"Hillbilly Elegy" - Add it to Your Summer Reading/Listening List
I’ve been a bit of a lazy bookworm lately! I haven’t done a book review in a couple months now… mostly because I haven’t done that much reading. I started a new day job, which is always a bit extra tiring while you get up to speed, and I’ve started taking a new course for that job so I’m having to start using my evenings for studying. And, to be honest, when I come home from work, I like to just walk my dog, hang out with my boyfriend, and maybe enjoy a little Netflix with them both if I'm not studying (we’re currently obsessing over Bloodline). I'll read a few pages of a book before bed, but I've barely been making it through five pages lately! I’m sure a lot of you can relate... life is busy. I don’t know how my friends with little ones do it – I can barely muster the energy to look after myself properly! Anyway, as a result, I'm moving through my reading list at a snails pace. But, with my new commute, I’ve discovered audiobooks. They are a wonderful thing! I used to just fall asleep AS SOON I started listening to an audiobook (with the right reader, it’s like story time for kids!). I never used to understand how or why my mom listened to books on cassette while she drove me and my brother around. Now I get it – I totally love them. So, this month, I’m reviewing Hillbilly Elegy, which I listened to on Audible.
In short, I loved it. It’s smart, it’s fascinating, it’s honest… And it’s extremely relevant when keeping in mind today’s political climate. The author, J.D. Vance, is the perfect person to tell this story. He’s got a foot in two very different worlds – a tiny Appalachian town in Kentucky, which he describes as feeling like a different universe with its own unique rules and habits, and the life of an Ivy League law school graduate who has crossed into America’s upper class society. He’s a success story from a place that doesn’t get too many of those. What’s unique about him, though, is his willingness to be both. He’s fully aware of where he came from and where he’s gotten to, and embraces both. His insights into the psychological and physical trauma of his childhood, a kind of trauma that is characteristic of his community, is fascinating. He explores the root causes for the behaviour and offers possible ties to the experiences of past generations. He shares his own story with the hope of exploring why the cycle never seems to end, and why no policy or aid programs seem to be able to help this disenfranchised group. He relates everything he says to politics too – past and present – though it is by no means a book about politics. He merely wants to use his memoir to provide insight into this group on a broader level. I found it really interesting to learn how political views have shifted in the Appalachians over the last few generations, and to hear his reasoning as to why this shift may have occurred. He also uses his legal expertise and professional experience to take what he knows about the people and the culture to offer potential policy solutions, and to critique existing ones.
It’s smart, insightful, and relevant. Vance is unapologetic as he tells his family’s story and, through this book, offers readers/listeners a seemingly-unmarred glimpse into the seemingly far-away world of Appalachia.
Don’t take my word for it – it’s also on Bill Gates’ 2017 summer reading list.
PS – If you’re going to join me in listening on Audible, I highly recommend it. Vance narrates it himself and, as it always does when the author narrates, the story is brought to life through the passion and emotion in his voice. I’ve grown extremely partial to listening to audiobooks narrated by the author – they’re almost always better.