book reviews, religion

A review of Sex Cult Nun, by Faith Jones…

Happy Saturday, everybody! I woke up early this morning, determined to finally finish my latest reading project. It’s not that the book I just finished, Sex Cult Nun (2021), by Faith Jones, wasn’t interesting. It definitely was. I just find it hard to read as fast as I used to. I tend to read when I’m lying in bed, and I drift off to sleep. I definitely need naps more than I used to. It’s probably because Bill wakes me up at 5:00am, most mornings.

I think I discovered Sex Cult Nun when I saw it recommended in the Duggar Family News group. I am fascinated by books about religious cults, so when someone recommends a new one– especially one that is highly regarded– I usually take notice. However, when I realized that Faith Jones was raised in The Family, which used to be known as the Children of God, and is now known as The Family International, I almost didn’t read the book. I’ve now read several books about the Children of God cult, and I always find it difficult to get through them because books about that particular cult are often rife with stories of child sexual abuse. I don’t enjoy reading about children being sexually violated.

As of this morning, I have already reviewed three other books about the Children of God/ The Family. Sex Cult Nun is number four. And although I do find The Family disturbing to read about, there are some aspects of that particular religious group that really are interesting. I’m glad that I did finish Faith Jones’ story, because ultimately, it ends with triumph. Also, although Jones endured a lot of abuse on all levels, her book doesn’t include graphic stories about children being horrifically abused. Make no mistake– Jones was abused and severely neglected when she was growing up, and she does share stories about that abuse. But she manages to share her story without causing the shock and horror I’ve encountered in other books about this particular cult.

Background about David Berg and his cult

Faith Jones comes from a long line of evangelists and proselytizers, which she details in the first chapter of Sex Cult Nun. But the most famous/infamous of her ancestors is her paternal grandfather, David Brandt Berg, founder of the Children of God. Jones explains that Berg’s religious convictions were cemented, in part, because he believed that he had experienced a miracle. Berg was drafted into the Army in 1941, when he was 22 years old. Berg’s mother, Virginia, was a famous preacher who had been miraculously healed, due to her religious convictions. She was a very charismatic traveling evangelist who held tent revivals. Virginia had three children, but only her son, David, was interested in pursuing a life in the ministry. She took him with her on her travels as her assistant and driver.

But then Berg was summoned to military service. Although he could have gotten out of being drafted because he was pursuing a life in the ministry, he decided not to try to get out of military service. He had gotten tired of working with his mother and craved adventure. But then when he was in boot camp, he contracted double pneumonia, and was not expected to recover. Berg prayed to God, promising that if was healed, he would devote his life to God’s service. And, just like that, he was “miraculously healed”, just like his mother was. Berg was medically discharged from the Army, and he went back to work with his mother. However, Berg was not happy with his modest role as his mother’s assistant. He wanted to preach, too. He would have to wait awhile before that would happen.

While he was working with his mother, David met a pretty brunette woman named Jane Miller. She was a devout Baptist from Kentucky who had moved to California. Jane worked as a secretary at The Little Church of Sherman Oaks. David and Jane eloped in 1944, and the couple had four children, including Faith Jones’s father, Jonathan “Hosea” Emmanuel. Berg became ordained as a minister of the Christian and Missionary Alliance. He began to preach about integration and sharing one’s wealth with the less fortunate. Jones writes that her grandfather was formulating his ideas about “Christian communism”, which is essentially what his cult, the Children of God, would become while he was still living. Berg was unhappy with his lot in life, and engaged in a number of “antics” that would infuriate local religious leaders, who would call law enforcement. The situation got so bad that Berg decided to go on the road. Faith Jones’s father was in the eighth grade at the time. He was pulled out of school, and that was the end of Hosea’s formal education.

In 1968, David Brandt Berg, finally started a religious movement in California. The group originally consisted of “hippie types”, young people and troubled teenagers– drifters attracted to the counterculture movements of the that era. He originally called his cult “Teens for Christ”, but later changed the name to Children of God.

