Showing posts with label non-fiction. Show all posts
Showing posts with label non-fiction. Show all posts

Thursday, 11 March 2021

Too many books, not enough time

The Art of Fiction: Illustrated from Classic and Modern Texts There are things that happened to you when you were a teenager, things you had no control over at the time, things that changed the course of your life. For example, that time when the headmaster told you your choice of A-Levels didn't fit with his timetable, so you had to choose different subjects. You made the most of it of course, changed your expectations, reassessed your career options, and achieved success nonetheless.

Years later you find the time to do that thing you wanted to do aged sixteen and you discover David Lodge's book, The Art of Fiction

Friday, 2 October 2020

Parson Peters - a life of dishonesty

The Professor and the Parson: A Story of Desire, Deceit and Defrocking The word parson, like matron, brings to mind saucy Carry On films and salacious newspaper headlines. So it was with plenty of nudge-nudging and wink-winking that I settled on the sofa to read Adam Sisman's The Professor and the Parson: A Story of Desire, Deceit and Defrocking.

The Parson of the title is Robert Peters, and the book follows his career as he repeatedly tries to take up positions at academic and religious institutions around the world, using forged documents and bogus qualifications.

Thursday, 24 September 2020

Period Piece: charmingly fearful of the lower classes

Period Piece: A Cambridge Childhood It's been difficult keeping Book Club going since March. Some members returned to their native land for lockdown, and most of our group are technologically challenged so Zoom is out. You can't imagine the relief when the rules eased and Sian invited the remaining four of us round to hers to discuss her book choice, Gwen Ravarat's Period Piece: A Cambridge Childhood. Much as I love The Dog, I was euphoric with the prospect of finally seeing someone other than my partner and somewhere other than the walls of our apartment.

There was me, Sian, Bernard, Marco, and Susan, white bread smeared with salted butter and topped with smoked salmon, and a glass of white wine, which always helps lubricate the discussion.

So what about the book?

Monday, 27 July 2020

The culmination of a lifetime of struggle

A Cure For Gravity: A Musical Pilgrimage It was going so well. In the Prologue to A Cure for Gravity Joe Jackson describes an eventful 1975 gig in Basingstoke. He follows up with musings on where his love of music came from, his first musical memories (The Runaway Train, and Exodus), his working class upbringing in Portsmouth and first attempts at gigging. And then, aged sixteen, he has to choose what to study for his A-Levels. It was an important decision, because what you chose to study in 1970s England could limit your further education choices and consequently what sort of job or career you ended up in. I should know. My own plans had to change for the sake of the headmaster's timetable. I discussed my future options with Mum, as did Joe Jackson, whose mother suggested he become a librarian. His reply? "A librarian! I might as well be buried alive."

Aaargh! Yet another writer relying on an over-used, sloppy trope. Here's an educated man who talks about the problems of musical labels such as "classical", yet is happy to classify a diverse group of people by their choice of career. It's surprising, since as a child, the "little branch library" was his "favorite place in the world", and he "didn't buy books" because he could borrow them from a library. As a poor student he manages to get hold of the score for Beethoven's Ninth from - you guessed it - the library. How did all that stuff get onto the shelves? How was it possible for a working-class lad to educate himself if he had a passion but no cash? It was because of a librarian! They come in all shapes and sizes, just like the musicians and music lovers that Jackson artfully portrays in his memoir.

There, I've got that off my chest, so what about the rest of the book? A Cure for Gravity only takes us as far as Joe Jackson aged 24, when he achieved success with his first album, Look Sharp!. I've been a fan since a friend introduced me to his album Beat Crazy. His writing style is engaging and he has some cracking descriptions, such as "Beethoven .... is like one of those inspired chefs who can just throw a tomato and an onion and a couple of herbs into a pan and somehow manage to produce, in a few minutes, something both original and utterly delicious. Brahms, by comparison, is the musical equivalent of jam-sweetened porridge." I enjoyed the book as much as I did Tracey Thorne's Bedsit Disco Queen and Mark Ellen's Rock Stars Stole My Life!. It brought back memories of my own brush with the music industry in the late 1980s; svengali managers, mad drummers, goth bands who were nice as pie, and smart young men who were rude, ungrateful and arrogant.

