Title: Hillbilly Elegy
Author: J.D. Vance
Published: June 2016
Rating: ★ ★ ★
Summary: An account of J.D. growing up in a working class family with roots in Appalachian Kentucky. A part memoir, part sociological observation.
My Thoughts: I have wanted to read this book since it came out last year. I had it at the top of my TBR list for months, but never was able to pull the trigger and read it. I thought it would be a perfect pick for our book club, plus it would force me to finally read it. Non-fiction is very rare for me. This might be the first non-fiction book I have read in over a year, perhaps longer. This book comes with so much hype, much from best-selling lists and media and much from myself. This is almost never a circumstance that bodes well for a book, and I wish I could say that Hillbilly Elegy escaped that fate, but it didn’t. I am glad I read it, but I didn’t enjoy it as much as I wanted to. This book was at its best in the middle 50% when he was relaying his family’s history and his childhood. I was surprised at how much I was able to connect with his story having come from a small, rural town in an area that used to enjoy booming manufacturing and mill work. I found J.D.’s story compelling in and of itself, but also because although he had some great hardships, I found his story to be nothing exceptional. I liked reading about someone who I thought might actually represent a typical person living in his part of the world. Where this book fell short for me, was in the beginning and the end. I didn’t really appreciate his commentary on the world of the working class white. Although he cited research, it felt like he was passing his opinion as fact, which I don’t really enjoy or respect.
Book Club Discussion: This book was not very well-received by my family. My sister Janette couldn’t even read it after reading through the first 50 pages or so. I do agree that the first 50 pages are preachy, but she didn’t push past it to get to his story. Otherwise, Erin, my mom and I were all on the same page. There were some interesting aspects, but it was a bit too big for its britches. We all agreed that it felt soap-boxy to a great degree (this coming from someone who mostly agrees with his point of view) and that it could have been condensed into a shorter read.
Next Month’s Pick: Middlemarch by George Eliot (March & April)