Fail, fail, fail, fail, succeed


To say that Tara Westover’s best seller “Educated” is a compelling book is to say nothing new – it’s been pretty much universally heralded, and I will start by adding my name to the list. It’s really, really good.

But I was surprised to find myself actually getting angry for long stretches, because it’s out of character – I don’t generally react that way to anything. I long ago learned to accept life for what it is, making no judgments. And although I don’t have children, there was something about her struggle that touched me – and triggered certain core beliefs of my own in a way that was both judgmental and emotional. I was kind of repulsed by my reaction, which was mystifying. What was happening?

In retrospect I think it triggered feelings from my own childhood, although it wasn’t direct. The mistreatment and abuse of children is always disturbing, but sometimes it catches you in surprising ways.

I think my anger and revulsion (which is not justified) was centered around her relationship with her father. Before I go any further, let me say I have no right or business to make judgments about anyone’s beliefs or interpersonal relationships. But having said that – here we go…

The pious righteousness of “believers” can be nauseating and just seem simplistically stupid to secular non-believers. To have a critically injured child and refuse to take them to the hospital because “god will heal them better at home” starts to raise my blood pressure. To deprive highly intelligent children of an education just seems willfully cruel and ignorant.

But then to have the child defend the very parents whose primitive, dogmatic beliefs inflicted this misery, even while she is struggling to make her way in a world she is woefully ill equipped to navigate (because of her parents), is both completely understandable and maddeningly infuriating at the same time.

Just writing this is making me feel uncomfortable, because, again, I have no right to make any judgments, and yet there is no denying I was judging them as I read the book. But on reflection these judgments were rooted in my own neglected and abusive upbringing, and my anger as a young person forced to recognize the reality of my situation. I felt angry having to cut ties with my own family in order to survive and start my own life. Like her, I was ill equipped to do so, but it seemed to me as though I had no choice. I did not then, nor have I ever, felt good about any of this – I just did what I thought I had to do in order to survive.

I guess this is the power of a great book, it forces you to confront things in yourself that you otherwise wouldn’t.