Book Review: ‘Educated’ a raw look at overcoming disturbing childhood

In the 21st century it seems like a given that in the United States parents will ensure their children are educated. The problem is that education varies dramatically.

Tara Westover in her memoir “Educated” (Random House, 2018) clearly illustrates the various ways one is educated as a child will have a lasting impact. Education comes in many forms – not just reading, writing, arithmetic. It’s life skills, interpersonal relationships, even hygiene.

Westover didn’t receive a conventional education in any sense of the phrase. Her parents, in particular her father, thought all things government were evil. This included, but was not limited to, education and medical institutions. Her parents’ fanatical version of Mormonism was the norm through her eyes, not extreme as most would have interpreted it.

As is true of many young kids, Westover believed what her parents told her. Stock piling food, gasoline and other provisions for the end of the world seemed normal.They were living in Idaho, in the heart of white supremacy land.

Still, Westover knew her family was different. There were even times when she questioned what was taking place, like the physical abuse by one of her older brothers. But she didn’t know how to challenge her aggressor or get others to believe her.

Fortunately, she had another brother who broke the mold by figuring out how to get into college. He encouraged Westover to do the same. Even her mother initially pushed her to go.

Westover was accepted into Brigham Young University. She was not like the other students in so many ways. Westover thought she was asking a rational question about the Holocaust only to realize it was taken as mocking this tragedy. She didn’t know what the word meant. This was one of many examples where Westover’s lack of normal education put her at a severe disadvantage.

I started reading the book thinking I would not like it based on the discussion at a book club last summer. I had attended my old book club’s meeting in Tahoe even though I had not read the book. Reviews from my friends were mixed.

I finished the book with similar mixed feelings. In many ways it read like fiction because it’s hard to believe people like this exist in the world today or that someone with her upbringing ends up graduating from Cambridge and Harvard. I was left with many questions that likely would have been answered had this been a biography. My guess, though, is the only way for this book to get published and have the success it has is for it to be a memoir. That leaves us with trusting Westover’s memory and what she wanted to rely on from others.

What frustrated me about the book is I never felt her raw emotion, her anger. The writing is controlled, almost like it was another paper for college. I question whether her editors had something to do with this to make it more palatable to the public, to be just edgy enough to become a New York Times bestseller. Or maybe Westover still hasn’t found her true voice or come to grips with all that happened to her.

Mexico in the news: BCS tourism tax, fires, and papayas

  • The government of Baja California Sur this month is starting to charge tourists a tax of $18.50 at the airport in San Jose del Cabo, according to the Associated Press.
  • California isn’t the only place on fire. Fires in Baja Norte were raging at the same time, forcing the government there to issue a disaster declaration. Read more in the Mexico News Daily.
  • Archaeologists discovered an Aztec tunnel beneath the streets of Mexico City, according this Express article.
  • Papayas south of the border are different than those in the U.S.; and even in Mexico they aren’t all the same, according to the Mexico News Daily.
  • Alta Baja has a new governor, changing the power structure on the peninsula. KPBS has the story.

The perfect gift for that person who is hard to buy for

It’s the gift giving season.

A copy of “The Dirt Around Lake Tahoe: Must-Do Scenic Hikes” is perfect for all the December holidays, as a unique hostess gift, a thank you, for anyone who travels to the greater Lake Tahoe region, and for those with a guest bedroom in the Tahoe area. This link will tell you where they may be purchased. The book retails for $14.99.

With it still nice right now in Lake Tahoe, no reason not to get a copy for yourself to find hikes before it snows. Plus, there are destinations in the Carson City and Carson Valley, so it’s a reference all year.

Many retailers in Tahoe have signed copies, as do some stores outside of the Lake Tahoe Basin. For those in Baja, signed copies are available by emailing

Signings and readings will take place in Northern California/Northern Nevada at the start of next hiking season.

Book Review: ‘Killers of the Flower Moon’ an important story

The Osage murders is another chapter in U.S. history that isn’t part of the education system. We have author David Grann to thank for bringing this disturbing history to light in his book “Killers of the Flower Moon: The Osage Murders and the Birth of the FBI” (Doubleday 2017).

Savages are what Indians were called. Truth is white people need to look in the mirror to see the true savage.

Grann takes readers on a journey through Oklahoma during the oil boom. The Osage Indians had obtained the mineral rights on their land from the federal government before anyone knew what lurked below. In the 1920s, the Osage were some of the wealthiest people in the United States.

Then the murders started occurring. To this day many have not been solved. It’s not even known how many of the Osage died during this multi-year killing spree. Many of the deaths were not investigated, let alone labeled as murder.

White people wanted the rights to the oil. Marrying into the tribe or overseeing an Indian’s financial affairs (another white man-government policy) was one way to get to the money. Instead of waiting for death to occur naturally, poison, bullets and bombings sped up the process.

While non-fiction books written by journalists are some of favorites, this one fell flat. It was dry, almost like reading court documents. While the writing left me unimpressed, it is the story that is the reason to read this book.

Grann also delves into the role of the FBI, which at the time was in its infancy. The latter chapters of the book point out how the FBI left so much evidence behind and that there is still more to know.

