Sunday, January 6, 2019

Book Review: Educated: A Memoir by Tara Westover

,Dear Lit Loves,

Greetings!  Wow!  Somebody Ring The Liberty Bell and fellow readers if you were here we should all bust a move doing an imitation of dance to the song, "Thriller" because  I just read Educated:  A Memoir by Tara Westover and I am here to say this book is as good if not better than the much-acclaimed memoir titled The Glass Castle!  That's right.  You heard it here first.  Educated:  A Memoir by Tara Westover was published by Random House and the literary agents representing Tara Westover are Anna Stein and Karolina Sutton.  This is a MUST READ book and it also won Goodreads Memoir of the Year!

Tara Westover was raised on a mountain in Idaho by survivalist parents.   Her father owned a junkyard where he felt his children should work as opposed to attend school as he does not trust "book knowledge" or "any form of government".  Tara's mom at one point is a self-taught midwife, but eventually she becomes a medicinal zealot who does not trust doctors or the medical establishment; instead, she uses her herbs and oils to concoct tinctures to heal all sorts of ailments.  Tara and her siblings know there is something not quite right with their father, but do not know exactly what to label it.  He regularly holds home meetings where he preaches his interpretation of his bible.  He quite often places his own children in precarious and downright dangerous circumstances as they work for him either constructing barns or breaking down metal scraps from his large junkyard heap.  This leads to several of his children getting burned, scarred, and worse.  Tara's paternal grandparents live down the hill from the family home.  They have a second residence in Arizona where they relocate each winter.  When Tara's family goes to visit them in Arizona on one occasion, her father insists on driving home to Idaho in a severe winter storm.  Sometimes he forces his underage children to drive in precarious weather.  At one point, the family van is upside down in a ditch with power lines draped across the van.  Tara's mom was never quite the same after this accident as she did not receive proper medical help and suffered major injuries. 

Eventually, Tara begins to acquire money from not just her junkyard work, but bagging groceries at the grocery store as well as babysitting.  She buys textbooks like her brother to essentially teach herself enough in order to achieve a passing score on the ACT and then leaves for BYU.  While at BYU, she realizes how different she is from her fellow roommates and classmates.  She recognizes that some of what her father and mother told her about American history is not as they portrayed it.  And some movements in history such as the civil rights movement, women's suffrage, etc., she does not know anything about as she has never heard of them.  Eventually, a professor encourages her to visit Cambridge and she does.  She applies for admission upon her graduation from BYU and though she is initially not accepted; her professor pleads her case for her and she does get the opportunity to study at Cambridge.  She earns her Master's in Philosopy from Cambridge and spends a year writing the first chapter of her dissertation at Harvard.  In the midst of this, she returns home to a brother who threatens her, a mother who does not protect her, and a sister who was also abused by the same brother, but the father threatens to disown the sister if she keeps bringing up the violence enacted by the brother.  Eventually,Tara's sister agrees that her father is right.  She and Tara must have gotten mixed up about what happened.  Tara's sister does not want to be disowned by her family so she agrees with them that Tara is evil and just trying to stir up trouble for the family.    When Tara's parents come to Harvard to "save" her from the evil of socialist intellectualism, Tara must decide for herself if she wants to commit to her way of life and beliefs and renounce her parents' beliefs and values while subsequently facing the prospect of being disowned by her family.  It is enough to send her into a nervous breakdown which she must overcome if she is to finish her research and dissertation to obtain her Doctorate's degree from Cambridge. 

This book touched on so many themes for me such as parental abuse and neglect.  Obviously, the father was a control-freak and fanatic anti-government rebel who did not send his kids to school nor did he seek professional medical care for his own children when they suffered numerous serious injuries.  The mother believes the same as the father and will not stand up to him.  She believes she has the healing tinctures and salves and herbs to cure whatever ailment may befall the children.  As a reader, I kept thinking to myself, does anyone in the extended family or anyone in the community not realize that there is something inherently wrong within this family?  Why does no one report what is observed regarding this family?  Does anyone of the outside looking in not have an inkling that something is very wrong with this set of parents and the kind of life they are forcing upon their children?  Does anyone suspect one or both of the parents may have mental illness??

There is also the reality of sibling love and admiration, but also sibling volatility that the parents refuse to acknowledge.  One incident occurs in a grocery store parking lot and violence is quite evident, but no one calls the police or reports what they have witnessed.  No one bothers to help Tara as she is being hurt and tortured.  It is troubling to me to think of a scenario like the ones described in this book.  And eventually the siblings who did obtain a collegiate education keep in touch with Tara, but the ones that did stay loyal to the family regard Tara as evil and refuse to acknowledge or keep in touch with her.