David Berg was charismatic and enigmatic, and he brought together young, attractive, and talented people and convinced them that his brand of evangelical Christianity was the right way to live. In reality, the Children of God was historically a group with extremely abusive and misogynistic teachings. Young people were sent all over the world to beg on the street, sell religious reading materials, and “flirty fish” new converts, who would live in poverty in diverse locations. The children raised in that cult, at least when Berg was still living, were horrifically abused on all levels. Faith Jones, one of David Berg’s many grandchildren, was no exception.

Faith Jones never met her paternal grandfather, who went into hiding in 1971. David Berg divorced Jane Miller (known as Mother Eve) in 1970 and that same year, he married a cult follower named Karen Zerby, who had worked as his secretary. Karen Zerby now leads The Family, as the Children of God cult is now called. She is known as “Mother Maria”.

Karen had a son named Ricky Rodriguez in 1975, while she was living in Tenerife, Spain. Ricky was fathered by a “flirty fish”– a man Karen had been trying to lure into the cult by having sex with him. David Berg “adopted” Ricky, whose childhood was recorded in a book called The Story of Davidito. The book was supposed to be a guide to cult followers on how to raise their children. However, the book strongly encouraged child sexual abuse, which Karen Zerby allegedly participated in against her son.

Ricky Rodriguez endured horrific abuse, and in 2005, invited his mother and his former nanny to lunch. After lunch, he murdered his nanny by stabbing her to death. He had meant to murder his mother, too, but she hadn’t accepted his invitation to lunch. Rodriguez then committed suicide. It’s my understanding that a lot of the really abusive practices that took place while Berg was still alive no longer happen. “Flirty fishing”– using sex to lure new converts– went out in the 1980s, supposedly due to the AIDS epidemic.

Who is Faith Jones?

Jones was born to David Berg’s son, Hosea, around 1977. At the time of Faith’s birth, Hosea had two wives, Ruthie and Esther. Ruthie is Faith’s mother. Like many people who were born into the Children of God cult, Faith wasn’t always raised with her family of origin. She spent her growing up years living in different religious communes around the world, mostly in Asia. The communes, which were called “homes”, were led by shepherds– usually married couples– who kept the members accountable to the cult’s teachings and doled out punishments for infractions of the rules. Jones mostly grew up in Macau and Hong Kong, but she also spent time in Taiwan, mainland China, Thailand, and Russia.

Children were “homeschooled”. They were not allowed to read any books that weren’t approved by the cult’s leadership. They were forced to read “Mo Letters”– these were letters David Berg, who had taken to calling himself “Moses David” (hence the “Mo”), wrote to his followers. When members were punished, they were often required to read and reread the Mo Letters, over and over again, even if they had already memorized them. Jones did get a couple of tastes of formal education, and that ignited a thirst for knowledge within her. But children were severely punished for seeking information, reading unapproved books, or breaking other rules, such as eating sugar without permission. Children were also trained to “share” with other members. “Sharing” is a euphemism for having sex. The cult members were not to work with “Systemites”– normal people who weren’t in the cult.

Faith Jones was taught that she owned nothing. She had to share EVERYTHING with the group… and that included her body. She was told that her body didn’t belong to her; it belonged to God. God wanted her to share her body with anyone who wanted access to it. And using birth control was forbidden, as was refusing sex.

Faith breaks out at age 23

Eventually, Faith realized that she wanted a college education. But cult members were forbidden from studying at a university. They were also forbidden from working at jobs for money. They got all of their money by begging, performing in the street, or selling religious materials or music productions. Once she’d made up her mind, she told the leaders of the commune, who promptly did all they could to force her to stay. Jones was told that if she left the cult, she would end up on drugs or homeless. This is the same threat repeated by other cult leaders, who try to make their victims believe that they can’t make it through life on their own. It was a threat my husband heard, when he decided to quit Mormonism.

But Faith was determined, and fortunately, her mother’s parents were not in the cult. They were able to help her a little bit. Faith also had to rely on her own resources to raise enough money to buy a plane ticket to the United States from China. Living outside of the cult caused Faith Jones significant culture shocks at times. At one point, she lived with a Chinese woman who became enraged with her when she tried to borrow a fan without asking permission. Faith was raised in an environment where people lived communally. She didn’t have a concept of privacy or people not using things without permission.