The book was published in 1999, before Simon Cowell decided that anyone with the right attitude could make it in the music industry. Jackson has experienced working as an independent musician in addition to as part of a promoted, industry-backed act, in the guise of Koffee 'n' Kreme, who came to fame on New Faces, a 70s precursor to The X Factor. His success came with the good fortune never to owe his record company money, which guaranteed that he could do pretty much whatever he liked. But that was the "culmination of a lifetime of struggle." His story is not about becoming a pop star, nor is it about fame. It's a warts and all exposé of the hard work that goes into making music and making money from it. Jackson concedes that there was a bit of luck in how he eventually "made it", but his book stresses the other elements of success: education, intelligence and hard work.

In the last chapter, Jackson muses on the future of music in a world where our cultural agenda is being shaped by "the bottom lines of big corporations who want to sell us stuff, and preferably stuff that’s easy to sell." He says, "if we want music to survive, we must teach kids to appreciate it." And so I'd like to end my review with a quote about learning, by one of the musicians that Joe Jackson admires. Frank Zappa said, "if you want to get laid, go to college. If you want an education, go to the library."



More stuff

Sunday, 21 June 2020

The decline of Bolton

The Town That Vanished Ian Robinson's The Town that Vanished uses the Mass Observation Worktown investigation of the late 1930s "as a frame of reference for exploring why industrial towns like Bolton disappeared." It is a descriptive study rather than an academic attempt to answer a research question. The author's intention is also to "introduce the Worktown project to people who have little or no knowledge of it", primarily Boltonions.

Each chapter covers a different aspect of working class life, with the most enjoyable and informative being The Bolton Odeon, Burnden Park, and King Cotton.

Robinson's narrative is to some extent driven by personal background and family lore, rather than objectivity, which is not a criticism, especially as the original Worktown investigation was also biased. The Oxbridge, public school educated Tom Harrison and his Observers had little if any knowledge of the northern industrial working class. In the chapter about Blackpool we learn that one researcher turned up "to peer at the working class in his Bentley motor car", others "were often appalled by what they saw as the grotesque, tacky commercialism", and Harrisson himself "expected to see copulation everywhere [but only found] petting and feeling".

One glaring omission is a chapter on religion, which is surprising since the book was inspired by the life of his mother, who "as a child ... was a Rose Queen". Perhaps Robinson had intended to cover the subject, as some of the chapters mention the importance of churches in their first paragraphs. The subject is as important to explain the female working class experience as the pub and the football are for that of the male.

In spite of this, it's an enjoyable trip down memory lane for those whose parents were born in Bolton around the time the Mass Observation took place.

Saturday, 23 May 2020

How were the Nazis possible?

Defying Hitler: A Memoir "What is history, and where does it take place?" Sebastian Haffner's book isn't concerned with the type of history we learn at school. Great leaders take small roles in the narrative because "decisions that influence the course of history arise out of the individual experiences of thousands or millions of individuals." Defying Hitler is the memoir of one such individual and "offers direct answers to two questions [-] 'How were the Nazis possible?’ and ‘Why didn’t you stop them?’"

As a child Haffner was less concerned with the lack of food than with the daily war bulletins. Like many young people he thought little about politics and was nearing the end of his studies when the Nazis seized power. Before the young Haffner had time to think, it was already too late to act. He resorted to small acts of rebellion, such as hiding in doorways when the SA marched past so that he wouldn't have to give the Nazi salute.

There is no single, simple answer to the questions posed, and this memoir sees events from the point of view of a well-educated, middle class male. Who knows what the working class or female position was? Regardless, after reading Defying Hitler one has a better understanding of how individual Germans suddenly found themselves in a situation where their lives were completely controlled by the State. Nonetheless, we've recently seen one democratically elected government attempting to push through legislation without parliamentary oversight, and another democratic parliament granting a Prime Minister the ability to rule by decree. Reading a book won't change the course of history, but it might help us avoid making the same mistakes in the 2020s as the Germans did in the 1920s.

Monday, 4 May 2020

Who knows what will work?

Adventures in the Screen Trade Before you think of getting into the movie business, do yourself a favour and read William Goldman's Adventures in the Screen Trade. Although it was written in the early 1980s, it rings true about what is generally known about the industry today.

It's split into three parts. The first part describes the industry in terms of its key players and elements. Stars "live in a world in which no one disagrees with them, agents "are not noted for human kindness, but above all, "not one person in the entire motion picture field knows for a certainty what's going to work". Part two explains the process of making a movie using examples from Goldman's own career. Some of his notable films include Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, Marathon Man, and A Bridge Too Far. The final, third part takes the reader through the process of creating a screenplay from a short story, and includes five interviews, including with a cinematographer and a composer, who explain how they would help turn it into a finished product.