Next, there is the question of a young girl and female adult having to choose between getting an education which her father and mother abhor or remaining loyal to the family by denying herself a broader view of the world via a higher level of education.  What kind of courage must it have taken for this young woman to stand up to a condescending, fanatical father and a mother who complies with the father's beliefs and actions? 

And what about the professors and educators at college who upon learning of Tara's history and background choose to extend a hand to help lift her above her circumstances to give her an opportunity for a better life than what she has experienced as a child?  I applaud them for the instinct and endeavors to assist her as opposed to just think of her as another student among many. 

 And I applaud Tara for her ultimate decision to transform herself and her life along with her beliefs and values knowing what it would ultimately cost her.  She chose to transform herself and her life even though it cost her connections with her father, mother, and four siblings who choose to adhere to the parents' way of life, customs, beliefs, and values.  It made me wonder how many of us could survive and do what Tara did?  How many of us have that kind of perseverance and tenacity?  And would it not be admirable if more people had the kind of courage Tara exhibits?  Would our world not be a better place??

Once again this book is a must-read.  I highly recommend it for book clubs and I know it would be required reading if I were still teaching today just because it takes a look at real life in all its rawness and ugliness but equally its possibilities and complexities. 

Till my next review or update,


Monday, November 26, 2018

Review: Fight Like A Girl: The Truth Behind How Female Marines Are Trained by Kate Germano with co-author Kelly Kennedy

 Dear Lit Loves,

Oh wow, changes are afoot in all of the publishing industry.  More small independent publishers are being consumed or bought by larger traditional and independent publishers.  More small, independent publishers are closing their submissions to authors with literary agents.  (Bad Idea)  And many traditional publishers are consolidating imprints and relying on the "same old, same old" by which I mean, the authors who have continually brought them big sales in the past, memoirs "written" by celebrities, and memoirs written by so-called social media stars.  What does this mean?  It means, my good friends, that more underrepresented and struggling female debut memoir writers like myself are being shut out of publishing opportunities completely.  And frankly, I say, "Resist.  Persist.  And Keep On Insisting That Your Voice Be Heard!".

It was actually perfect timing that I began reading the memoir titled Fight Like A Girl:  The Truth Behind How Female Marines Are Trained by Kate Germano along with coauthor, Kelly Kennedy.  This book was published by Prometheus Books in 2018 according to my copy of the book.  Kate Germano is represented by literary agent, John Silbersack of Trident Media Group.

This book essentially informed me about gender bias and unequal training as well as harassment and abuse of female Marines inside our U.S. Marine Corps.  As a young girl, Kate Germano, never thought anyone expected less of her because she was a girl. Her father was in the military so they did move around some as a family; however, after the family was sent to Germany for three years, Kate's mom decided she was not satisfied with just being a wife and mom so she and the kids moved back to Maryland.  Kate's mom worked retail and slowly moved up the ladder of command.  Her mom had a fierce independent streak so it was not surprising that Kate would also inherit this trait as well.  When Kate is a sophomore in college, she attends a graduation at the Naval Academy and that is where her dream to join the military and rise up through its ranks ignited.  She applies to the Naval Academy, but unfortunately, the recruiter informs her that her SAT math scores do not meet the Naval Academy standards.  The Navy recruiter actually told Kate that she was not smart enough for the Navy nor would she ever be selected as an officer.  At this point, she has a decision to make:  quit or accept the challenge.

And then with much hard work Kate finds herself training at Marine TBS or The Basics School.  She came up against challenges in land navigation and rifle shooting.  Here is the kicker:  no one bothers to show female Marines that the majority of the male patriarchy making up our Marine Corps expects female Marines to fail.  It's the concept of well, a woman won't be able to carry a two hundred pound male Marine off a battlefield, female Marines have short arms and always shoot less accurately than male Marines, or there is no way a female Marine can keep up with a male Marine in training so lets just go ahead and put them in the back when we all line up for formation, marching, hiking, or running.  It took Kate longer once she realized the chauvinistic mentality present in the U.S. Marine Corps, but she prevailed. We determined, dedicated, and competitive ones generally do because what people do not understand is that it is in our blood.  It is what keeps us hauling ourselves up back on the horse when we get bucked. 

By the end of Marine TBS or The Basics School Kate could choose to become a military policeman or an adjutant (human resource officer).  Kate's captain at The Basics School points her in the direction of doing administrative tasks for the unit.  The notion that women are better at typing and filing than shooting prevailed and is obviously quite pervasive throughout the Marine Corps. God Forbid if 100 percent of men ever truly believed we women can have your back fiercely when backed into a foxhole with you.  Hell, I'd rather be the one leading the fight and another proud, fierce, and competant woman having my back personally, but presently that is not the way the ball bounces, but in due time, things change.  In 2004 Kate deployed to Iraq with the 31st Marine Expeditionary Unit during the second battle for Fallujah.  Her task here was administrative:  she kept lists of deaths and casualties to ensure messages to the families of the fallen soldiers were sent correctly.   Then her unit was tasked with security for the first elections in Iraq.  Fortunately by this point in the war, the head honchos realized they were losing many personnel due to Humvees not being able to withstand attacks where the vehicles were hit by improvised explosive devices so the captains ordered all military vehicles to be up-armored to withstand IED attacks.    Though Kate was not directly involved in Marine military combat this experience improved her confidence level and reinforced the harsh realities of war.

