Ep. 78 Educated by Tara Westover — The Stacks Book Club (Sarah Enni)

We are talking about Educated by Tara Westover on The Stacks Book Club today. Author and podcast host Sarah Enni helps us break down why this story became a mega-bestseller and why its the book that everyone is still talking about. We also debate the role of fact versus memory in memoir, and what this book means in the current political climate.
There are spoilers on this episode.


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Everything we talk about on today’s episode can be found below in the show notes and on Bookshop.org and Amazon.

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August 2019 Reading Wrap-Up

I’m still reading slowly but surely over here. I finished seven books in August, and I’m pretty happy with what I read. You’ll be shocked to see that our of the seven books only three were nonfiction. The standouts for the month were The Nickel Boys by Colson Whitehead, and my re-read of Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro. Fiction. Fiction. Fiction.

August by the Numbers

Total Books Read: 7
Audiobooks: 1
Five Star Reads: 2
Unread Shelf: 0
Books Acquired: 28

By Women Authors: 3
By Authors of Color: 3
By Queer Authors: 1
Nonfiction Reads: 2
Published in 2019: 3

Educated by Tara Westover

(Photo: amazon.com)

In her memoir about growing up in a fundamentalist Mormon family, Tara Westover shares about her childhood, the abuses she suffered, and the reasons she felt motivated to leave home and understand the world for herself.

I enjoyed parts of this book, though I found the hype to be far beyond what this book was able to deliver. It is no doubt impressive what Westover has been able to accomplish in her life. I found the writing to be distant and that she was unwilling to allow the reader into her deeper thoughts and reflections. For example, there is a part of the book that deals with Tara and her brother and the use of “nigger” as a racial slur. She discusses this event, but never reckons with the internalized racism she has been raised with, or how that may have presented itself in her life away from the mountain in Idaho. I had these same thoughts when it came to other women she encounters, especially those outside of Mormonism, not to mention her relationship to pop culture and politics. I found that some things, the abuses she suffered, were discussed to excess, and some things were glazed over. What Westover chose to focus on didn’t match what I was most interested in.

Three Stars | Random House | February 20, 2018 | 352 Pages | Hardcover | Purchase on IndieBound
We discuss Educated on The Stacks Book Club, you can hear that conversation by clicking HERE.

Henry IV Part 1 by William Shakespeare

(Photo: amazon.com)

A Shakespeare play about a King trying to prove his legitimacy and his son who is young and still wants to reap the benefits of being a prince. That is of course until there is war to be had. This play is one of Shakespeare’s plays that reminds me why people hate Shakespeare. It was boring and didn’t really speak to me on any larger level. Its a lot about loyalty and duty and not much more. I have been loving my #ShakeTheStacks Challenge, but this was the first month I thought about quitting.

One Stars | Penguin Classics | February 1, 2000 | 160 Pages | Kindle | Purchase on IndieBound

Ladies Who Punch: The Explosive Inside Story of “The View” by Ramin Setoodeh

(Photo: amazon.com)

Great fun! I loved listening to this audiobook that takes us behind the scenes at The View. The author reads the book and his love of the ladies comes through, he is a fan who used his skills as a journalist to get access and ask the right questions.

No this book isn’t life changing, but it is a good time and really sheds light on a TV institution that doesn’t often get the respect it deserves (mostly because its a show made by and staring women of varying ages). However, Setoodeh takes the time to contextualize the show and the co-hosts in the greater American pop culture canon and show how important it has been culturally and politically. The book isn’t all gossip and cat fights, instead we get a sense of how and why it was crafted and what sort of impact that has had on women in politics and power. The 2016 election plays a prominent role in the book as do both Hilary Clinton and Donald Trump. Ladies Who Punch is smart and fun, which is often hard to do. If you’re on the fence, I suggest the audiobook, it is super entertaining and feels almost like a podcast.

Four Stars | Macmillan Audio | April 2, 2019 | 9 Hours 23 Minutes | Audiobook | Purchase on IndieBound
Listen to Ramin Setoodeh discus his book on The Short Stacks now, click HERE.

Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro

(Photo: amazon.com)

I was thrilled to finally revisit this modern classic I read over a decade ago. Truth be told I couldn’t really remember what happened, I just remembered loving it and feeling deeply moved.