When she moved to California and looked into attending college, she found that none of the big schools would accept her, because she didn’t have any credentials. Her solution was to attend community college, where she made excellent grades. But she couldn’t relate to other people, since she’d spent her life outside of the United States. She didn’t get pop culture references, and didn’t know how to be “normal” with “Systemites”.

Nevertheless, Faith Jones was an extraordinary student, and she eventually managed to win acceptance to Georgetown University’s School of Foreign Service. That would have been an exceptional feat regardless, but she made it in as a transfer student, which is a very rare achievement. She graduated Summa Cum Laude, having learned to speak Russian and Mandarin fluently. Then she went to law school at the University of California- Berkeley. Jones writes that she wasn’t particularly attracted to the law, but decided it was a profession in which she would always be able to make a good living. She would not be impoverished again, nor would she ever be beholden to other people. She is now a very successful attorney with her own practice. But she still has many hang ups and complexes that stem from her upbringing in a cult.

Faith Jones has a TED Talk. This is worth listening to, if you don’t want to read the book.

My thoughts

I didn’t really enjoy this book to its fullest until I got to the end. In fact, I really wish that Faith Jones had spent a little more time writing about her life outside of the cult. It was during that time that she “awakened”, and I found that part of the book fascinating and exciting. For instance, she writes about meeting a military officer who was also studying law when she was at Georgetown. He became her boyfriend for a time, and he helped her to overcome some falsehoods that she learned while she was in the cult.

Faith had never learned that sex is not supposed to be painful. When she was in the cult, she was forced to have sex with men she wasn’t attracted to, so she wasn’t prepared to have normal sex. Faith was also raped a couple of times. Her ex boyfriend taught her that sex shouldn’t hurt. He also defined rape to her, which caused Faith to realize that, actually, all of the sexual experiences she’d had before they dated were basically rapes. She hadn’t actually wanted to have sex with those men; she was pressured, coerced, and a couple of times, actually forced to have sex with them. I’m sure that realization was very traumatic for her, but I suspect that in a way, it was also liberating. She learned that she could and should say “no”, and that consent is necessary before sex.

Unfortunately, Faith’s relationship with her boyfriend ultimately couldn’t work out, as he and his parents were members of a different controlling religious cult–the Seventh Day Adventists. Their religion was not as toxic as Faith’s was, but there were too many dynamics within it that were like the Children of God/The Family. Moreover, because of the religion her boyfriend was in, she was asked to lie to his parents, who were not aware that their son had strayed somewhat from the religion’s teachings– no meat, no alcohol, and no sex before marriage.

I was a little surprised when Faith wrote that she hadn’t necessarily been attracted to studying law; she had just wanted to be able to get a good job and make plenty of money on her own. For one thing, I know that not everyone who goes to law school is successful in launching a legal career. For another thing, Faith Jones is obviously very intellectual and has a gift for making cases. She once got a professor at Georgetown to change an A- to an A, when he told her he’d never been convinced to do that before. She laboriously went through all of her work to make her case and managed to change his mind. And she’d done it because she had her heart set on graduating from Georgetown with straight As so she could get the distinction of Summa Cum Laude. I doubt many students are that single-minded and dedicated. To me, it seemed natural that she would become a lawyer. I thought that even before I knew that is, in fact, what she had done after she graduated from college.

I also liked that this book ends on a good note. While I’m not so naive to think that Faith is completely recovered from her traumatic childhood, I do think she’s made great strides toward overcoming some very significant challenges. She does point out that not everyone who was in the cult was that lucky. Her father, for instance, is still impoverished, although she has a good relationship with him and her mother. Her mother was able to pick up the pieces post cult life and start a career in her 50s. That gave me hope, as I will be 50 soon myself, and sometimes I worry about potentially having to support myself. 😉

Finally, I want to comment that this book reminded me a lot of Tara Westover’s book, Educated, which I have also read and reviewed. I think Jones and Westover have a lot in common, although Westover was raised as a fundie Mormon. Personally, I think Educated was a bit easier and more entertaining to read, but both books are worthwhile and gratifying reading. They’re both books about young women who overcome tremendous odds and severe handicaps to achieve great success and greatness in the world. Ultimately, both books are “feel good” stories when all is said and done, but readers have to wade through some disturbing and upsetting passages to get there. Likewise, Tara Westover’s book reminded me of The Glass Castle, by Jeannette Walls.