5 tidbits about Mexico — from tourism to voting to recipes

  • In the wake of Mexico closing its tourism board, tourist hot spots in Baja have taken on the responsibility of marketing. Check out this Los Angeles Times story.
  • A grandmother in Mexico has created a YouTube channel to share traditional homemade recipes. Read more in the Mazatlán Post.
  • The Travel website ranks the safest cities in Mexico, with Todos Santos being in the top 10. Read the story here.
  • Mexicans living abroad could cast their vote online for the first time in 2021, according to this San Diego Union Tribune.
  • NPR reports in this story that apprehensions at the U.S.-Mexico border declined for the fourth consecutive month.

Tiny libraries bring books to neighborhoods throughout the world

If libraries are a gift, then the Little Free Library movement is like the icing on the cake.

It has been 10 years since Todd H. Bol started the concept by placing a tiny library outside his Wisconsin home as a tribute to his mom who had been a teacher.

A tiny library in a South Lake Tahoe, California, neighborhood has two shelves full of books. (Image: Kathryn Reed)

He wanted to share books with others. To make it easy, free, no need for a library card, no questions asked. People could take any book, or even more than one. The idea was others would leave a book, maybe return the book they had taken after they were done with it.

It was so successful in Bol’s neighborhood that he started to give them away to family and friends. The concept spread rapidly. Bol began to envision these tiny libraries being more than a regional phenomenon. He and friend Rick Brooks used philanthropist Andrew Carnegie, who built 2,509 libraries from 1883-1929, as an inspiration. They did even better.

Today, there are more than 90,000 little free libraries in every state and in 91 countries.

In 2012, Little Free Library became a nonprofit. People don’t have to belong to it to have a library. A useful tool on the website is that it has a map of libraries, making it easier to find one.

Each library seems to have its own personality, with some owners adding personal flare. Most are about the size of a fancy dollhouse. They are essentially a tiny house for books.

While I have never taken a book from one of these libraries, I have deposited books. Quite a while ago I stopped keeping every book I ever read. Having downsized my possessions in 2018, I own even fewer books. Being able to repurpose the ones I’m done with feels wonderful. Even the books I didn’t like, well, ideally they fall into the hands of someone who will like them.

On the website, Bol says, “I really believe in a Little Free Library on every block and a book in every hand. I believe people can fix their neighborhoods, fix their communities, develop systems of sharing, learn from each other, and see that they have a better place on this planet to live.”

One day I’d like to have a little library outside my home to share with my neighborhood – wherever that might be. For now, at Casa Luna where I live part time in Todos Santos, Baja California Sur, there are a couple shelves of books open to Airbnb guests. It’s fun to see what they take and what they leave.

2 ‘Dirt Around Lake Tahoe’ book events in October

As hiking season at Tahoe slowly comes to a close, so do the 2019 events for “The Dirt Around Lake Tahoe: Must-Do Scenic Hikes.”

A presentation with slide show and talk will be Oct. 3 from 6:30-8pm at the REI in Roseville (1148 Galleria Blvd.) To register for the free event, go online. Books will be $15, cash or Venmo.

Next up will be Local Authors Day at Sundance Books in Reno (121 California Ave.) on Oct. 12 from 1-3pm. Books are $14.99.

If you can’t make it to one of these events, and still want a book, click here to find out how to purchase a copy.

Book Review: ‘The Last Season’ delves into life/Death in a national park

The problem with reading a book that is based on an event from more than 20 years ago is that you might think you already know all there is to know. Fortunately, I knew nothing about “The Last Season” (the book or the premise) except what my friend Jill said in recommending it to me.

The title holds no mystery in what the book is about – “The Last Season: Randy Morgenson was legendary for finding people missing in the High Sierra. … Then one day he went missing himself” (HarperCollins, 2006). Author Eric Blehm is a master storyteller. This could have been a bland story about happens to a seasonal backcountry national park ranger. Instead, it is a page turner.

This book is so compelling that it would make for a good movie. I didn’t say “great movie” because most movies can never do a book justice. Still, the story is movie-worthy, and I know the scenery of Kings Canyon and Sequoia National Parks is magnificent.

While Ranger Morgenson is the focus of the book, life as a ranger, the magic of the Southern Sierra Mountains, the people who call this area home – they are all part of the story. The human element mixed with the majesty of the terrain these men and women protected is in part a love story these rangers have for the land.

Blehm is able to weave the good, the bad and ugly into the book. He seems to leave no stone unturned. Life in this rugged terrain takes a toll on people – physically, mentally, emotionally. It’s not all beauty no matter the natural surroundings. By the end of the book I felt an emotional connection to these people I have never met, nor am I likely to meet.

I would have liked to have known Morgenson, to hear his stories. He embraced the need to explore the mountains, to discover the wild, to take it slow, to appreciate what you are experiencing. We share the belief that the journey is more important than the destination.

This book will definitely take you on a journey.

Tahoe hiking book events in Bay Area, Carson Valley

There will be two opportunities in the next week to have me sign your copy of “The Dirt Around Lake Tahoe: Must-Do Scenic Hikes.”

On Sept. 26, I will be at Book Smart in Morgan Hill (421 Vineyard Town Center) from 6-7pm. In addition to a short presentation about this hiking book, wine and cheese will be served. Books will be for sale for $14.99.

On Sept. 30, I will be one of several authors at the Douglas County Library in Minden (1625 Library Lane) from 4-5:30pm. Books will be $15, cash or Venmo.

Both events are free and open to everyone.

If you can’t make either of these events, go here to find where I’ll be next and where to purchase a copy of the book.

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