Now, reading the book years later for The Stacks podcast, I was able to think about this book in a new way. There is a lot to spoil, so I won’t say much here (though we will spoil it on the episode, out September 11th), except that the writing holds up and the story is still as moving as I remember. Though the fact that it is an allegory for so much in today’s culture and our history felt brand new to me, in the best ways.

The start of the book was a little slow for me, but once we got moving, I was hooked as I had been in my first reading. And while I knew what happened in the end, the twists still got to me. This is Science Fiction written as Literary Fiction. It is a coming of age story that ties into a devastating critique of humanity and morality. It is so good, and the feelings this book evokes stay with you.

Five Stars | Vintage | March 14, 2006 | 288 Pages | Paperback | Purchase on IndieBound
We discuss Never Let Me Go on The Stacks Book Club, you can hear that conversation by clicking HERE.

The Nickel Boys by Colson Whitehead

(Photo: amazon.com)

Historical fiction at its best. The Nickel Boys is inspired by a real life nightmare of a reform school, and follows two fictional characters who grapple with the horrors they experience, the friendships they create, and the prejudice they face as young Black men in Jim Crow Florida.

Colson Whitehead is a professional writer of the finest caliber. He is exacting and precise. There is not a word wasted in this book. There are no 10 page expositions, instead you get a paragraph or two that drops you right in the scene or gets at essence of the person. A true economy of language. The best part is, the book doesn’t feel unfinished, at 215 pages, it’s just right.

The Nickel Boys asks the reader to face some horrific truths about the realities of these reform schools. However we’re not given time to dwell in this pain. The book moves forward guided by two young men, Elwood and Turner, who are the heart of this story. I felt as if I knew them as soon as I met them.

Five Stars | Double Day | July 16, 2019 | 224 Pages | Hardcover | Purchase on IndieBound

Safe House by Heather John Fogarty

This isn’t a real review, but more a major preview. I was asked by the author, Heather John Fogarty, to read her manuscript of her first novel Safe House. It was a really exciting task and a great honor. So much so, I went ahead a bought my first ever e-reader to get it done.

I will wait to discuss the book and what I thought of it until it is a real published book in the world, so stay tuned.

Unpublished Manuscript | 314 Pages | Kindle

Tell Me Everything by Sarah Enni

The Stacks received this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. For more information click here.
(Photo: amazon.com)

A young adult book that explores the powers and pitfalls of social media and privacy, by following one girl, Ivy, and her relationship to a new app called VEIL.

Tell Me Everything takes on a lot of the tough questions about social media and being present in life versus our online personas. It looks at homosexuality, activism, consumer’s rights, and a lot of other relevant topics. While I enjoyed reading the book, I always felt ahead of the story, which I often do when I read YA. I would be very interested in what a 13-year old might think of the ideas and topics Enni brings up.
Three Stars | Point| February 26, 2019 | 288 Pages| Hardcover | Purchase on IndieBound
Hear our conversation with Sarah Enni on The Stacks HERE.

The Stacks participates in affiliate programs. We receive a small commission when products are purchased through links on this website, and this comes at no cost to you. This in no way effects opinions on books and products reviewed here. For more information click here.

The Executioner’s Song by Norman Mailer

5DF10CBB-A65E-4C65-B6E5-F119B079DA59.JPGI have been fascinated with murders and murderers for as long as I can remember. I’ve also always been a big reader, and when you put those two things together, true crime and reading, you invariably get to The Executioner’s Song. It is an eleven hundred page true crime classic. And so after ten years, I finally decided to check this off the big book bucket list.

Here is more about The Executioner’s Song:

Arguably the greatest book from America’s most heroically ambitious writer,The Executioner’s Song follows the short, blighted life of Gary Gilmore who became famous after he robbed two men in 1976 and killed them in cold blood. After being tried and convicted, he immediately insisted on being executed for his crime. To do so, he fought a system that seemed intent on keeping him alive long after it had sentenced him to death. And that fight for the right to die is what made him famous.