Kate next experiences being an operations commander for a recruiting division.  Who knew recruiters could be making their quotas each month, bringing in big recruiting numbers, but also giving new recruits waivers if they did not meet Marine criteria?!  And also, many recruiters were not ensuring new recruits were training with them weekly so they could pass initial strength tests in order to be eligible to quite possibly succeed through boot camp?!  Kate steps in, resets the philosophy and upholds the original recruiting standards so there are lower attrition rates (Marine recruits who drop out of or are unable to withstand basic training or boot camp.  And then the Marine recruiters not only have to meet their monthly "bones" quota, but also add to that count the number of recruits who dropped out of or failed boot camp.) 

Finally, Kate arrives as Lieutenant Colonel of the female 4th Battalion at Parris Island, South Carolina.  Once she arrives, chaos is already in full-swing and prevalent within the varying groups she oversees in the form of hazing, harassment, backstabbing, and very little being done to hold recruits and drill instructors accountable for their inappropriate and inexcusable behavior not to mention slackness.  And to beat it all, the new recruits were barely getting by in terms of their requirements for strength ability, hiking, preparing hiking packs, learning to shoot and clean a rifle, and running requirements.  Kate is determined to make an impact; a very sizeable positive impact and she utilizes data to support her efforts for change.  Unfortunately, she has a boss who does not feel women belong in the military and most definitely has it in for Kate as a potential leader in the Marines.  Her boss does little mentoring, gives almost no advice or direction, but yet insists all complaints about Kate be brought to him in my opinion so he can amass a whole binder of reasons Kate should not be a leader in the Marines.  It is a downright hostile and demeaning work environment especially when you have higher ups in the chain of command deliberately working to ruin you as a woman, human being, leader, and fellow Marine.

I am not giving away the ending to this book, but if you are a woman who believes in herself and her abilities, tries to do the right thing the right way, works hard to only get paid less or has ever experienced demeaning, abhorrent behavior from your superiors at work, family at home or acquaintances in life, I would highly recommend doing what Kate Germano did:  let your voice be heard and keep resisting, persisting, and insisting upon your rights to fair and equal treatment under the law, proper representation among leadership in any career you so choose, and finally, never let the bastards get you down.  As my Falcons' motto says:  RISE UP!  This should be the calling for a whole new day, year, and future for women!  GET WOKE, PEOPLE!

Quite obviously, I highly recommend this book.  And I would like to thank both Kate Germano and coauthor, Kelly Kennedy for accepting this fragile, struggling writer's invitation to connect on LinkedIn.  Ladies, YOU ROCK! 

My next read is Educated:  A Memoir by Tara Westover.  Till my next post or review...all my best!


Tuesday, October 30, 2018

Review: A Stitch Of Time: The Year A Brain Injury Changed My Language And Life by Lauren Marks

Dear Lit Loves,

Initially, a young woman named Lauren who is in the first year of a doctoral program in theater joins two friends, one of whom has written and stars in a play, on a trip to a theater festival in Edinburgh.  The author leaves her home in New York to travel to Paris to visit a former professor and then join her two friends for the festival and play in Edinburgh.  The three friends retreat to Priscilla's bar to relax and one friend signs both Lauren (the author) and Laura (the friend who wrote the play) to participate in a karaoke contest.  Lauren and Laura step onstage and begin to sing "Total Eclipse of the Heart" when suddenly Lauren drops to the floor and falls off stage.  She is rushed to a hospital in Edinburgh where it is determined she has experienced a brain aneurysm whereby an artery wall in the brain weakens and ruptures causing internal bleeding.  A surgeon and other doctors rush her to surgery and place coils inside the area of the aneurysm to stop the bleeding.  This is a quite dangerous surgery resulting in its own serious side effects.

Once Lauren awakes after surgery she first notices a profound quiet.  People are speaking to her and about her, but she does not really understand much of what they are saying.  She picks up a magazine and realizes it is difficult to focus and recognize words.  This is when we learn Lauren is suffering Aphasia which is the impairment of language.  Aphasia affects a person's ability to produce or comprehend speech and quite often also affects the patient's ability to read or write.  Naturally, the two friends who accompanied her on the trip to Edinburgh are at the hospital with her and realize that something is most definitely not right with Lauren's speech, recognition skills, and comprehension ability.  Her parents soon arrive from California and remain with her for weeks as she works to heal not just from surgery, but also recapture her language and comprehension skills with a speech pathologist at the hospital. Eventually, her boyfriend who is on a wilderness trip in Alaska appears in Edinburgh and she does not know what to make of him or their relationship.  She also has difficulty intuiting what others might feel or think from their words or body language when she attempts to discern how her mother feels about Jonah, her boyfriend.

