Tara Westover

Tara, 32, is the au­thor of best­selling mem­oir, Ed­u­cated, about her Mor­mon sur­vival­ist up­bring­ing in Idaho, which Barack Obama named as one of his books of the year. She lives in New York

The Sunday Telegraph - Stella - - MY BOOKSHELF -

I was taught to read very young so I could read the scrip­tures. Each morn­ing my fam­ily gath­ered around our large, square ta­ble, my mother mak­ing grain pan­cakes, while my fa­ther opened the scrip­tures and we each read in turn.

My fa­ther didn’t be­lieve

in pub­lic ed­u­ca­tion so I didn’t go to school. When I was 10 or 11 I asked my fa­ther if I could go and was told that I could not. My brother, who is 11 years older than me, had cho­sen to go to school when he was my age, but by the time I came along my fa­ther had de­cided not to al­low any more of his chil­dren to go.

The first time I set foot in a class­room I was 17.

I re­mem­ber feel­ing anx­ious and con­fused. I had never taken notes be­fore. I tried to write ev­ery word the teacher said, and couldn’t, so ended up with non­sense. Ev­ery­one else took notes so calmly, the move­ment seemed thought­less, like breath­ing. I went on to com­plete a PhD in his­tory and in­tel­lec­tual thought. My PhD is some­thing of a blur in my mem­ory, pos­si­bly be­cause that time is de­fined so en­tirely by con­flict with my fam­ily – they were be­com­ing more rad­i­cal while I was mov­ing to­ward the main­stream. The con­flict would ul­ti­mately end in es­trange­ment.

I re­mem­ber the first time a pro­fes­sor sug­gested I should write a mem­oir.

I couldn’t imag­ine what use it could be to any­one. Later, as I pon­dered what ed­u­ca­tion had meant to me – what it had done for me, what it had taken from me – I be­gan to think there might be some value in it, so I started to write.

It took me a year to write and a year to re­vise Ed­u­cated .My writ­ing rou­tine was sim­ple: I woke up each morn­ing, walked my dog, then sat down to write. I played a spe­cific song, La Médi­ta­tion de Thaïs ,and when I heard that open­ing phrase, I knew it was time to write.

I had just had lunch with a friend, and was check­ing my phone af­ter, when I saw the email telling me Barack Obama had in­cluded Ed­u­cated on his Books of the Year list. He called me a few days later, which was a tad sur­real. We talked about ru­ral ed­u­ca­tion, why ru­ral kids strug­gle to make it through col­lege, and why, even when they do grad­u­ate, it takes them twice as long on av­er­age to earn a de­gree. He was very knowl­edge­able.

Ed­u­cated by Tara Westover, pub­lished by Wind­mill Books, £8.99, is out now

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