Mailer tells not only Gilmore’s story, but those of the men and women caught in the web of his life and drawn into his procession toward the firing squad. All with implacable authority, steely compassion, and a restraint that evokes the parched landscape and stern theology of Gilmore’s Utah.The Executioner’s Song is a trip down the wrong side of the tracks to the deepest source of American loneliness and violence. It is a towering achievement-impossible to put down, impossible to forget.

Normally when I read a book, I feel pretty confident in my review. I sit down to write it, and out comes my thoughts. I may stop and start a little, but with The Executioner’s Song I am about 4-5 attempts in and still feeling unsure of where I stand. Part of my struggle is coming from the fact that there is just so much book, so many ideas to unpack and feelings to sort through. Another part is because I do not want to spoil anything, even though you could easily spoil so much by looking up Gary Gilmore on wikipedia. So here goes my attempt to explain my thoughts without out giving away too much…

This is the kind of book that haunts you, not because of what happens in it, but because of how it all unravels. I didn’t love the book. It never fully hooked me, but I have found myself thinking about the people involved in Gilmore’s life and death a lot since I finished it. There were moments of suspense that I thoroughly enjoyed, and then sections that felt endless. There were people I loved in one section of the book, and then was hoping they’d be leaving the story a hundred pages later. While I never fully understood why so many people rave about this book, I suspect it has to do with the way Mailer is able to give his characters room to transform in front of the readers eyes. These people feel full and complete, no one is without dimension. Mailer’s writing style is impressive and specific and lacks any frills. It is direct, like the people you find in the book.

A tale of White toxic masculinity told by a toxic White man, The Executioner’s Song can be rage inducing. I felt myself feeling sorry for a murderer and domestic abuser in one moment and then feeling furious at the author for presenting the story in that way. Giving Gilmore so much room to garner sympathies when he really behaves disgustingly through out. Despite his deep flaws, Mailer does find humanity in Gilmore. He also finds the humanity in the kind of world where a Gary Gilmore could be created. I don’t disagree with Mailer that part of Gilmore was cultivated during his time in prison, however the compassion that Mailer asks us to show to Gilmore was often times more than I could bear.

There are no answers in this book. I am okay with that. Conversations around incarceration and murder and class and relationships are seldom clear cut. Mailer throws all his research your way, and more or less asks you to sift through it. He may guide you, or allow his characters to sway you, but in the end you’ll take from this book whatever you need.

One of the big topics of debate revolves around capital punishment, not only if its a good idea or not, but how someone is sentenced for death and how that process progresses. Forty-plus years later, this part of the book feels more current than it should. We get a view of the death penalty debate from many sides. We see how death row works, how the appeals process functions, we even get a good look at the media frenzy behind high profile criminal cases. In the end, I found myself asking over and over, what is the point? Is the world really any better off with Gilmore dead?

In the end I am glad I read this book. I didn’t love it, but I appreciated it, not only as a piece of writing but as a glimpse into a moment in time. After spending the better part of a month reading through this book, it was not the greatest thing that ever happened to me, but I did have major moments of shock and awe. It is an incredible feat of journalism and story telling, and it is an exceptional commentary on the death penalty and the humanity of criminals. I can recognize the greatness in The Executioner’s Song theoretically, but I could never fully feel the power that many others have experienced in reading the book.

  • Hardcover: 1136 pages
  • Publisher: Grand Central Publishing; Reprint edition (May 8, 2012)
  • 3/5 stars
  • Buy on The Executioner’s Song Amazon

To contribute to The Stacks, join The Stacks Pack, and get exclusive perks, check out our Patreon page. We are beyond grateful for anything you’re able to give to support the production of this show. If you prefer to do a one time contribution go to paypal.me/thestackspod.

The Stacks participates in affiliate programs. We receive a small commission when products are purchased through links on this website. Shopping through these links helps support the show, but does not effect my opinions on books and products. For more information click here.

Ten Non-Fiction Books for Fiction Lovers

AB2EBDFE-7E76-4563-941D-06EB3B3B0AA9As I have become more engaged with the book world, and I have been outed as a non-fiction lover, I have had lots of conversations with many of you on what are some good non-fiction books. So I put together my list of top 10 non-fiction books for people who don’t read non-fiction.

