by Val Tobin
Agents and editors will often decide whether a book is for them by reading the first page of a manuscript. Many readers also decide to buy a book based on that critical first-page sample. Each month I’ll post the first page of a book and you’ll vote on whether or not you’d read the book based on the sample.
After you vote, I’ll let you know the title of the book, my reaction to the sample, and why I’d keep reading or why I’d put it down. The goal is to have fun while we explore the beginnings of a variety of books and what compels readers to keep reading.
While I won’t divulge the title or author until you’ve read the piece, I will include the genre and any preliminary items (for example, quotes) you’d see when opening the book on your own.
The past is beautiful because one never realises an emotion at the time. It expands later, and thus we don’t have complete emotions about the present, only about the past. – Virginia Wolf
I believe finally, that education must be conceived as a continuing reconstruction of experience; that the process and the goal of education are one and the same thing. – John Dewey
I’m standing on the red railway car that sits abandoned next to the barn. The wind soars, whipping my hair across my face and pushing a chill down the open neck of my shirt. The gales are strong this close to the mountains, as if the peak itself is exhaling. Down below, the valley is peaceful, undisturbed. Meanwhile, our farm dances: the heavy conifer trees sway slowly, while the sagebrush and thistles quiver, bowing before every puff and pocket of air. Behind me a gentle hill slopes upward and stitches itself to the mountain base. If I look up, I can see the dark form of the Indian Princess.
The hill is paved with wild wheat. If the conifers and sagebrush are soloists, the wheat field is a corps de ballet, each stem following all the rest in bursts of movement, a million ballerinas bending, one after the other, as great gales dent their golden heads. The shape of that dent lasts only a moment, and is as close as anyone gets to seeing wind.
Turning toward our house on the hillside, I see movements of a different kind, tall shadows stiffly pushing through the currents. My brothers are awake, testing the weather. I imagine my mother at the stove, hovering over bran pancakes. I picture my father hunched by the back door, lacing his steel-toed boots and threading his callused hands into welding gloves. On the highway below, the school bus rolls past without stopping…
Would you turn the page? Vote now.
Today’s Book Revealed
Today’s book is Educated by Tara Westover.
Blurb from Amazon
For readers of The Glass Castle and Wild, a stunning new memoir about family, loss and the struggle for a better future
#1 International Bestseller and Publishers Weekly Best Book of the Year
Tara Westover was seventeen when she first set foot in a classroom. Instead of traditional lessons, she grew up learning how to stew herbs into medicine, scavenging in the family scrap yard and helping her family prepare for the apocalypse. She had no birth certificate and no medical records and had never been enrolled in school.
Westover’s mother proved a marvel at concocting folk remedies for many ailments. As Tara developed her own coping mechanisms, little by little, she started to realize that what her family was offering didn’t have to be her only education. Her first day of university was her first day in school—ever—and she would eventually win an esteemed fellowship from Cambridge and graduate with a PhD in intellectual history and political thought.
Would I Turn the Page?
No, not based on that first page.
This book was a selection for the book club to which I belong, and when I sat down to read it, I found my thoughts drifting to other things. It’s never a good sign if I have to reread paragraphs because I have no idea what I’d just read. There weren’t any distractions at the time, so it wasn’t that. My issue was the long descriptive passage.
I recall thinking, Dear God, I hope the whole book isn’t like this and then assuring myself that if it was, I didn’t have to finish it.
I’m happy to say I kept reading and loved the book.
Tara Westover’s life was weird, to say the least. Her family was one you survived not one you thrived in. She was born at home, her birth never registered. When she reached school age, her parents never sent her. Westover’s father had strange beliefs that stemmed from undiagnosed mental illness, and his family suffered the consequences.
Since this is a memoir, the impact is that much more visceral. At times, most of us probably think wistfully of living off the grid, but no one would envy the life the Westover family lived. Reading about their experiences is difficult enough.
Tara Westover’s memoir, my reaction to the first page aside, is gripping and well written. Once I’d read a few pages, I was hooked and didn’t want to put it down. Her strength and determination astound me, and it makes me appreciate how accessible education was for me.
What do you think?
Does this passage from Educated intrigue you? Does it make you want to turn the page and continue reading? Will you run out now and buy the book? Borrow it?
Val Tobin writes speculative fiction and searches the world over for the perfect butter tart. Her home is in Newmarket, Ontario, where she enjoys writing, reading, and talking about writing and reading.