The writing style is conversational, with lots of Americanisms. Women are few and far between in this exposé; a few stars, the writer wife of one of the journalists involved in All the President's Men, and an editor. By the end of the book you'll understand how the whole Harvey Weinstein scandal could have come about.


Friday, 17 April 2020

Deprivation of liberty is punishment all by itself

A Bit of a Stretch: The Diaries of a Prisoner Incompetent, inadequate, spiteful, indifferent - these are just a few of the words that come to mind when considering the management of UK prisons as described in Chris Atkins's journal, A Bit of a Stretch: The Diaries of a Prisoner.

As the title explains, the book is an account of the author's experience in prison after being convicted of tax fraud. It's limited to the first 9 months of his sentence, which he spends in HMP Wandsworth. Urged on by some of his friends, he recorded his experience with the hope that his "unvarnished account will provide a strong argument for urgent prison reform".

The book is full of absurdities and on starting to read you're buoyed by the dark humour that Prisoner A8892DT finds in his ordeal. Who knew, for instance, that "the 75p tuna in brine has long been the basic unit of prison currency"? As time progresses tho' the number of catch-22 situations increases and there's a feeling that Atkins and his fellow prisoners are walking on quicksand and with each step the deeper they sink.

Most shocking is the issue of prisoner mental health, unsurprising since a lack of staff leads to inmates often being locked up in their cells for 23 hours a day. Some prisoners, like Atkins, are trained by the Samaritans to be Listeners, talking down others from self-harm and suicide.

At the end of the book there's more than "enough evidence that Wandsworth, and the prison system as a whole, is failing on an epic scale". Atkins uses his experience to suggest changes need to be made in a number of areas: mental health, officer numbers, offending behaviour courses, employment, education, Imprisonment for Public Protection (IPP) sentences, Incentives and Earned Privileges (IEP) system, telephones, bureaucracy, healthcare, and visits. It's such a long list of problems which unnecessarily penalise convicted criminals, when "what's frequently ignored is that deprivation of liberty is a punishment all by itself".

Wednesday, 1 April 2020

Everyone can be exploitable in moments of weakness

Going Dark: The Secret Social Lives of Extremists Going Dark is the result of Julia Ebner's "personal research" into how extremists use social media, online forums, trolling and hacking in order to radicalise individuals.

Six parts deal with different stages in the radicalisation process: recruitment, socialisation, communication, networking, mobilisation, and attack. A final section looks at potential developments over the next five years and then suggests action we might take in 2020.

There's too much of interest in the book to review everything, so here are just a couple of things that stuck in my mind.

First, the danger of engaging with some of the extremists even as a researcher. The author found herself being drawn into the Trad Wives forum "having just come out of a painful break-up". She says that "neither class, gender or race, nor political or religious views, determine if someone will be groomed by extremists. Everyone can be exploitable in moments of weakness, and vulnerability can be a highly temporary concept". Only education, "knowing the steps and signs of radicalisation" saved her.

Second, how the concept of 'free speech' has been hijacked for the purposes of justifying extremist views. Mainstream audiences on popular platforms "are targeted with messages around issues of identity, heritage and free speech". The ideas are taken up in chat groups that claim they are "safe spaces for freedom of speech". In the offline world, we have arrived at a situation where some of the Charlottesville rally participants "try to convince the organisers to reframe the rally around freedom of speech instead of white identity".

There are plenty of other light-bulb moments: how the algorithms of YouTube always draw you to more extremist content, how far-right organizations will dissuade supporters who are obese, disfigured or not trendy enough, and how the Christchurch attack "blurred the lines between trolling and terrorism".

Ebner says her "aim in this book is to make the social dimension of digital extremist movements visible". She achieves this with a well written variety of examples. If your only interaction with online communities is via Facebook, Twitter, Instagram or YouTube, by the end of the book, you'll be aware of just what a tiny corner these cover.

Monday, 24 February 2020

How do you define working class?

Know Your Place: Essays on the Working Class by the Working Class "How can you call yourself working class when you live on the French Riviera?" Good question, and one I've been asked several times. Perhaps I'm no longer working class? I thought the Dead Ink publication Know Your Place: Essays on the Working Class by the Working Class might provide an answer.