Eventually, the reader sees Lauren and her mom return to New York to retrieve some of her personal items and then Lauren goes to live with her parents in Los Angeles.  She begins by going to see a speech pathologist to help with her word recall, writing, and reading skills.  Being at home with her parents and her grandmother who lives in a house behind them proves somewhat overwhelming especially when her younger brother, Mike, returns home to celebrate his twenty-first birthday.  The abundant activity inside the house makes her yearn for the first days in the hospital when it was just quiet in her mind with no real way of expressing herself or understanding others remarks to her. 

Eventually, she begins to recall a few words.  Then she attempts writing those words and then reading them.  It is a tedious but rewarding process she builds upon by writing in her journal and via conversations and interactions with others.  She slowly but surely builds her vocabulary as well as writing capacity to be able to read an entire book.  Still, she often has trouble with idioms like "Don't burn your bridges".  The reader additionally sees her work to evaluate the previous status of her relationships with others.  Was Jonah a good boyfriend?  Were they in a relationship of content?  Why does it feel like her brother is interacting awkwardly with her?  In essence, she also has to learn to "read" people once again.

Upon Lauren discovering that her father has been sending emails to her friends, acquaintances, and family about her progress following the aneurysm, the reader sees that Lauren does NOT want her father speaking for her so she has him cease writing and sending email updates.  This indicates her previous status as quite an independent woman.  Later we learn that she had an apartment, life, and friends in New York and rarely interacted or visited with her family in California.  She had been enrolled in a doctoral program that came with a teaching fellowship.  When her mother begins to inquire about disability benefits for Lauren, Lauren learns a friend in New York had signed her up for unemployment benefits without her knowledge.  Lauren then receives a bill from the state of New York along with a letter saying she has defrauded the state of New York.  She gives this information to her mother who takes care of the issues. 

Six months following the initial aneurysm surgery in Edinburgh, Lauren goes to a hospital to have an angiogram completed to ascertain how well her brain is recovering.  It is here where she learns that the brain artery that ruptured is widening once again and the coils that were utilized initially to stop the bleeding are refilling with blood and will not completely keep her from experiencing another aneurysm once again.  The neurosurgeon during this visit recommends clamping the artery closed to prevent any further rupturing of the brain artery.  Lauren's parents accompany her for this visit and then insist they will get a second opinion from another neurosurgeon at another hospital.  That second neurosurgeon keeps the family waiting for over four hours and when he does make an appearance, he is brusque with a distracted attitude.  He tells Lauren obviously she needs another surgery to prevent another aneurysm and she should just go and book the surgery with his scheduler.    This experience leaves Lauren conflicted about which neurosurgeon to choose from at two premiere medical hospitals. 

Interestingly, once she selects the surgeon to perform the next craniotomy, her surgery goes well but with some complications.  The neurosurgeon and his team not only had to clamp the injured brain artery but additionally utilize cotton balls and superglue because the artery had widened to the point where a clamp was not large enough to keep the artery closed.  We then learn that although Lauren was afraid of this surgery due to the risky nature of it, she does not lose the gains in language and comprehension she worked so hard to regain after the first surgery.

Eventually, Lauren returns to New York and realizes Jonah is not exactly truly ready to take care of her even though he insists he is.  She learns he was not always true to her when they were dating.  And she sees that the people subletting her apartment have essentially trashed it and it no longer feels like "home".  Also, she does not believe she can return to the pace of the doctoral program in which she was once involved so she and a friend box up her belongings from the apartment and ship them to her parents' residence in California.  She will leave her life that she once had in New York and go to reside with her parents in California. 

Ultimately, we see a young woman stricken with a critical medical issue most people encounter when they are much older.  We see her slowly scratch, claw, and push her way to regain much of the language and comprehension abilities she essentially lost following the aneurysm in Edinburgh.   What I liked most about what Lauren learns via this rare and ongoing medical issue is that the people who often say, "All is as it should be" or "Everything happens for a reason" to individuals who suffer a medical setback such as an aneurysm and aphasia are quite often the ones who have been spared from any form of unexpected, dire suffering.  And Lauren realizes that language became both her injury following the aneurysm as well as the treatment to recover from that injury to her brain.

I absolutely love the ending of this book, but will not give it away in this review.  I highly recommend this book as a fellow memoir writer and person who has been dealt her own fair share of unexpected and critical medical diagnoses.