The author of mega best-selling Educated tells all about her reading habits.

Tara Westover created a full-blown literary movement when she released her blisteringly honest memoir in 2018. Educated, an openhearted story about making it through childhood with her survivalist Mormon family to attend college (at age 17, with no formal education) and eventually a PhD program at Cambridge, became a number one New York Times best-seller and went on to spend over two years on the list. But while practically everyone in the country was reading her book, Tara Westover was reading plenty of other titles. Here, to celebrate the paperback release of Educated, the author lets us in on her most memorable reading moments.

Tara Westover, Educated
'Educated' author Tara Westover
| Credit: Paul Stuart; Random House

My favorite book as a child

My family had an impressive collection of children's books called The Sweet Pickles, about a community of animals, each with some particular psychological defect. A yak who can't stop talking; a zebra who skateboards and refuses to take any responsibility; an iguana who imitates all the other characters because he is deeply insecure; a vulture too vain to see other people. You get the idea. They are really sweet because in the end, they are about living with people as you find them. 

The book I read in secret as a teenager

Harry Potter. There was a brief period in which I was not allowed to read them, but somehow that did not stop me.

The book that changed my life

In graduate school, I read John Stuart Mill's Three Essays on Religion. At the time, I was struggling with my own faith, and looking for a way to be respectful of my heritage while also honoring the reality of my own convictions. Mill gave me a way to think through those experiences and ideas. 

A book I've read over and over

It's not a book, but I've read Joan Didion's essay On Self-Respect more times than could be believed. It's a work of genius.

My literary crush

Hilary Mantel. I don't know how anyone could read her sentences and not feel that way.

The last book that made me laugh

I recently got hold of Jennifer Egan's new book, The Candy House. I laughed out loud at the pure genius of her, the raw experimentation and the forceful success of it. The range of her talent is astonishing.

The last book that made me cry

Um, also The Candy House. There's a story in there about a woman and two daughters. I had to put the book down for several minutes.

My favorite adaptation of a book

This is a tricky one for me. I often have only read the books, or only seen the movies. But like so many others I watched Maid and thought it was excellent storytelling. And a story that is not told very often.

A memoir I read to help inform my own writing

Oh, so many. But three come to mind: Hilary Mantel's Giving Up the Ghost, Heather MacDonald's H Is for Hawk and Why Religion? by Elaine Pagels. Three excellent memoirs.

A book I've pretended to read

I've read a lot about Thomas Piketty's Capital in the Twenty-First Century without ever finishing the actual book. 

A book I read because it was popular

Several years ago, a friend and I dared each other to read The Hunger Games and 50 Shades of Grey, simply because they were mega-bestsellers. The Hunger Games went down like sugar-y lemonade but I didn't make it more than 30 pages through 50 Shades of Grey. I suppose I lost the bet. 

A book people would be surprised to learn that I love

I don't know how surprised people would be, but in the last few years, I have become a touch phobic about technology (mostly because it has become impossible for me to ignore the degree to which my relationship with it is both involuntary and unhealthy). For this reason, technology and its effect on humans has become a niche interest of mine. My favorites are Jaron Lanier's You Are Not a Gadget and Mark O'Connell's To Be a Machine. The above-mentioned How to Do Nothing by Jenny Odell is also excellent and asks big questions about who we are becoming and for what reasons.

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