Anyway… I am amazed by Faith Jones’s determination, tenacity, resilience, and brilliance. She is a very unusual person and her story is worth reading, if you can stomach the parts about the abuse she and other members of The Family endured. I recommend Sex Cult Nun, but be prepared for some unpleasant shocks– though not as many as I’ve read in other books about the Children of God/The Family.

As an Amazon Associate, I get a small commission from Amazon on purchases made through my site.

Standard
book reviews, LDS

Reposted book review: The Sound of Gravel, by Ruth Wariner…

Here’s another reposted book review posted as/is from my original blog. This review was written and posted on April 1, 2018.

A review of The Sound of Gravel, by Ruth Wariner…

Back in 2007, my husband Bill told me about Irene Spencer’s book, Shattered Dreams.   It was about being one of many wives to a polygamist.  It was in Spencer’s book that I first heard of Colonia LeBaron, a Mormon polygamist colony in Mexico started by the LeBaron brothers, who were all excommunicated by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints for teaching and practicing plural marriage. 

There was a time when mainstream true believing Mormons practiced polygamy, but they were forced to abandon plural marriage when Utah became a state.  Some church members didn’t want to give up polygamy and started their own Mormon offshoots.  Colonia LeBaron is one of the better known of the Mormon fundamentalist groups that broke off from the mainstream church founded by Joseph Smith. 

Irene Spencer was married to Verlan LeBaron.  She was the second of Verlan LeBaron’s wives and bore thirteen of his 58 children.  She died March 12, 2017 in Mexico. 

This morning, I finished reading The Sound of Gravel, a 2016 memoir written by Ruth Wariner, who is one of Verlan LeBaron’s nieces.  Ruth Wariner’s mother, Kathy Wariner, was married to Joel LeBaron, who was one of Verlan’s brothers.  She was Joel’s fifth wife.  Joel LeBaron was the head of Colonia LeBaron and he had many rivals, including his younger brother, Ervil, who’d had a falling out with Joel.  On August 20, 1972, when Ruth Wariner was just three months old, Ervil had two of his followers murder Joel LeBaron.  Ruth was the 39th of Joel LeBaron’s 42 children.  Follow the link for Wariner’s own explanation of the history behind Colonia LeBaron.

Ruth Wariner’s mother, Kathy, eventually remarried, becoming the second wife of a man named Lane.  Lane had several wives, all of whom were having his babies.  Kathy had four children with Joel LeBaron and another six with Lane.  Ruth grew up tending to her younger siblings, as if she was also their mother.  Some of the kids in the colony had severe disabilities, including Ruth’s sister, Meri, who eventually died.  The family was extremely poor and lived on food stamps.  They would take regular trips into the United States to use them at grocery stores near the border.  Lane would also work in the United States to earn money to support his ever growing family.

Lane was a horrible man.  He was cruel and abusive to his wives and children and he exploited the children Kathy had with Joel LeBaron.  The lifestyle in the colony was difficult because they were so desperately poor.  There was little emphasis on schooling, even (and perhaps especially) among the really bright kids.  As one of Kathy’s eldest kids, Ruth was called upon to protect and nurture her mother’s children as she was herself growing up.

I am a sucker for a good memoir, especially one about “fringe religions”.  Mormon fundamentalism is definitely among the fringiest of the fringe religions.  I noticed Wariner’s books got good ratings on Amazon and, having just read Educated, by Tara Westover, who also grew up fringe style Mormon and off the grid, I was game for another good read.  I noticed a few similarities between Westover’s book and Wariner’s, although Westover wasn’t in a polygamous family.  In both families, there was abuse and poverty.  Both families involved members who wanted to live free of government interference, although Wariner’s family was willing to exploit social welfare programs in the United States, while Westover’s family avoided all contact with the government.

I was also attracted to Wariner’s book because she is exactly one month older than I am.  I remember what life was like for me in the 80s.  Ruth Wariner did have some exposure to some of the pop culture of that era.  Indeed, in Colonia LeBaron, there was even dancing and drinking of alcohol.  Of course, Ruth was a child taking care of children and was too busy to really get to be a teenager.  When I think about how difficult it was for me to be a teen, I can’t help but realize that Ruth Wariner had it so much harder than I ever could.  And yet, she still manages to inject some hope and love into her writing.  It doesn’t sound all bad to be growing up in a polygamous colony.  She did have a lot of love for her siblings, cousins, and other relatives.

