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Books Tara Westover on how the scriptures taught her the ‘patience to read things I did not yet understand’

Tara Westover.

In All Ages, Globe Books asks authors to dig deep for memorable books that span their lifetime, from childhood to what’s on their reading list right now.

Tara Westover was born and raised in rural Idaho in a Mormon survivalist family. Along with her six siblings, she was home-schooled, and left the only life she ever knew – a time she has described as an abusive childhood – after independently applying for and being accepted to Brigham Young University on a scholarship. Currently based in Cambridge, England, the 31-year-old author recounted her extraordinary story in Educated: A Memoir. Here, she talks about her relationship with literature, then and now.

What did you read as a kid?

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When I was very young, I generally read the scriptures (the Bible and the Book of Mormon). Some people might find that strange – the Bible wasn’t exactly written for children – but I think in many ways, it was very beneficial. It taught me the patience to read things I did not yet understand.

What else did you read growing up?

Because I never attended elementary schools of any kind, I missed most of the books that were popular with other kids my age. There was an exception, however, which was Harry Potter. My grandmother gave me the first book when I was about 13, and I read it, then read all the rest. There was a brief period in which my father forbade me from reading them (my brother had told him that Harry Potter advocated socialism), but I read them anyway.

I didn’t read much in high school, maybe because I didn’t go to high school. Instead, I worked. I continued to read sermons and scripture and not much else. When I was 17, I went to Brigham Young University. That was the first time I had set foot in a classroom. Then I read for my classes, books on the Holocaust, the 38th parallel, the civil-rights movement. I’d never heard of any of these things before, so I read all I could about them.

At BYU, I discovered history, then historiography. I became fascinated with the study of historians and historical trends, with the idea that the way we remember the past changes and shifts with our own preoccupations. It was a great shock to think that the past was not absolute, that for any single event, we could feel pride at one stage of our history, and shame in another.

What are you reading right now?

Right now I just finished Milan Kundera’s The Unbearable Lightness of Being, an amazing book of ideas.

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