Q3 Reading Notes

Suburban life has been good for my reading habits, and I’m 3 months early finishing my reading challenge!

Three recent books that made an impression:

The Evangelicals: The Struggle to Shape America by Frances Fitzgerald took me about 8 months to finish. It was dry, and long, and often I would fall asleep after reading half a chapter. The only reason I managed to get to the end was what drove me to read it in the first place — an attempt to understand the other side.

I now live in Texas District 10. Michael McCaul has been the Congressman since 2004. He strongly opposes abortion rights, gay rights, renewable energy, and high taxes for the wealthy, and strong favors gun rights, military expansion, and American exceptionalism. He pretty much represents the opposite of what I believe, and I just have trouble understanding why.

This book is a lengthy survey of the history of the evangelical movement in the United States, first defining what the word even means, and talks about all the popular movements, main players, and all the ups and downs within the movement as well as their effect on the broader American political spectrum.

At the end of the day, honestly I don’t know if I’ve gained a lot more insight as to why “the other side” feel the way they do, but I at least know a little bit more about who they are.

God Save Texas: A Journey into the Future of America was written by Lawrence Wright. A liberal who, like me, grew up in Dallas, moved abroad and across the country to quite a few new places, then returned to settle down in Austin. He was a journalist, author, and a playwright, and the book was full of flair. Growing up in a conservative family where he dined with the Bushes, he didn’t mention when he became a liberal, but it was clear that he disagreed with the current conservative priorities. Yet his upbringing led to friendly ties with prominent Republicans, and he had strong empathy and understanding of their actions.

In his twilight years, Lawrence Wright had plenty of stories to tell, from dining with the Bushes, to meeting biker gangs in random bars while cycling through Texas, to reminiscing about his neighbor Matthew McConaughey who apparently just wanted the normal quiet life. He also interspersed this personal memoir with the history of Texas, written with succinctness yet full of interesting characters. As a Texan who never got to take Texas history in school, it was a refreshing and welcoming lesson.

The book was written with a lot of affection for this land and its people, yet at moments it feels like the author is being apologetic, as a parent would to a stranger who witnessed their child’s tantrum in a public place. He does not shy away from Texas’ shameful moments, but also reminisces about its glory days. Every place he describes comes to life, from the dust filled West Texas, to the Tex-Mex borderlands, to the no-longer-so-weird Austin. Reading the book made me see the familiar sights and hear the familiar stories in a whole new light, and makes my new old home state even more lovable.

Educated: A Memoir was written by a woman who grew up in a survivalist Mormon family and has never attended formal school until her brother encouraged her to apply to college. You could never tell by her mastery of words, but then again, Tara Westover now has a Ph.D in history from Cambridge. The book was not an inspirational story about getting educated, but more about the author’s struggle to find her place in the world, torn between her mostly loving family and, well, reality.

There was one part where Tara Westover comes to the realization “blessed are the ignorant.” As she slowly learned more about the world and started to question the doctrines she’s held as truth since a child, she sometimes tries to “unlearn” new things so she could fit into her family again. Although I’ve never had to fight as hard as Tara against my family, I do think that as an immigrant child, adapting to the new society was much easier for me, and it did create certain tensions with my parents that frustrated me a lot in my youth. Later, as I ventured further and further away from home, taking paths that were not shared by people I grew up with, I found it hard to keep up those old ties. As dear as they were to me, my old friends and family no longer had the same frame of reference, and I found it more and more difficult to both explain myself and feign politeness when being questioned of the choices I make. Even though it’s many degrees apart from what the protagonist went through, I still found certain resonance in the lessons she learned.

To be fair, I found certain parts of the book to be a bit exaggerated. For example, the moments when near death injuries somehow miraculously get healed. Overall, I found the writing captivating, the sentiments heartfelt, and the story inspiring.

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