When she was fifteen years old, Ruth Wariner suddenly became orphaned when her mother, one of her brothers, and one of Kathy’s sister wives’ brothers died in a freak accident.  When Kathy Wariner died, she left behind three very young children, the youngest of whom was only five months old and was being breastfed at the time of her mother’s very sudden, tragic death.  Ruth had told her mother that Lane was sexually abusing Ruth and her mother had made sure he stayed away from Ruth and the other kids.  But when Kathy died, that protection was gone. 

When Ruth determined that Lane was victimizing Kathy’s other kids, she decided she had to act.  It was time to escape to America.  That’s what she did.  I would have been interested in reading more about what it was like to reintegrate into American society and how she managed to help raise her mother’s children to be functioning adults.

To be honest, I think there’s another book in Ruth Wariner’s story.  Ultimately, The Sound of Gravel is about what it was like for her to grow up in a polygamous Mormon cult in Mexico.  It’s not until the end of the book that she escapes with her siblings.  The escape was orchestrated by Ruth’s eldest brother, Matt, and his first wife, Maria.  There’s not much information about the escape itself or the aftermath of it.  Instead, readers get a long buildup to what caused her to make the brave decision to leave. 

Ruth Wariner is clearly very resilient and resourceful.  She earned her GED and went on to finish college and graduate school.  She was a high school Spanish teacher for years.  The Sound of Gravel is her first book, but it’s been very well received.  She is now a happily married writer, speaker, and small business owner in Oregon and stays in touch with her siblings.

I really enjoyed Ruth Wariner’s book, even if parts of it were infuriating.  Her stepfather was truly an evil bastard.  But what a gift Ruth Wariner was to her siblings, whom she saved from abuse and a poverty.  I highly recommend The Sound of Gravel, especially for those who enjoy true stories.  Just be prepared to be shocked and horrified more than a couple of times.

As an Amazon Associate, I get a small commission from Amazon on sales made through my site.

Standard
book reviews

Repost of my review of Tara Westover’s Educated…

I reviewed Tara Westover’s book, Educated, back in March 2018. Since I have been forced to lock down my original blog, I will repost that review here for those who are interested in my thoughts on it. I am doing this because Educated reminds me a lot of Lisa Brennan-Jobs’ book, Small Fry, which I just reviewed yesterday.

Here goes…

That Duggar group I joined may end up giving me more bang for the buck than I initially realized.  It was in that group that I first heard about the book Educated: A Memoir.  Released to the public on February 20, 2018, Educated was written by Tara Westover, a woman who spent the first sixteen years of her life growing up unschooled and very religious in rural Idaho.

Those who read this blog regularly may know that I generally take a pretty dim view of Mormonism. I have a lot of reasons for feeling the way I do about the religion– reasons that are easily found within many of my blog posts.  Today, I want to go on record to say that I know very well that there are many fine Mormons out there.  Tara Westover was the beneficiary of Mormons who were just plain good people.  I believe Brigham Young University may have even saved her life.

Westover was sixteen when she left home for college at Brigham Young University.  It was there that she entered a classroom for the first time in her life.  It was also there that she was identified as a scholar.  She has since gone on to earn a doctoral degree in history at Cambridge University in England, stopping at Harvard University along the way to be a visiting fellow.  Her story is incredible and miraculous.  I found it impossible to put down, and it’s not very often that I can say that anymore about books I read.

Against all odds, Tara Westover, youngest of seven kids raised by an extremely neglectful and somewhat “crazy” father and a very busy midwife mother, now has a doctorate, as do two of her brothers.  The other children in the family remain largely unschooled, save for the eldest, who did earn a GED (high school general equivalency diploma).  At the end of Educated, Westover notes that her family is divided by an educational chasm.  Half stayed in the survivalist world of rural Idaho.  The other half went on to academic glory.

