Categories
Biographies, Memoirs, Nonfiction

Hillbilly Elegy by J.D. Vance (Book Thoughts)

*** Editing this post to say that I just did a 10 second Google search to see what the author has been up to recently, and it’s a bit of a total barf fest. I hope he stays true to wanting to help people though.  I also now have an idea of why he was inserting so many figures and facts in there (see bottom paragraph), he was probably already planning a political run.  Anyway – my experience with the book stands and damn if I’m going to delete it even though Vance turned into a giant 🍆

I found a copy of Hillbilly Elegy shortly after it came out, and it’s been sitting on my shelf ever since. I wasn’t too interested in how political people were making the book at first and I think that was a mistake since it seemed to me like an awesome story of someone who overcame poverty & trauma, family, and upward mobility.

The first thing I liked was how right in the introduction Vance frankly outlined what he was trying to do with the book, said what his own biases were, and put his own lens into perspective for the reader.  He also explicitly states that he is focusing on a small geographical area, and while I get that he offended a lot of Appalachia with some of his portrayals he never claimed that the book speaks for everyone

Anyway, I’ll hit the good, bad, and odd below

Bookish Quick Facts:

  • Title: Hillbilly Elegy
  • Author: J.D. Vance
  • Publisher & Release: Harper, June 2016
  • Length: 272 pages
  • Rate & Recommend: ⭐⭐⭐⭐ frankly yes, understanding that some things have changed since 2016

Here’s the synopsis via Am@zon:

Hillbilly Elegy is a passionate and personal analysis of a culture in crisis—that of white working-class Americans. The decline of this group, a demographic of our country that has been slowly disintegrating over forty years, has been reported on with growing frequency and alarm, but has never before been written about as searingly from the inside. J. D. Vance tells the true story of what a social, regional, and class decline feels like when you were born with it hung around your neck.

The Vance family story begins hopefully in postwar America. J. D.’s grandparents were “dirt poor and in love,” and moved north from Kentucky’s Appalachia region to Ohio in the hopes of escaping the dreadful poverty around them. They raised a middle-class family, and eventually their grandchild (the author) would graduate from Yale Law School, a conventional marker of their success in achieving generational upward mobility.

But as the family saga of Hillbilly Elegy plays out, we learn that this is only the short, superficial version. Vance’s grandparents, aunt, uncle, sister, and, most of all, his mother, struggled profoundly with the demands of their new middle-class life, and were never able to fully escape the legacy of abuse, alcoholism, poverty, and trauma so characteristic of their part of America. Vance piercingly shows how he himself still carries around the demons of their chaotic family history.

A deeply moving memoir with its share of humor and vividly colorful figures

I think Vance accomplished his goal and shared a story of a way of life that many Americans are not (while unfortunately many are) familiar with, although the political, social, economic landscapes have now changed during Covid.

What I took away was …

1} His family story, the biography. I loved how his great grandparents, grandparents, and parents all had to overcome generational poverty and trauma to find their own way.  Some succeeded, some didn’t.  His grandmother is absolutely fierce (but not without flaws) and I wanted even more MawMaw stories.

2} Regardless of class, region, economic status, race, a lot of us can relate to having to get past our parents’ choices and the situation we are born into.  Vance dealt with parental domestic abuse, utter insanity, drug use, alcoholism, rotating men in the house, and never had a stable home life except at his grandparents.  His mom actually was going to kill him once. His sister essentially kept them afloat.  Let’s take a minute, applaud the sister Lindsay, and appreciate how hard this makes a kid’s prospects even without poverty involved

3) Can’t argue that America (post covid is another story, another universe, so much worse) relies heavily on welfare and government funding.  I totally agree with Vance that at least part of the solution is targeting at risk youth with the social, emotional, and financial support that they need, plus the safety and sense of optimism to succeed.  I can’t even begin to think of how to unclusterfuck America right now but I’d love to see how Vance feels about this now in 2022

4) I touched on it above but google the ACE score and see if you have experienced any of the acute childhood events? Do they affect you today? I think the real story is how Vance managed to overcome these generational traumas and functions like a successful human with a wife and family.  He even helped his mother still, after everything

5) A lot of success is habitual, mental, and learned behaviors

The only thing I considered truly weird was that this is largely marketed as. Memoir, which is great.  I loved the biographical elements.  The thing is that Vance also threw in facts and data to push his narrative at times … which is great but makes it less memoir and anecdotal ish and more about the author being “right”. Just odd.

