Book Review: Educated: A Memoir by Tara Westover

Educated Tara Westover

Educated: A Memoir from Penguin Random House

Educated: A Memoir by Tara Westover is a book I initially didn’t want to pick up when it released earlier this year, as it didn’t sound like a book I’d be interested in.

I admit it: I was wrong! Although I regret not reading Educated earlier, I’m still glad that I had the opportunity to read it after purchasing it in an awesome independent bookstore perfectly titled “Books, Lines, and Thinkers” during my vacation in Rangeley, Maine.

Educated is the story of Tara Westover and her life growing up in the mountains of Idaho with a father who had her lugging metal for his junkyard, and a mother who was a self-taught herbalist and midwife. She was raised as a fundamentalist Mormon, and her family believed that even the Mormons they went to church with were sinful and weren’t going to be saved when the apocalypse came. As part of preparation for the apocalypse, they stocked up on food, water, and weapons and buried them on their property.

Her father was paranoid and against the federal government and public education, so Tara never went to school. She never had a birth certificate until she was older and asked her mother to help her get one, but she and her mother had conflicting dates on her DOB (although they both agreed that she was born toward the end of September). At one point when 16-year-old Tara got into an argument with her mother about school, her mother replied that she was 20 years old at this point. Her parents didn’t know the day she was born, let alone her age.

The hardest part about reading this book is that I had to keep reminding myself that this didn’t happen in the ’60s or ’70s—this all takes place in the ’90s through current times. But the way that Tara lived was so backwards you can’t help but keep thinking that her story took place much longer before the ’90s. While other kids were watching Nickelodeon and Disney movies or establishing grade-school friendships, Tara’s father was forcing her to jump into dumpsters full of sharp aluminum and tin (without a tetanus shot—because her father didn’t believe in doctors and medicine).

Throughout her crazy childhood, Tara slowly began dating and assimilating herself into modern society by taking part in school plays (until her father would eventually nix most of these plans), and she was eventually able to break away by getting accepted into Brigham Young University in Utah. She had a lot of trouble fitting in, whether it was because her roommates were disgusted by her lack of hygiene, or her own prejudices against other female college students and the way they dressed in class. At one point in a lecture, she raised her hand and asked for the professor to explain what the word “Holocaust” meant, and she is reprimanded for making a mean joke.

How someone can live in the world yet know so little about it is absolutely mind-boggling and unbelievable. Tara goes through so many problems that no child should go through—a physically abusive brother, parents that disown her for being “against the family,” not getting a proper education or medical treatment—but she is not asking for a pity party in Educated. She just wants to tell the story of her life, as far-fetched as we may think it is.

Educated is one of the best memoirs I’ve read, not only because it is a literal page turner and a book that you will not be able to put down from the moment you read the first page. It’s worth reading because there are other people who grew up like Tara who exist in the U.S. today, and don’t have proper access to education or medicine. It also puts a spotlight on mental illness (her father and brother) and depression (her own), along with how it can affect not just one’s self but their family and friends. My only issue with the book is that it feels that Tara wrote it too soon. Although the raw emotion is what makes it a great memoir, it does feel like she still has not come to terms with the abuse she suffered by the hands of her family members.

Book Review: The Man Who Caught the Storm by Brantley Hargrove

The Man Who Caught the Storm

The Man Who Caught the Storm by Brantley Hargrove, published by Simon & Schuster (April 2018).

Videos of tornadoes ripping through homes is one thing, but translating that power into the written word is a feat in itself–and in THE MAN WHO CAUGHT THE STORM: The Life of Legendary Tornado Chaser Tim Samaras, Brantley Hargrove is unbelievably good at capturing that raw emotion.

I never watched Storm Chasers, where Tim Samaras got his fame. I didn’t know he existed until I picked up Hargrove’s book. But I have always been interested in the weather and grew up watching Helen Hunt and Bill Paxton in Twister, so the idea of learning more about the actual career of tornado chasing–not the Hollywood version of it–sounded interesting.

And boy, is THE MAN WHO CAUGHT THE STORM interesting. Even if you aren’t curious about the weather, it’s worth reading a true story about passion and following your dreams. Except this is no ordinary passion, and certainly not an ordinary dream. Samaras was not focused on making money or becoming the next Bill Gates. His greatest desire was to figure out what really goes on inside of the belly of a tornado.

Samaras grew up outside of Denver, Colorado, and was always good with technology. As he got older he loved to park on a hill and watch the storms roll in. Eventually, he decided to start chasing tornadoes. Once he started getting more involved he realized that if meteorologists knew what was going on inside the tornado, maybe lives could be saved.  Somtimes, even with predictive safety measures in place, tornado sirens didn’t go off in a town until the tornado had already hit the ground. Samaras decided to build his own inventions that would measure the wind speed, barometric pressure, and eventually, film the action inside the funnel.

The problem was, Samaras had to get close to a tornado in order to deploy these tools. And as he did it more and more, he began to realize what a dangerous game it was to play. And yet, he was addicted to the thrill of getting so close to a tornado, and wedded to the idea that one day his concepts and documentation of events could save hundreds of lives.

Samaras’s story is elevated by Hargrove’s intelligent and crisp writing. Although he drops numerous scientific and technical terms, he’s never convoluted or makes the reader feel ignorant for not understanding a specific concept. He explains things quickly and easily, and continues his storytelling without a major break in the narrative. The way that Hargrove describes these weather forms is so vivid, it feels like you are watching a movie:

“Wedge tornado on the ground,” Tim says. “Oh, my God. It’s huge.”

“We gonna deploy on that thing?” asks Porter, his voice betraying more than a little trepidation.

“Damn right.”

They approach from the west down Highway 14, the main route between Huron and Manchester. The tornado is half a mile to the south of the road and moving steadily northeast, refracting sunlight like a prism. One moment the mile-wide funnel is the color of sand. The next, it is smoke, ash, sod. Tim slows up, pulling into the oncoming lane. His distance narrows to hundreds of yards, but the approach is all wrong. There is the intuitive trimming along the margins of safety, and then there is the bet whose odds are unknown. From here, Tim can’t discern the tornado’s heading or ground speed with any certainty. This isn’t the weakening Stratford twister. This is unlike anything he’s ever seen. The tornado before him is the giant of plains legend, the breed a chaser may see once in his life.

-From THE MAN WHO CAUGHT THE STORM

Hargrove sadly also has to tell the story we know already–Samaras’s tragic death “at the hands” of these great vortexes. For Hargrove to fill 250 pages of tornado action in a way that is exciting and unique in each chapter–while being aware that the reader knows what ultimately happens–is a challenge that he accomplishes, exceptionally.

THE MAN WHO CAUGHT THE STORM is a fantastic, superbly written biography of a man who literally lived and died by his passion, and in the process was instrumental to advancing meteorology as we know it today.

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