Educated - A Conversation with Tara Westover | Aspen Ideas Festival, 2019
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Educated - A Conversation with Tara Westover | Aspen Ideas Festival, November 2019 (Transcript)
Length: 47 mins
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Raised by uncompromising survivalists in the mountains of Idaho, Tara Westover survived extreme adversity, from never being allowed to go to school, to suffering serious physical injuries (and a dad that prohibited doctors or hospitals), to being at the mercy of a volatile and often abusive older brother. How did she not only make it through this childhood, but ultimately achieve success at the highest levels? How does she look back on her childhood and her family? What has she learned from her incredible and improbable journey?
JG - Jeffrey Goldberg
TW - Tara Westover
JG: ‚Ä¶ needs no introduction, so I want to jump in, but I do want to ask a question first. How many people have read this book? Right, so we don‚Äôt really have a spoiler alert problem, do we? One of the miracles of this book, and it‚Äôs my favorite book of the last year, one of the miracles-
TW: That‚Äôs nice.
JG: It‚Äôs true. I told you that; it‚Äôs true.
TW: You didn‚Äôt say that in here last night.
JG: I say that to every author I interviewed here, by the way. Except last night. I didn‚Äôt say it last night, actually. That‚Äôs an inside joke that‚Äôs not actually that inside I guess.
It‚Äôs my favorite book and one of the miracles of this book is that, you know, it reads as many different kind of books as one. In part, there‚Äôs a suspense, a thriller, a horror story even, and you‚Äôre reading it and you‚Äôre thinking, ‚ÄúGod, I hope she lives,‚Äù and you obviously know that she lives because she wrote the book, and yet, it‚Äôs so propulsive and so tension making. It‚Äôs one of your gifts as a writer.
So since everybody here, almost everybody here, has read this book, I don‚Äôt think we‚Äôre going to have to spend a lot of time talking about the bare bones story, but you can refer to it, obviously, whenever you need to. My opening question for you is this: it‚Äôs an extraordinarily specific story, obviously. Not a lot of people grew up the way you grew up. That might be the understatement of the day. But there‚Äôs something sufficiently universal about this that people are drawn to it. Noting that it‚Äôs a New York Times bestseller notes only part of the story. This book has sold more than 2 million copies in hardcover so far in the United States alone.
TW: I don‚Äôt think that‚Äôs hardcover; I think that‚Äôs all of them.
JG: Okay, just go with my story, go with it. Just go with it. It‚Äôs an extraordinarily popular book. Popular books, often, are rooted in something specific but have a universal message. What do you think your readers are getting from this book? What are they taking out of this?
TW: Oh. That‚Äôs a nice, soft question to start.
JG: You can handle it.
TW: What are they getting out of it? I think that you‚Äôre absolutely right, it‚Äôs a principle of storytelling that the universal is always best explored in the specific and we‚Äôre told that, but I think when you‚Äôre writing it, it never feels that way. I remember when I was writing Educated, I felt like this book is going to do so great with little girls who were raised in Idaho and never went to school and worked in their dad‚Äôs junkyard. They are going to love this, like all ten of them. And then I don‚Äôt know how anyone else could find anything in this
But I don‚Äôt know. I mean, I intentionally wrote it so that I wouldn‚Äôt know the answer to that question because I wanted it to be an experience. You have a lot of choices when you‚Äôre writing about your own life. You can tell a few stories, kind of anecdotes, and then you can slip into a different voice and say this is what this means, and you can give a lot of opinions, and that‚Äôs not a bad way to go. I didn‚Äôt go that way. I wrote it to be an experience in the sense that I wanted to stay in specific moments and I didn‚Äôt want to step outside and say this is what it means. And the thing is about letting people have an experience instead of something more like an essay is that two people can have the same experience and come to really different conclusions about it.
And so I kind of wrote the book in such a way that people, I hoped, could have some little piece of experiences I had and I wanted them to‚Ä¶ I wanted that to go through a filter of their own lives that would distort it in a way. So I didn‚Äôt put any pictures of my family in, and part of that was to preserve their privacy, but the other part of it was if somebody reads the book and sees their father instead of my father or their mother instead of my mother and disregards the bits of my story that don‚Äôt quite fit, I‚Äôm okay with that distortion. It‚Äôs kind of what I was going for.
And it‚Äôs one of the weird things about the book is I have people come up to me and get all kinds of things from it. I have people come up to me and say, ‚ÄúI‚Äôm just really happy for you because I‚Äôm so sure that reconciliation with your parents is right around the corner,‚Äù and I have people come up to me and say, ‚ÄúI‚Äôm so glad that you‚Äôre never going back there again and that that‚Äôs sorted.‚Äù And on both, I just smile and nod and I know it has everything to do with them and like nothing to do with me, and that‚Äôs what a story should do I think.
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