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Humanities Reads

Faculty teaching courses in the humanities, or courses with a central humanities-related component, are invited to consider adopting this year's common humanities text as part of their assigned reading and discussion material.

2018-2019 Selection

Educated: A Memoir by Tara Westover

This year's common book for the Humanities Reads series is Tara Westover’s Educated: A Memoir (2018).  As the Drake faculty nominator writes, ““[This] is a gorgeously written memoir that speaks so powerfully about the importance of education as a liberatory tool - while respecting the power of an individual to make her own way in the world.  It deals with abuse and fanaticism, gender norms and religious conservatism, and the very idea of what a ‘memory' is and how accurate our recollections of our own lives can be.”

Tara Westover’s memoir describes her extreme unschooled upbringing by a hot-tempered survivalist father and herbalist lay-midwife mother.  Westover experienced a catalog of injuries working with her dad, who forbid his family to seek medical attention.  The author increasingly challenges her father while her upbringing becomes ever more constraining. “[This] is a gorgeously written memoir that speaks so powerfully about the importance of education as a liberatory tool - while respecting the power of an individual to make her own way in the world.  It deals with abuse and fanaticism, gender norms and religious conservatism, and the very idea of what a ‘memory' is and how accurate our recollections of our own lives can be.”

Thanks to her brother’s escape, Westover left her survivalist upbringing to enter public education at age seventeen.  She is shocked by her classmates, and her isolated upbringing (she had never heard of the Holocaust and thought Europe was a country) cause her to be discounted by her professors.  Nonetheless, she eventually gets to Cambridge and Harvard, but at tremendous personal cost. As Alec MacGillis writes in the New York Times,It is only when the final, wrenching break from most of her family arrives that one realizes just how courageous this testimonial really is. These disclosures will take a toll. But one is also left convinced that the costs are worth it. By the end, Westover has somehow managed not only to capture her unsurpassably exceptional upbringing, but to make her current situation seem not so exceptional at all, and resonant for many others. She is but yet another young person who left home for an education, now views the family she left across an uncomprehending ideological canyon, and isn’t going back.”

The Center has purchased a limited number of copies of Educated to be shared with any member of the Drake community who would like to take part in Humanities Reads! The Center is also prepared to make copies available to faculty assigning the work in their classes. These copies will be available August 1st. Please contact the Director if you would like a review copy and/or if you have plans to teach the book in fall 2018 or spring 2019.

Past Humanities Reads books have included:

  • Mathew Desmond's Evicted
  • Kiese Laymon's How to Slowly Kill Yourself and Others in America
  • Leslie Jamison’s The Empathy Exams
  • Rebecca Skloot's The Immortal life of Henrietta Lacks
  • George Saunders's In Persuasion Nation
  • Phoebe Gloeckner's Diary of a Teenage Girl
  • J.M. Coetzee's Disgrace.
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