Julia Whelan did a stellar job of bringing Tara’s story to life and I found myself excited every time I pulled on my little pink headphones to catch up with Tara and her astounding journey once more.

Tara Westover, author of the memoir Educated.

Educated reads almost like a recurring nightmare that you can’t seem to wake up from and I was appalled and fascinated in equal measure by the journey Tara goes on as an individual and how she eventually seeks to better herself through education after receiving no formal schooling until the age of seventeen. She was raised in a Mormon household with six other siblings (five brothers and a sister), a paranoid survivalist father who insisted the End Of Days was near and a diminutive, compliant mother who yielded to her husband’s every demand, no matter how ridiculous. The family didn’t believe in many things – medicine, the government and education to name a few and when accidents or illness befell one of them, they were treated by their mother who also moonlighted as a herbalist.

Tara goes through so many terrible things in her childhood. As well as dealing with her father’s mental health concerns, herself and members of her family go through the most horrific accidents that occur mainly due to the physical nature of their risky work in her father’s junkyard but occur twice in vehicles where shockingly, seatbelts are not compulsory for the family! Tara also has to deal with an increasingly aggressive, controlling and violent older brother whose constant physical and emotional abuse is either played down or completely ignored by her parents.

Bucks Peak, Idaho where Tara and her family were based.

It is of little surprise that Tara decides one day she has suffered enough and wants to succeed in the world outside the isolated, suffocating atmosphere that she finds herself in at home. She begins to teach herself basic mathematics and history and to cut a long story short, she exceeds even her own expectations and ends up going to both Harvard and Cambridge University, achieving a PhD. Unfortunately, her many years of being indoctrinated as a Mormon and a survivalist plague her daily, making her question both her abilities and her own worth, particularly as she receives little support or praise from her family.

This was such a moving and thought-provoking read and really reminds me why I need to give memoirs more of a chance as a genre. Tara’s story is so inspirational and touching and I found myself really rooting for her to get the chance to live a better life and realise the things she was told as a child may have been merely delusions and paranoia. Tara comes across as a vulnerable child transformed into a stronger, more resilient woman and I had nothing but admiration and respect for her sticking to her guns, fully deserving all that she achieved. It made for difficult reading at points, that’s for sure and some of the incidents that she had to witness were truly horrendous and at times heart-breaking. However, it just made me think even more highly of her as a person and appreciate the relatively calm, simple life I’ve led myself in comparison!

I wouldn’t be surprised if Educated makes it to my top ten books of the year. It’s an incredible piece of writing and an eye-opening account of an extraordinary life that has to be read to be believed.

Would I recommend it?:

But of course!

Star rating (out of 5):

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Nonfiction November Week 1: My Year In Nonfiction

Published November 2, 2018 by bibliobeth

Hello everyone and welcome to the first weekly post of Nonfiction November! If you’d like to find out what it’s all about, please see my post yesterday where I revealed my Nonfiction November TBR. The host for this week is Kim at Sophisticated Dorkiness (please see her post and all the links HERE) and the topic for this week is my year in nonfiction. Here’s the discussion question for this week:

Take a look back at your year of nonfiction and reflect on the following questions – What was your favorite nonfiction read of the year? Do you have a particular topic you’ve been attracted to more this year? What nonfiction book have you recommended the most? What are you hoping to get out of participating in Nonfiction November?

Here we go!

What was your favourite nonfiction read of the year?

I think a good nonfiction book should be one that stays with you and continues to have an impact long after you’ve finished it so my answer for this will be I Am, I Am, I Am: Seventeen Brushes With Death, a memoir by Maggie O’Farrell. It was a wonderful, hugely memorable read and I still continue to think about parts of it today. I actually listened to the audio version (which I also highly recommend) but received a physical copy as a gift after I had finished. I was delighted by this as it has a firm place on my favourites shelves and I will definitely be re-reading it in the traditional way in the future.

Do you have a particular topic you’ve been attracted to more this year?

I don’t think so, this year I have tended to stick to the topics I know I love like popular science – particularly anything that involves the brain, psychology, nature writing (especially animal-based) and feminism. However, I am open to trying new things and I’ve been particularly intrigued by the true crime genre after I read I’ll Be Gone In The Dark: On Woman’s Obsessive Search For The Golden State Killer by Michelle McNamara recently this year.

What nonfiction book have you recommended the most?

Apart from I Am, I Am I Am, I think I have (or would) recommend Educated: A Memoir by Tara Westover (review to follow shortly) or This Is Going To Hurt: Secret Diaries of A Junior Doctor by Adam Kay which is hilariously funny and a very illuminating read on the NHS currently.

What are you hoping to get out of participating in Nonfiction November this year?:

I currently have two overflowing shelves of nonfiction that I’ve been woefully behind in getting to. I thought Nonfiction November was the perfect opportunity to clear some of my backlog and read some of that amazing nonfiction that I’ve been looking forward to for months (and in some cases, years!). I can’t wait to get started!

Thank you so much to Kim for hosting this week, I’ve really enjoyed taking part and looking back over my year in nonfiction so far!

Coming up next week on Nonfiction November Week 2 (hosted by Sarah’s Book Shelves) – Fiction/Nonfiction Book Pairing.