I have a terrible habit of collecting non fiction books, which then lie unread in my bookcase for years. This week I’m trying to decide whether to keep a memoir, a biography and a book about the power of reading.
Educated by Tara Westover
This is probably the best known of the trio. Published in 2018 it was a New York Times bestseller and was a finalist for a number of awards. Westover’s memoir is a startling account of her upbringing within a fundamentalist Mormon family and her decision to break away from that life.
Despite a complete lack of any formal education she managed to self-study her way to Brigham Young University, and then onto a PhD programme in history at Cambridge University.
It sounds a remarkable story.
The Verdict: Keep
The Prison Book Club by Ann Walmsley
Journalist Ann Walmsley was invited by a friend to get involved in running a book club venture in a men’s medium security prison just outside Toronto. Over the next eighteen months she joined in and led discussions about books with drug traffickers, murderers and heavily tattooed Hell’s Angels.
The discussions about the chosen books led to frank conversations about loss, anger, redemption, and loneliness. The books helped Walmsley overcome the fear and anxiety she’d suffered since a mugging in London and helped the men, some of whom started their own book clubs on their release, or joined other book clubs in their communities and local libraries.
I read 42 pages of this book last year but clearly it didn’t grab me because I never got much further. It should have been interesting to learn of the men’s reactions to the different texts. Early on they questioned Greg Mortensen’s account in Three Cups of Tea of how he built schools in Afghanistan. Six weeks later their reactions were echoed in a television documentary and a book that cast doubts about Mortensen’s narrative.
But the text is too dull and clunky. My bookmark shows I gave up at the point which describes a Q&A session with an author.
Juan, an inmate about his writing ambitions, wanted to talk about the writing process for such a long book. He was wearing a yellow White Sox cap, sunglasses, and hanging on his chest, a huge wooden cross. He asked his question in a staccato delivery, at high volume.
Doesn’t that read like an official report of the encounter? Even with the description of his apparel I don’t get much of a sense of the scene or the dynamics. Flicking through some later pages it was to find more of the same. Reading it I fear would be a slog not a pleasure.
The Verdict: Abandon
Wally Funk’s Race For Space by Sue Nelson
I have no idea how this book came into my possession since I’ve never heard of Wally Funk.
A quick read of the blurb tells me that she is an American aviator who smashed through the glass ceiling with a series of firsts. She was the first female air safety investigator for the National Transportation Safety Board, the first female civilian flight instructor at Fort Sill army station in Oklahoma, and the first female Federal Aviation Agency inspector.
She was also part of Mercury 13, the first group of American pilots to pass the `Woman in Space’ programme. In a series of rigorous physical and mental tests, one of her scores was higher than all the male Mercury 7 astronauts achieved, including John Glenn, the first American in orbit. Unfortunately she never made it into space because the programme was cancelled just a week before the final phase of training.
No doubt she’s an interesting woman but I’m not entirely sure I want to know much more that I’ve already gleaned about her life.
The Verdict: Probably one to let go
That’s one = possibly two – fewer books in my TBR . My objective isn’t to get rid of books, simply to make sure my shelves are full only with books I do want to read. What do you think of the decisions I’ve reached – if you’ve read any of these books I’d love to hear from you.