Educated by Tara Westover

As it turns out, I still know how to read, but I have been reading at an (exceptionally) slower pace. Case in point Educated by Tara Westover: I loved the book, but it took me more than a month to finish reading it. To be fair, it was not the lightest read. At first, I thought it was a little similar to Hillbilly Elegy, but it is very different—the Westovers were completely different.

As I read through the first half of the book, I found myself frequently putting the book down and thinking “I can’t believe this really happened to her.” But believe it. People be crazy at times.

Here’s what I’m talking about: In Educated, Tara Westover wrote about the domestic abuse she received from her own older brother. I don’t know about you, but my brothers are protective of me. As a fellow woman, I couldn’t stand reading what Tara Westover experienced, and I’m enraged that most men get away with abusive behavior. And people have the gall to blame victim blame women as if they had it coming. For your reference, Tara Westover was raised a conservative woman, so please, she clearly did not ask for the abuse.

These were also hard to swallow: the mental health issues that were never truly addressed. Sudden mood swings, extreme violence, animal cruelty—these are clear signs of low mental health. But no one ever wants to seek help—even Tara Westover herself was in denial about her own well-being for a while. I’m glad she eventually got counseling, but mental health is so taboo, we need to change things up especially since most of us are down in the dumps because of the quarantine situation.

Of course, the book wouldn’t be called Educated if it didn’t actually talk about Tara Westover’s education. I’m so glad people saw her potential and pushed her to believe in herself. It’s interesting to see how perspectives change once you get to know more about the world. Clichéd, I know, but education opened new doors (and closed old dilapidated ones) for Tara Westover, and I hope this woman is doing well for herself right now because she has gone through so much.

As I was writing this entry, Taylor Swift’s The Man came to mind. One reason why Tara Westover had a particularly difficult experience was because she was a woman. From childhood, she was taught that women were meant to submit to men’s will. It was particularly hard for her to get past that brainwash. Taylor Swift’s rings very true, and I hope to God that people stop trying to put women in their place because they are intimidated by strong women.

Verdict: I wholeheartedly recommend this book. Although some parts were disturbing, the book was, overall, quite inspiring.

Reasons to Stay Alive by Matt Haig (but not exactly)

Previously I posted about developing new routines and hobbies during quarantine, but I’ve found that those no longer appease my itch for face-to-face interactions and my anxiety about bringing work into my home. I recently picked up new things to do, including letting go of my old books and running in the neighborhood, but they’re quickly getting old. In an attempt to get myself out of a rut, I read Reasons to Stay Alive.

Although the book has a fair number of good reviews, it wasn’t for me. There was something about it (tone or style, perhaps?) that didn’t resonate with me. While I loved the intention of the book, I found that it fell short. I liked that the book dealt with topics and feelings people normally suppress. Talking about mental health has been taboo—these are not “real” problems—for a while now, but it’s time we acknowledged its reality. The pandemic is not yet over, and social distancing is still highly encouraged. People who don’t identify as depressives need to be come to terms with whatever the new norm turns out to be.

Because health includes not only one’s physical but also one’s mental, emotional, and spiritual well-being. Reasons to Stay Alive is a good way to get the conversation started. It’s not exactly my cup of tea, but it gets the job done. I’ll look out for more books that deal with mental health (not as a side-effect of a traumatic incident). Maybe I’ll find something I connect with better.

The Erstwhile by Brian Catling

The Erstwhile is the second book of The Vorrh Trilogy. The first book spent a good number of pages setting up the context for the trilogy, so by this book, we already have context on the world and its characters, and its events are easier to follow. Although a sequel, The Erstwhile doesn’t fall into the trap of being a sequel for the sake of a sequel. It is its own story, and it doesn’t end in a cliffhanger intended to make readers itch for continuity and closure. Well, suffice to say that I’m not the biggest fan of cliffhangers, so I appreciate when books, albeit sequels, can stand on their own.

With this book, I developed a newfound respect for some characters—and obtained confirmation of my feelings about some other characters. In particular, I enjoyed reading about Cyrena Lohr and Hector Schumann and how they handled the next phases of their lives. Plus, I like that other side to Ghertrude Tulp, and I feel like she will be back in The Cloven. I didn’t expect to ever be curious about her, but here we are waiting to learn more…

But there was something about the book that didn’t compel me to inhale it. Don’t get me wrong—I loved the book. It just took me a longer time (a month!!!) than usual to finish it. Maybe because it was slower? Or that it was dark? If it is because of those two reasons, that’s interesting because it is also for those two reasons that I liked the book: its pace and world is different from what I normally read. Huh.