The book is a collection of 23 essays, written "in response to a tweet that, in the aftermath of the EU referendum, requested someone produce a 'State of the Nation' book of working class voices". But how to define the working class? The editor tells us that the authors "self-identify as working class or [as] from a working class background".

As with any collection of essays or short stories, some connect with the reader and others don't. Dominic Grace's experience (The Death of a Pub) was nothing like my teetotal, Methodist upbringing, where the pub was considered to be a wicked place that destroyed lives. However, the two essays about accents (Kate Fox's The Wrong Frequency, and Rym Kechacha's What Colour is a Chameleon) struck a chord with someone who moved away from the North West aged 18, whose accent regularly changes depending on the listener, and whose pronunciation of "bus" and "bath" occasionally prompts tedious banter about it being grim "oop North".

Some essays were entertaining and uplifting, such as that of Wally Jiagoo (Glass Windows and Glass Ceilings) and his struggle to get into media script-writing whilst working at a benefits office. Or Alexandros Plasatis's story of sweet revenge on his dodgy landlord (The Immigrant of Narborough Road).

Others provided an insight into something which had never occurred to me, such as Sian Norris's experiences growing up in a lesbian family in the 90s, dealing with Section 28 (Growing Up Outside of Class).

And then there are those whose beliefs are in line with my own. Cath Bore's experience as and study of cleaners (The Housework Issue (the Other One)) discredits the axiom that if you work hard you'll get on. And Peter Sutton laments the privatisation of education and the desire to reintroduce grammar schools (Education, Education, Education).

In the final essay (You're Not Working Class) the book's editor Nathan Connolly has provided a neat answer for those who accuse me of not being working class because more than half a century after I was born, my life appears to have moved so far from where it began. So I'll leave the last word to him:
"Delegitimising the working class is a step towards removing working class voices. If we want working class writers, actors, politicians, and judges - and if we want those institutions to understand working class life - then we need to expect the working class to be educated and intelligent, perhaps even cultured, perhaps even partial to a high-street coffee chain latte. Otherwise, we're just telling them to know their place".


Monday, 30 December 2019

I loathed Mexico

The Lawless Roads Graham Greene "was commissioned to write a book on the religious situation" in Mexico in 1938, which resulted in The Lawless Roads travel memoir, as well as inspiring his novel The Power and the Glory.

"I loathed Mexico" admits Greene, and after reading of his experiences it's no surprise. He travels by bus, train, boat and plane, but most memorably over the mountains by mule. He stays on the border, visits Mexico City, and promised himself to spend Holy Week "in Catholic Las Casas, to see how it was observed in a city where the churches were open - so I was told - but the priests not allowed inside." His travels are filled with mosquitos, black beetles, discomfort and dysentery, and yet on his return home Greene tried to remember his hatred. Like many travellers he finds "a bad time over is always tinged with regret."

Monday, 9 December 2019

Delighted to be British

Watling Street: Travels Through Britain and Its Ever-Present Past John Higgs calls Britain a "divided island [which] has lost a workable sense of identity". He journeys along Watling Street in an attempt to understand that division and because, "when you lose something, you retrace your steps until you find it again."

In "Watling Street: Travels Through Britain and Its Ever-Present Past" Higgs explores some of the quintessential myths and histories that feed into a sense of British nationality: the White Cliffs, Thomas Becket, Dick Turpin, bawdy humour, the sport of rugby, Merlin, Boudica. By the end of the book, we realise that some ideas of identity are shared by some British citizens, others by others, but not all by everyone, whether they live in the UK or not.

Whichever stories give you a sense of national identity, Higgs warns against the idea of national pride which tends towards nationalism. A sense of national identity, "should not make anyone proud to be British; it should make them delighted to be British."

Wednesday, 20 November 2019

They won't be so stupid as to fall for that clown

The Past is Myself & The Road Ahead Omnibus: When I Was a German, 1934-1945
'You may think that Germans are political idiots [-] and you may be right, but of one thing I can assure you, they won't be so stupid as to fall for that clown.'

Such was the opinion of many in Germany in the early 1930s, including Peter Bielenberg, the lawyer husband of Christabel, an English woman who took German citizenship following her marriage. The Past Is My Life is based on diaries she kept while living in Germany during the rise of Hitler and the Nazis, through to the end of WW2.

In January 1933 Hitler was appointed Chancellor, with "only two other National Socialists with him in his Cabinet," there was a belief "that he was well hemmed-in" by the respectable, old-school elite politicians of the Weimar Republic. However, "the whole process of what was called 'co-ordination' was over and done with" within five months. Hitler became Germany's dictator.