This isn’t a list of the best non-fiction I’ve ever read, but books that I think those of you who love a good novel will enjoy. Those of you looking for a way in. Most of these books are more narrative driven, and use rich language to develop characters and events. While there are a variety of types of non-fiction books on this list, they are all captivating.

This list is presented in alphabetical order, I simply can not play favorites with these books.

Between The World and Me Journalist Ta-Nehisi Coates (The Atlantic) is known for his work on dissecting the experience of Black Americans. Between The World and Me written to Coates’ son, is a powerful look at the history and practices that have created a culture in America, where Black people are not valued as full citizens. He looks at slavery, discrimination, mass incarceration, and the murder of Black citizens by the police. Coates asks us not only how did this happen? But also, where do we go from here?

 Born a Crime: Stories from a South African Childhood This is the story of Trevor Noah’s upbringing as a mixed child in Apartheid South Africa. It is at once funny and poignant. You learn so much about his life, and gain a new appreciation for his success. I laughed at loud at parts and felt my self tearing up here and there.

Columbine In this deeply emotional reexamination of one of the most famous school shootings in American history. Author, David Cullen looks at the facts of the shooting and uses forensic experts, the killers’ own words, and all the evidence to figure out what really happened on April 20, 1999.

Jesus Land: A Memoir In this memoir by Julia Scheeres, we learn of her childhood with her adopted brother, David who is black, in racist rural Indiana. We see her life in the Mid-West and also her experience in a religious camp in the Dominican Republic. Scheeres’ story is heartrending and emotional. You can’t imagine the world she comes from and the stories she has to share.

Just Mercy: A Story of Justice and Redemption The story of a lawyer, Bryan Stevenson, and his journey as an activist and advocate on behalf of those who are sentenced to life in prison or the death penalty. Not only is this book a memoir of Stevenson’s early days as a appeals lawyer, it is also a searing indictment of the United States criminal justice system.

Men We Reaped: A Memoir Over the course of five years, author Jesmyn Ward loses five young black men in her life. This book is her examination of why something like this could happen. It is a look at what it means to be young and black in America. Written with all her skill as a fiction writer, and all the truth of her lived experience. This is a really special book. We cover this book on The Stacks Podcast and you can listen to our episode here.

The Girl Who Smiled Beads: A Story of War and What Comes After In her memoir, Clemantine Wamariya (with co-author Elizabeth Weil) tells her unimaginable journey of life as a refugee from Rwanda in 1994. Clemantine and her sister Claire, travel through eight African countries, before they ultimately end up in America. While the book is about their journey, it is also about finding one’s voice and strength to carry on and to thrive. It is both devastating and empowering. The writing is beautiful.

Unbroken:A World War II Story of Survival, Resilience, and Redemption This is one of those stories that you wouldn’t believe if you saw it in a movie (and guess what, this book is now a movie).  Laura Hillenbrand writes this story of Louis Zamperini, an Olympic runner turned WWII pilot, turned prisoner of war, turned survivor. Its almost more than you can handle, and then you remember what Zamperini went through, and you remember you’re just reading.

Under the Banner of Heaven: A Story of Violent Faith When it comes to non-fiction, author John Krakauer is my favorite. I can highly recommend any of his books (Where Men Win Glory is a personal favorite). In Under the Banner of Heaven Krakauer dives deep into the Fundamentalist Mormon Church. He examines the religion, their traditions, believes, and brings up many questions about Mormonism. This book is not to be missed.

Zeitoun Dave Eggers tells the story of a Muslim man caught in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. The book takes place at the intersection of natural disaster response and The War on Terror. The story is almost beyond believe, and the storytelling is illuminating.

63439241-927F-48C9-B6A5-67C450C9950AThis list is a great starting place if you think you’re not so much of a non-fiction person. And if you make your way through this and think maybe you want a little more, here are ten bonus books. While some of these may be less accessible (more niche topics, more clinical writing) for pure fiction lovers, the stories are inescapably engrossing and the writing is of course delicious.

I hope that these books help you add a little non-fiction to your world of reading. And if you already love non-fiction I hope you find something here that sparks your interests. Tell me what you think of my list, and add any of your favorite non-fiction books.

The Stacks participates in affiliate programs in which we receive a small commission when products are purchased through some links on this website. This does not effect my opinions on books and products. For more information click here.