Tag Archives: tara westover

Reading List (2019)

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“I guess there are never enough books.” – John Steinbeck

I am happy to report that I read twenty-five books for the third year in a row in spite of a crazy cross-country move. I have every intention of keeping up this particular discipline as the 2020s roll in. Here are a few observations from 2019:

#1: Five of the books were authored by friends: I sure have talented friends.
#2: It feels like Reimagining the Student Experience: Formative Practices for Changing Times was written just for my new job.
#3: I’m still enamored with Jesmyn Ward but am embarrassed that it took me this long to read beautiful novels from literary giants like James Baldwin, James Joyce, and Toni Morrison.
#4: Educated by Tara Westover blew my mind
#5: All in all, The Children by David Halberstam was my Book of the Year.

Here is my overall list for 2019:

Novels (6 this year—6 in 2018, 3 in 2017)
* Sing, Unburied, Sing by Jesmyn Ward
* Bowling Avenue by Ann Shayne
* Your Killin’ Heart by Peggy O’Neal Peden
* Dubliners by James Joyce
* Sula by Toni Morrison
* Go Tell It on the Mountain by James Baldwin

Books written by friends (5 this year—1 in 2018, 6 in 2017)
* White Jesus: The Architecture of Racism in Religion and Education by Allison Ash; Christopher Collins; Tabatha Jones Jolivet; and Alexander Jun
* Kingdom Come by John Mark Hicks & Bobby Valentine
* Colonel Jonathan: An American Story by John Francis Wilson
* Ten Frames at the Galaxy Bowl by Kyle Dickerson
* Letterville: The Town That God Built by Aaron Sain

Theology/Church (4 this year—8 in 2018, 6 in 2017)
* Conversations with Will D. Campbell, edited by Tom Royals
* Homosexuality and the Christian by Mark A. Yarhouse
* (Re-read) Falling Upward by Richard Rohr
* (Re-read) Law and the Bible: Justice, Mercy, and Legal Institutions, edited by Robert F. Cochran, Jr. and David VanDrunen

Leadership/Politics/Sociology (3 this year—0 in 2018, 0 in 2017)
* Whistling Vivaldi by Claude M. Steele
* Dying of Whiteness: How the Politics of Racial Resentment is Killing America’s Heartland by Jonathan M. Metzl
* Dare to Lead by Brene Brown

Biography/Memoir (2 this year—3 in 2018, 5 in 2017)
* Educated by Tara Westover
* Cash: The Autobiography by Johnny Cash

Education (2 this year—0 in 2018, 0 in 2017)
* Roaring Lambs: A Gentle Plan to Radically Change Your World by Bob Briner
* Reimagining the Student Experience: Formative Practices for Changing Times, edited by Brian Jensen and Sarah Visser

History (2 this year—1 in 2018, 1 in 2017)
* How Nashville Became Music City U.S.A.: 50 Years of Music Row by Michael Kosser
* The Children by David Halberstam

Poetry/Essays (1 this year—1 in 2018, 1 in 2017)
* The Farm by Wendell Berry

Sports (0 this year—3 in 2018, 3 in 2017)
Writing (0 this year—1 in 2018, 0 in 2017)
Crime (0 this year—1 in 2018, 0 in 2017)

Educated

tara-westover-educatedI love reading books but hate writing book reviews and yet I must take the time to recommend Educated by Tara Westover. Not since reading Angela’s Ashes years ago has a memoir so affected me. Read the ridiculous list of accolades to discover that I am not alone.

The story is almost too much to believe, much less summarize. Tara grew up in the Idaho mountains with survivalist parents and six older siblings. Her mentally unstable father was the unmistakable (and very religious) family leader who operated a junkyard and prepared his family for the end of the world by stockpiling food, fuel, and weapons. He distrusted all things government as well as the medical establishment so, shielded by their isolation, none of the children attended school or visited doctors. With time and forced practice, Tara’s mother became well known as a midwife and healer. Miraculously, with not even a semi-serious attempt at home schooling, Tara got into college at Brigham Young University—and to shortcut the full mind-blowing story, now has a Ph.D. from Cambridge. But it is the full story, and in fact, the journey itself, that produced words in the promotional blurbs like remarkable, breathtaking, heart-wrenching, inspirational, brave, and naked.

I dislike clichés like “it’s a must read.” So I will quote what Bill Gates said about the book instead: “It’s even better than you’ve heard.”

What I am struggling with now is what to do with this powerful story. It has thrown me for a loop, and in my disoriented state I am trying to recover some measure of equilibrium to see what it has done to me.

My life in no way resembles Tara’s life. I can’t even imagine. And yet we read ourselves into every book—or at least I do—and I suspect that part of its power is my identification with growing up in a rather self-contained world and later moving to radically different worlds and trying to make sense of it all. I, too, love my roots and yet have been “educated” by a journey that I never even imagined. Further, I continue to work in the heart of an institution of higher education and see this sort of thing play out day after day. As the book review in The New York Times concluded back in March 2018, “She [Tara] is but yet another young person who left home for an education, now views the family she left across an uncomprehending ideological canyon, and isn’t going back.”

Tara shares mixed feelings, and I get it. Not only does she value education, she values her education. Read the story: Not only did it probably save her physical life, but it also saved her—her very self. But the sacrifice was great — and painful.

I check the box for “Christian” on surveys, but the word the Bible uses for self-description instead is “disciple,” a word that means “student.” Jesus made it quite clear that the call to discipleship requires sacrifice, possibly sacrificing your very family. Jesus didn’t even pretend this would be easy. But he said it was good. And ultimately worth it.

Maybe that’s what Tara’s story is doing to me. Thankfully, I never had to give up family on my particular journey, but maybe her story serves as a dramatic illustration for Bonhoeffer’s “Cost of Discipleship.” An education can cost you everything. At times that may very well be worth the price.