Westover’s family lived in Buck’s Peak, a mountain that changed with the seasons.  Her father’s mother lived at the bottom of the hill.  She is described as kind of cranky, but relatively normal.  She had a phone, and when people would call for Tara’s mother to deliver their babies, “Grandma from down the hill” would relay the message… at least until Tara’s mother had a phone line put in, against her husband’s wishes.

Tara’s mother’s mother was known as “Grandma out in town”.  She lived in a pretty house with a white picket fence.  Westover writes that her maternal grandmother had come from “the wrong side of the tracks” and was treated badly by her peers.  Consequently, she wanted her children to look like they came from a good family.  Westover’s mother grew up wearing beautifully tailored clothes that her mother had made by hand.  “Grandma out in town” would obsess over the outfits her daughter wore to church, which seemed to be a bone of contention that drove Tara’s mother to marry the crazy guy with jet black hair who lived on Buck’s Peak.

Tara Westover’s father was an extremely devout Mormon.  He didn’t trust the government and only had his first two children’s births recorded.  According to Westover, he wouldn’t take his children to doctors and relied on his wife to prepare herbal tinctures to cure them of their ailments.  He regularly drove his children in vehicles that lacked seatbelts.  Twice, they were in serious accidents and were injured badly enough that they probably should have visited an emergency room.  In fact, Tara’s father didn’t even teach his kids to wash their hands after using the bathroom.  When he was confronted by Tara’s maternal grandmother, he replied “I teach my kids not to piss on their hands.”

Westover’s father made money by scrapping metal and building hay sheds.  He talked his wife into learning how to be a midwife, even though she hated the work and was reluctant to do it.  Every time she protested being a midwife, he would tell her it was what God wanted her to do.  Indeed, once she was trained by her predecessor, Tara’s mother was the only midwife in the area and was kept very busy delivering babies from cash strapped locals who couldn’t afford to go to a hospital.  From a very early age, Tara Westover witnessed babies being born.  She was also exposed to many other elements of life that most youngsters never encounter.  Tara’s father was a survivalist and likely very mentally ill.  One of her oldest brothers was violent and Tara often took the brunt of his propensity toward physical abuse.

Had it not been for Tara’s more normal mother and another brother, who had decided to venture out of Buck’s Peak and get an education, Tara Westover might still be living on that mountain rounding up feral horses and selling them for slaughter.  Yes, wild horses were yet another source of income for Westover’s family.  They lived as far off the grid as possible… as wild as the feral horses on the hill.  Tara’s father relied on his family members to help him make a living.  According to Tara, he tried to force them to work for him on multiple occasions.  She had to be careful about the help she accepted from him.

The story of how Westover arrived at BYU is pretty amazing, especially when you consider that Westover didn’t even have a birth certificate until she was in her teens.  Because her parents did not register five of their seven children at birth, the children ran into problems as they came of age.  They had no school records or medical records, so doing things like getting a driver’s license or entering college was a real challenge.  In fact, they weren’t even completely sure when their birthdays were.  Westover writes that she’d pick a day every year during her birth month– never on Sunday, because it’s not fun to celebrate a birthday at church.

Tara’s brother told her about the ACT exam, for which many youngsters prepare for years.  Tara took it the first time and got a respectable score, even though she had never been to school.  She took it the second time and got a high enough score to get into Brigham Young University, known in LDS circles as a “tough” school.  She achieved admittance when she was sixteen.  Most kids at that age are in their junior years of high school.

When she arrived at BYU, Westover knew pretty much nothing.  She hadn’t even heard of the Holocaust.  When she told a professor she didn’t know the word “Holocaust”, he thought she was joking.  She had no concept of how to do algebra and worried that her grades in college algebra would cause her to lose her scholarship.

Even her living situation was strange.  BYU students are known for being very religious and clean cut.  Tara took the religious standards to extremes, becoming distinctly uncomfortable when she’d see her roommates in tank tops or drinking Diet Cokes.  When she got a very bad headache, she suffered with it until her boyfriend introduced her to the miracle of ibuprofen.  The same boyfriend insisted that Tara learn to wear seatbelts and would not drive the car until she put one on.

A friend had to take Tara to a clinic to be treated for strep throat and mono because she had no idea of how to access medical care; she’d never been to a doctor for any reason.  When her mother found out Tara was taking antibiotics, her mom sent her herbals, not to cure the strep, but to “flush” the toxic antibiotics out of her system.