How could the political situation change so fast? Bielenberg's memoir is not a historian's analysis, but shows how a shared feeling of being betrayed at the end of WW1 fed into the propaganda that was used to justify military aggression. Her viewpoint is privileged, not that of the working-class, yet it provides plenty of insight into living in the Third Reich as an opponent of the regime. What particularly comes across is how exhausting it was to be constantly on guard against making a thoughtless comment, and the need to be wary of every new acquaintance.

Peter Bielenberg's description of Hitler as a clown should sound a warning bell in 2019. One should be wary of buffoonery and deceit, neither of which are impediments to reaching the highest position of Government.

Saturday, 26 October 2019

Good story, disappointing book

The Girl with Seven Names: A North Korean Defector's Story What makes a good book? There are as many answers to this question as there are readers. And this reader's requirements weren't met by Hyeonseo Lee's The Girl With Seven Names.

That's not to say it isn't a good story. It's an autobiography/memoir of a North Korean woman who defected "by mistake" aged 17. She lived and worked as an illegal immigrant in China for several years before making her way to South Korea, where she was automatically entitled to citizenship. Then she executed a plan to help her mother and brother to defect and join her. They now all live happily ever with her American husband in the USA.

Most of what I didn't like was the writing style. The first section contains a description of childhood events as she "was told about them", perhaps by her mother. The language is stilted and cliched, as one might expect from an inexperienced writer. Most annoying was the overuse of anticipation: many chapters ended with a phrase, sometimes a paragraph, that served as a harbinger of some terrible event. This device, perhaps intended to keep us reading merely reduced the impact of future episode. By the third section, the writing style had improved somewhat.

Finally, the book is overly trite. In the prologue the author says she came to understand "that we can do without almost anything - our home, even our country. But we will never do without other people, and we will never do without family." Does Hyeonseo Lee really believe this? By the end of the book what comes across is that those who are seperated from family and birthplace when they are young are able build a life elsewhere. "Home" moves with you. It was clear that over time, distance and lack of contact, the writer was unable to see things from the same point of view as the family she left behind.

Friday, 26 July 2019

My return caused only confusion and uneasiness

Travels with Charley: In Search of America Towards the end of his life, John Steinbeck took a road trip across America, "determined to look again, to try to rediscover this monster land." He converts a truck into a mobile home he calls Rocinante, and sets off with only his aged French poodle, Charley, for company.

Steinbeck's relationship with Charley forms the major part of the book's charm. The author's love for his dog shines through, and Charley's scenes are written with a great deal of humour.

What Steinbeck finds along the way are "the mountains of things we throw away are much greater than the things we use," and he muses on "the wild and reckless exuberance of our production." He asserts that "a beard is the one thing a woman cannot do better than a man, or if she can her success is assured only in a circus," and questions what drives "millions of armed American males to forests and hills every autumn,", thinking that "somehow the hunting process has to do with masculinity, but I don't quite know how."

The later parts of the book were the most engaging. Steinbeck visits his native Salinas, California, where his emigrant status has made him a stranger:
the "town had grown and changed and my friend along with it. Now returning, as changed to my friend as my town was to me, I distorted his picture, muddied his memory. When I went away I had died, and so became fixed and unchangeable. My return caused only confusion and uneasiness. Although they could not say it, my old friends wanted me gone so that I could take my proper place in the pattern of remembrance -- and I wanted to go for the same reason."


Steinbeck's road then leads through Texas, his wife's state, and New Orleans, where Ruby Bridges was making history as the first African-American child to attend an all-white elementary school. After this, he made his way back to New York, tired of traveling, glad to return home.

Saturday, 13 July 2019

Nothing to lose, everything to walk for

The Salt Path What would you do if you lost your home and your source of income, then your partner of 30 years was diagnosed with an incurable, degenerative disease? In Raynor Winn's case, she decided to walk the South West Coast Path to give her and husband Moth a couple of months to consider their options.

The couple survived on benefits income of 48 GBP a week, living in a tent, eating packet-noodles. In spite of the hardship, "a wet sleeping bag in a wet tent on a windy headland," Winn says "I was grateful that I wasn't on a piece of cardboard behind the bins in a back alley."

The Salt Path shows how Raynor and Moth, both in their 50s, survive the complete breakdown of the life they had built for themselves. But it is more than that. It holds a mirror to how society treats homeless people: the unwarranted fear and vindictiveness of some and the unstinting generosity of others.

