I have two intriguing and very different memoirs to recommend this month. Both would make excellent book club choices as there is so much in them to think over and discuss.
The first is Educated by Tara Westover which has been a recent bestseller and has won many awards. Tara grew up in a survivalist Mormon family in Idaho. Her parents had a deep suspicion of doctors, schools and the government. Her birth was never registered so, on paper, she did not exist, which was a problem when she finally decided she needed to go to university. Entirely self-taught (she even had to find out for herself what the Holocaust was because no-one had ever told her about it), she managed eventually to gain a doctorate in Intellectual History from Cambridge University, but the process involved breaking away from her family.
One brother regularly abused Tara, forcing her head into the toilet bowl. He went on to abuse his wife too. How Tara managed to escape from her appalling home life (where medical disasters went untreated except by herbal remedies) and get herself a good education makes for riveting reading. She is never cruel about her strange family and tells her amazing story in a balanced and reasoned way. It was an unforgettable book which reminds you that there are people in this world leading very strange lives.
We all hear about the exhaustion of young doctors, but Adam Kay’s This is Going to Hurt: Secret Diaries of a Junior Doctor makes you feel his exhaustion all too strongly. It won Book of the Year at the National Book Awards, has been translated into 36 languages, and has sold over 1.5 million copies. The book is a real indictment of Britain’s National Health Service. Adam Kay can be blisteringly funny – he works in obstetrics and gynaecology and his anecdotes of weird things inserted into orifices can be hilarious.
But it’s also a sad book as he reveals the harrowing cases he must deal with, the impact on his personal life of the extreme work hours, and what finally makes him leave the medical profession altogether. Adam now works as a comic writer for TV and one feels the NHS is the poorer for losing a fine doctor, but the book does make you think about what doctors go through behind the unflappable exteriors they present to patients. This is a book that can make you laugh out loud, but at other times feel very close to tears. I loved it!
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