Enduring the pandemic has gotten me rereading familiar books more than I’m reading new books. When the stay-home order began, I had the idea of rereading the first six volumes of the Outlander series (the ones I own), knowing that a long book full of adventures helps time pass more quickly. I did read the first book, and I may return to the series before this is all over. When I had to go to the emergency room, I brought The Lake House [reviewed here] because I remembered it was a good choice for my previous trip to the emergency room, and then of course I had to finish it!
Meanwhile, I’ve been supervising my children’s distance learning. Thinking about how school works now, and about how it may be different next fall, has been interesting. I guess it’s no coincidence that the one new-to-me book I’ve read in the past two months, and the one I reread for the first time in decades, both are about education.
Educated by Tara Westover
The Westover family lived in the mountains of Idaho, pursuing two lines of work: processing scrap metal and preparing herbal tinctures. They did not trust schools or medical care, treating even the most serious injuries and illnesses with herbs and ostensibly home-schooling their seven children. Tara, the youngest child, tells the story of what she did and didn’t learn at home–and what she learned by leaving.
Tara taught herself from library books enough to pass the ACT and be admitted to Brigham Young University. Even in that conservative, Mormon environment, she learned that major issues in American history had been completely concealed from her. She pursued her education at Harvard and Cambridge, transforming her mind and soul. In the process, she realized that some of her family’s treatment of her was abusive–but she still loved them, still wanted to feel “at home” with them in Idaho.
The tension between these two lifestyles is vividly evoked, and the Westovers’ particular philosophy is a little different from any other separatist/survivalist group I’ve encountered. This is a very American story on many different levels! It’s well written and very interesting. Imagine going away to college having never been taught to wash your hands after using the bathroom….
The Alfred G. Graebner Memorial High School Handbook of Rules and Regulations by Ellen Conford
This long-titled novel opens each chapter with an excerpt from the fictional high school’s handbook, and then the chapter shows how that rule plays out in the experiences of sophomore Julie and her friends in a typical American public high school of the mid-1970s.
I read this book over and over when I was a teenager in the late 1980s. Some of the details already seemed dated then, but the overall brick-in-the-wall feeling of school, the well-meant policies twisted into ridiculous restrictions that practically dare you to work out loopholes, and the craziness of being in a building full of adolescents all were familiar. It was fun to read this book again while I was very sick in bed. It also helped to give me some perspective on what my high-school kid is missing vs. what he’s free from during his time away from his school building!
This book has many extremely funny scenes, as Julie and friends struggle with the foibles of computerized scheduling, the eccentric standards of the school literary magazine, friend Isobel’s multiple religious conversions, a campaign for class president, and more.
And now I’ve just celebrated my birthday, which brought in some more new books to add more fiction to the stack I’m planning to read this year! Stay tuned for reviews of these:
- The Veiled One and No More Dying Then by Ruth Rendell
- Travels in the Scriptorium by Paul Auster
- The Trespasser by Tana French
- Pachinko by Min Jin Lee