Author: J. D. Vance
Title: Hillbilly Elegy: A Memoir of a Family and Culture in Crisis
Narrator: J. D. Vance
Publication Info:Harper Audio, 2016
This book is being touted as offering insight into the Trump voter, but I think if you go into the book with that mindset you will be misled. Nevertheless it is an interesting memoir of life for the self-proclaimed “hillbilly” culture of Appalachia. Vance tells the story of his family from rural Kentucky and their migration along the “Hillbilly Highway” to a factory town in Ohio. His community is one of strong family ties, rugged independence, and fierce patriotism. But it is also a place of domestic violence, substance abuse, and extreme poverty. Vance’s beloved grandmother, Mamaw, who primarily raised Vance is a key figure in the book. One of the most interesting political observations in the book is that Mamaw could alternately support right-wing anti-government ideas and social democratic government programs. The contradiction of these seemingly extreme viewpoints is due to the fact the established middle of both Republicans and Democrats have abandoned the ordinary working people. Vance’s story is not typical for an Appalachian person as he joins the Marines, studies at Ohio State, gets a law degree at Yale, and now works at an investment firm in Silicon Valley. A lot of Vance’s book is the story of how he “got out” and doesn’t reflect the perspectives of those unable to “get out” or those for whom “getting out” is not an option to be desired. With those caveats in mind, this is a good slice of life of part of our country and our people who are too often overlooked.
Recommended books: Hand to Mouth: Living in Bootstrap America by Linda Tirado, Nickel and Dimed: On (Not) Getting By in America by Barbara Ehrenreich, and The Other America: Poverty in the United States by Michael Harrington