I read five books in May (three were audiobooks), which brings my 2018 total to 34. My reading numbers are slipping! I started a new job a few months ago and it actually keeps me busy, so I don’t read e-books on my phone all the time like I used to. (This is actually a great turn of events because I really enjoy being busy and having something productive to do all day.)
I rank my books with these categories: Highly Recommended, Recommended, Okay, and Not Recommended.
1) Educated: A Memoir, Tara Westover
Description: This is the story of a young girl who, kept out of school by her survivalist family, goes on to earn a PhD from Cambridge University. It is a tale of fierce family loyalty, and of the grief that comes with severing the closest of ties. With acute insight, Westover has crafted a universal coming-of-age story 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.
This is one of those “you have to read it to believe it” books. I started making notes on all the craziness, but there was too much to keep track of. One example: Tara’s father was so against doctors and hospitals, when he crashed a car (with the entire family in it) during a snow storm, despite serious injuries he took everyone home. Tara’s mother’s injury was the worst — a traumatic brain injury, and afterward she suffered from memory loss and horrific migraines.
Tara had no formal education growing up (and very little informal education, unless you count working in her father’s business and around the home — she was actively discouraged from learning information from books) until she entered college at BYU (having self-taught herself enough to pass the ACT). Once she got there though, she realized she had no clue how to study and had never written an essay in her life.
I liked her description of discovering feminism in college. She started with Mary Wollstonecraft and John Stuart Mill, “developing, for the first time, a vocabulary for the uneasiness I’d felt since childhood.” She’d always wanted to be afforded the same options and opportunities that her brothers had access to.
It’s certainly a testament to Tara’s strength and will that she rose above her upbringing to achieve what she did.
2) Dispatches from Pluto: Lost and Found in the Mississippi Delta, Richard Grant
Description: Grant and his girlfriend were living in a shoebox apartment in New York City when they decided on a whim to buy an old plantation house in the Mississippi Delta. They learn to hunt, grow their own food, and fend off alligators, snakes, and varmints galore. Reporting from all angles as only an outsider can, Grant also delves deeply into the Delta’s lingering racial tensions. Yet even as he observes major structural problems, he encounters many close, loving, and interdependent relationships between black and white families — and good reasons for hope.
I love to read about people uprooting their lives, and this fits the bill — Richard and his girlfriend left a tiny NYC apartment to buy a large house in the remote Mississippi delta. The description of the puny amount of furniture in their newly cavernous home was amusing, although I did have thoughts of “You brought this on yourself” when he talked about their gigantic heating bills and having to limit the heat to one or two rooms because that’s all they could afford.
Richard learns to hunt, battles all kinds of bugs and reptiles, and most importantly, investigates segregation in the deep south and how, in many cases, it’s still alive and well.
On why he wrote the book, Richard said: “Mississippi is the best-kept secret in America. Nowhere else is so poorly understood by outsiders, so unfairly maligned, so surreal and peculiar, so charming and maddening.”
3) Look Alive Out There: Essays, Sloane Crosley
Description: Whether it’s scaling active volcanoes, crashing shivas, playing herself on Gossip Girl, befriending swingers, or staring down the barrel of the fertility gun, Crosley continues to rise to the occasion with unmatchable nerve and electric one-liners. As her subjects become more serious, her essays deliver not just laughs but lasting emotional heft and insight.
I read and enjoyed Sloane’s previous two memoirs, and this one doesn’t disappoint. There are several essays I didn’t enjoy as much, but those were on the shorter side. Even though I never considered freezing my eggs (nor am I interested now), I felt her essay on that experience was particularly interesting.
4) I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, Maya Angelou
Description: Sent to live with their grandmother in a small Southern town, Maya and her brother, Bailey, endure the ache of abandonment and prejudice. At eight years old and back at her mother’s side in St. Louis, Maya is attacked by a man many times her age and has to live with the consequences for a lifetime. Years later, in San Francisco, Maya learns that love for herself, the kindness of others, her own strong spirit, and the ideas of great authors, will allow her to be free instead of imprisoned.
I’m not sure if I’d read this before. If so, it was long enough ago that I didn’t remember it. I listened to it on audio, which Angelou narrates, so that’s a nice touch. It wouldn’t have been the same otherwise, since her voice is so distinctive.
I recommend this because it’s a classic, but there was a bit too much…childhood…for my liking. I know, I probably talk too much about preferring to read books about adults. That’s what I was thinking while listening to the book, though.
5) I’m Just a Person, Tig Notaro
Description: In the span of four months in 2012, Tig Notaro was hospitalized for an intestinal disease called C. diff, her mother unexpectedly died, she went through a breakup, and then she was diagnosed with bilateral breast cancer. Hit with this devastating barrage, Tig took her grief onstage, breaking new comedic ground. Now Tig takes stock of that no good, very bad year—a difficult yet astonishing period in which tragedy turned into absurdity and despair transformed into joy.
I didn’t know anything about Tig before reading this book. When I looked at reviews on Goodreads, other readers suggested this lack of knowledge was a good thing, as the book largely follows what she’s talked about in her comedy specials. It was all new to me though, so it was…fine.