When Tara finally applied for a federal grant to help her squeak by in school, she panicked when she was awarded $4000.  She had only wanted $1400 so she could get a tooth fixed.  Her friends and a kindly bishop had to explain to her that she could use that money to make herself a little more comfortable.  Grant money does not have to be repaid.  And… it did not go unnoticed by Tara’s roommates that she didn’t wash her hands after she used the bathroom.

Another kind professor had noticed how fine Tara Westover’s mind is and encouraged her to apply for a program at Cambridge University.  Despite the steep learning curve Tara faced as she entered 21st century living, Tara was a success in school.  But she still had to be convinced that she belonged there and deserved to use her academic gifts.  And that is what I believe is the main idea of this fantastic story.

Years ago, I read The Glass Castle, a famous book written by Jeannette Walls.  Walls similarly grew up in a very unconventional way with parents who were both abusive and neglectful.  Walls’ parents believed in their children learning from their own mistakes.  If you’ve read The Glass Castle, and a lot of people have, Educated will probably remind you of it somewhat.  I’m pretty sure I read The Glass Castle when we were in Germany the first time, so it’s been about ten years for me.  I’m glad it’s been that long.  Otherwise, I might have been tempted to compare the two books.

Westover’s story is complicated, yet fascinating.  The book is divided into three parts.  The last part seemed somewhat less compelling to me than the first two, possibly because Westover had grown up and was now realizing that she couldn’t go back home again.  Tara Westover’s decision to go to college caused a rift in her family.  She no longer has contact with some family members.  Not surprisingly, the reviews of this book are interesting– especially the one star reviews, a couple of which were apparently written by siblings.  Some reviews are also left by people who claim to know the Westovers and are offended by Tara Westover’s account of growing up in that family.

As I was finishing the book, it occurred to me that Bill’s daughter might be experiencing something similar.  In fact, my perspective of Mormonism has shifted somewhat as I’ve heard more about her story.  I still don’t like Mormonism, but I do think it can be a lifesaver for some people… Bill’s daughter included.  As for Westover, I have a feeling that she’s figured out the truth about the church, but may remain in it because of what it’s given her.

Anyway… I highly recommend Educated.  It’s a great read and an excellent example of what one can accomplish even when the odds are stacked against them.  It wouldn’t surprise me if this book doesn’t turn into a movie someday.

As an Amazon Associate, I get a small commission from Amazon on sales made through my site.

Standard
book reviews

A review of Small Fry, by Lisa Brennan-Jobs

I’m not exactly sure what made me download Lisa Brennan-Jobs’ book Small Fry. It’s true that I became an Apple convert about eight years ago and all of my computers and devices were made by Apple. I didn’t know that much about Lisa Brennan-Jobs’ father, the late Steve Jobs, co-founder of Apple, who died in 2011 at age 56. He’d had a form of pancreatic cancer. I do remember that after his death, a lot was written about how eccentric he was, particularly regarding his diet. But aside from that, I didn’t really have a particular interest in Apple beyond my Apple products.

I just finished reading Brennan-Jobs’ book, which was published in September 2018. I found it surprisingly interesting and engaging reading. Brennan-Jobs is the product of Steve Jobs and Chrisann Brennan. They had met in 1972, when they were students at Homestead High School in Cupertino, California. Chrisann was an artist, and Jobs was enchanted by her. Back then, he was kind of a “bum”. He had attended Reed College in Oregon for a short spell, but dropped out of school, and he and Chrisann had an on again, off again relationship. Lisa was born on a farm on May 17, 1978. Her parents took her into a field and named her together, but then Lisa temporarily lost her dad when he claimed he wasn’t her father.

For several years after her birth, Steve Jobs denied paternity. Even though Lisa looked a lot like her dad, and he had even helped name her, it took a legal case and a blood test to finally prove to Jobs that he had a daughter. This was happening during the earliest days of Apple, so there was a lot of press about it. Once the blood test proved Lisa was Jobs’ daughter, he started to take an interest in her… although she mostly grew up with her much poorer mom.