Ray Winn talks frankly about what the knowledge of being homeless does to a person, and how it can affect relationships with friends and family. The couple were "intensely grateful" to one friend who offered them free accommodation in a shed in return for converting it into a holiday rental. However the arrangement leaves Winn "hollow inside," where "days had no meaning, just a repetition of toil with no purpose for us, other than to keep warm and dry. I was alone among friends. Homelessness had taught me that however much people think they want to help you, when you enter their home, you quickly become a cuckoo in their nest, a guest that outstays their welcome. Or their usefulness."

It was interesting to have read this journey immediately after finishing Josie Dew's Slow Coast Home. Josie, a successful writer with her own business, chooses to cycle around England, wild camping when necessary, and occasionally making free use of camp sites when the pitch fees are over-priced. Ray and Moth do exactly the same. Does one have the same opinion of Josie and Ray? They both pitch their tents "illegally", but are we more accepting of one than the other? This was what I really liked about the book, that it challenges one's own assumptions about those who are on the street: they might be homeless, might be refugees from poverty or conflict, down on their luck, travellers searching for a better life.

In conclusion, The Salt Path is an uplifting book about self-determination, fortitude, hope and love. Here's how Ray describes it:
"We could have stopped, but we had nothing to lose and everything to walk for. We were free here, battered by the elements, hungry, tired, cold, but free. Free to walk on or not, to stop or not. Not camping out with friends or family, being a burden, becoming an irritation, wearing friendship away to just tolerance. Here we were still in control of our life, of our own outcomes, our own destiny. The water ran from our rucksacks as we put them on our back. We chose to walk and seized the freedom that came with that choice."


Sunday, 7 July 2019

The perfect date to start a bike ride

Slow Coast Home Reading Josie Dew's Slow Coast Home is very much like cycling: plenty of ups and downs, and a few diversions.

Josie says she "never planned to cycle around the coast of the British Isles. It just happened that way," which is a very pithy description of the book. I didn't really believe she had done no planning, but when 40% of the way in she had only got as far as Plymouth, a mere 185 miles from home, it seemed more likely that she had been telling the truth.

Some of the experiences were uplifting, such as a ride over Exmoor when the weather was "cruel and painful and penetratingly cold, but it all combined to add to the acute intensity and elation of the ride." Others were appalling, as when she relates that one of four lads in a car "leant out of a back window and gobbed me full in the face." Josie's humour is sometimes ponderous, and sometimes wonderfully mischievous with puns: after being forced to perform certain functions SAS-style in her tent, she professed herself, "light in spirit, and even lighter in buttock, with that rewarding feeling of a job well done." My favourite bit was Chapter 16, in which she discusses the problems of travelling with a bike on a train, something which I used to do a lot around about when Josie's first book, The Wind in My Wheels, was published.

Much as I admire Josie, I found the book a frustrating read. Up to half way through there had been so many detours that I really didn't think it was going anywhere. She went out of her way to holiday with friends, was called back home to publicise her books and cater for parties, and was twice forced to abandon the adventure due to health problems. That's not counting the number of stops to buy bananas and eat bananas. I just wanted her to get on with the journey.

One final note: I must call Josie out on her claim that "there was nothing special" about the day she sets out from home, Wednesday, 25th April. To give her the benefit of the doubt, I have never read anything that mentions what her favourite movies are, so she's probably not aware that April 25th, according to Miss Rhode Island, is the perfect date.

Tuesday, 14 May 2019

It's not about Mormonism

Educated "This story is not about Mormonism," states Tara Westover in the Introduction to her memoir, Educated. As such, you won't find much in the book that is critical of the author's fundamentalist upbringing. Plenty of bad things happen, often due to wilful negligence, but no blame is attributed.

So what is the story about? If it's not about how religious beliefs can twist logic, maybe it's about how toxic patriarchy within families prevents women from living their lives as they choose. But again, there's no criticism of this in the book. The fact that wives and daughters are in danger of being abused seems to raise no emotion. Who will look out for Tara's sister-in-law and her children? Does anyone care? The message seems to be that it's up to the woman to sort herself out, just as Tara did. It's no-one else's problem.

Educated then, is about just one woman's desire to learn, and the conflict that that desire produced, both within herself and her family. It's about taking individual responsibility for your life. All very inspiring, but for this reader, ultimately self-centred and unsatisfying.