In heartbreaking detail, Brennan-Jobs describes what it was like to grow up the daughter of such a brilliant but eccentric man. She explains his complicated family life; he had been the product of a Muslim Syrian man and his German-Swiss girlfriend. The girlfriend’s parents objected to her marrying a Muslim, so she gave Steve up for adoption. He was raised by Paul and Clara Jobs, who were working class white folks. Steve’s adoptive mom was the daughter of ethnic Armenians who had immigrated. Paul and Clara Jobs also adopted a daughter named Patty, to whom Steve was never close. Steve also had a biological sister, the novelist Mona Simpson. After he met his biological mother, Steve and Mona began a brother-sister relationship and Mona was part of Lisa’s life. When Steve and Chrisann were dating as teens, Steve’s adoptive mom confided in Chrisann that for the first six months of his life, she had been afraid to get close to him because his bio mom wanted him back and she was afraid she was going to lose him. At the time, Chrisann didn’t know why Mrs. Jobs was telling her that, but as Jobs came of age, it became clear. He turned into a very strange person who had stormy relationships.

One might assume Lisa Brennan-Jobs would have had the coolest upbringing ever. Her dad helped found Apple, and NeXT. He was a multi-millionaire who lived in big, empty houses and shopped at Armani. But Lisa always seemed to teeter on the brink of his life. He chose when he wanted to acknowledge her, and seemed to kick her out and pull her back into his life whenever it suited him. When she did something he didn’t like, he would accuse her of not trying to be part of the family. More than once, he cut her off financially for doing something against his wishes, or he would simply act like he didn’t care about her at all. Still, somehow, she stayed in his life until he died. Sometimes, he was okay and even approached being loving somehow. But then he’d spoil the loving moments by being shitty. His first computer was called the Lisa, but he later claimed he’d named it after an ex-girlfriend. Lisa’s mom rightfully called bullshit on that one.

I am very impressed by Lisa Brennan-Jobs’ writing. It’s clear and easy to understand. I thought Small Fry was well-edited, especially considering the complex nature of Brennan-Jobs’ relationship with her dad. I am astonished that Brennan-Jobs seems to be so together, particularly since her mother appears to also be a bit eccentric. Chrisann Brennan’s mom was schizophrenic and cruel; consequently, she spent years living with her father and his second wife. With parents like Lisa’s, it would seem she’d seem less wise than she does in her book. But then, she is a first born/only child (Jobs had three more children with his wife, Laurene Powell), and first born/only children often grow up fast and are very responsible. Lisa was very motivated and managed to accomplish a lot on her own, a quality I admire very much. She even graduated from Harvard, although she basically namedropped her dad’s name to score acceptance.

In some ways, Small Fry reminds me a bit of Tara Westover’s Educated, which I read and reviewed on my old blog. I don’t think Brennan-Jobs’ upbringing was quite as chaotic or shocking as Westover’s was, but when you consider who her dad was, it does seem crazy. Poor Lisa attended a birthday party for one of her father’s other children. There was a display depicting the family– Steve, Laurene, Reed, Erin, and Eve. Lisa wasn’t on the display, and her little sister announced to her friends that Lisa was “Daddy’s mistake”. Ouch. (Actually, when I was a kid, my mom referred to me as a “mistake”, too, so I kind of know how it feels.) I just got the feeling that Lisa never really felt secure with her place in the family, since Jobs was constantly accusing her of not trying hard enough to fit in. And Jobs was also often verbally abusive to people, particularly regarding food. Jobs was notoriously obsessed with his diet and would yell at people who either didn’t serve him the food he wanted exactly how he wanted it, or he would berate people who didn’t eat the way he felt they should. He once screamed at Lisa’s cousin on her mom’s side for eating a hamburger, which he considered “dead food”.

To be honest… Steve Jobs may have given us Apple, but he sounds like he was a major league asshole. A brilliant asshole, yes, but an asshole just the same. I felt great empathy for Lisa. It’s tough growing up with a parent like that, especially when your friends have parents who are caring , supportive, and kind. Anyway… I’m glad she at least got a gorgeously written book out of the experience, and it’s one of which she should be very proud. I highly recommend it to those who like a good memoir.

As an Amazon Associate, I get a small commission from Amazon on sales made through my site.

Standard