Overall – I would recommend book or audio equally, from the except Vance sounds like a decent narrator

Have you read it? What did you think??

Categories
audiobooks Biographies, Memoirs, Nonfiction

When You Are Engulfed in Flames (audio thoughts) by David Sedaris

Continuing my simultaneous quests to read outside my lines and pick up random popular authors that I haven’t read yet, I turned to one of the many essay collections by David Sedaris.  This is his sixth, and while I heard that some of the earlier ones were more funny, I thought a “recent” collection might be more pertinent to today’s issues. Whether or not that is true, it was interesting to “throwback” to some of the things happening “back then” without today’s lens!

It is HARD to pick nonfiction these days when there is so much of it out there. I first heard the Sedaris name on Bojack Horseman, as his sister Amy voices a prominent character, and she seems like a hilarious person and decent actress.

Having gone to the Van Gogh exhibit recently and almost purchased a tote with the painting on the cover of When You Are Engulfed in Flames on it, i thought “hey this will be a good place to start”

Bookish Quick Facts:

  • Title: When You Are Engulfed in Flames
  • Author: David Sedaris
  • Publisher & Release: Little, Brown & Company – June 2008
  • Length: 336 pages
  • The Audio: self narrated by David Sedaris, 9 hours from Hachette Audio

I think it is a little bit hard to rate humor because everybody has a different sense of humor.  While I have a feeling that Sedaris’ personality won’t go over well with the 2022 “woke” crowd, I personally find him funny and admire the way that he can make everyday embarrassment into something worth reading about.

If you are looking for a lighter read with funny observations about life and personal experiences, Sedaris seems like a regular go-to for many people and I would certainly read & listen to more of his writings.

I laughed the most when Sedaris was *convinced* that his husband wanted a human skeleton for Christmas, when his mother – in – law had a worm in her leg with a penis-shaped head, and, at the many mistakes that happen when the literal translation of languages leaves something to be desired.  This happens a lot between Japanese and English and we see the best of it as Sedaris tries to quit smoking by immersing himself in Japanese culture

There is also some heavier commentary on his early drug and alcohol use, getting out of the closet, and many things that he probably wasn’t laughing at at the time but now can reflect back on and find the story to tell.

The audio is great too, I think he is a great orator and kept it interesting. The live recording portions were of good quality too.  Why was Sedaris sitting mostly naked in a urology waiting room? Well – you’ll have to read to find out

Categories
Biographies, Memoirs, Nonfiction

Far Sweeter Than Honey (Book Thoughts) by William Spencer

Thank you so much to Dart Frog Books for the finished copy of Far Sweeter than Honey: searching for meaning on a bicycle by William Spencer.  All opinions are my own!

I was so excited to read about Spencer’s trek from England to India via bicycle.  This is the perfect book for someone itching to travel right now and I thought that it had all the elements of a good travelogue – interesting people to meet, descriptive scenery, food and culture, and of course personal reflection.

Bookish Quick Facts:

  • Title: Far Sweeter than Honey
  • Author: William Spencer
  • Publisher & Release: Dart Frog Books, December 2020
  • Length: 302 pages
  • Rate & Recommend: ⭐⭐⭐⭐ for fans of travel, culture, memoir

Here is the synopsis:

This is the true story of a young man’s epic bicycle journey from England to India. Traveling more than eight thousand miles, he encounters all manner of adventure, from the curious company of a butterfly in the wilds of Iran to the aftermath of a coup in Kandahar, Afghanistan—from navigating the foreign yet welcoming Muslim world, where he learns the basics of Islam, to the journey’s end in mystical India, where he arrives at an understanding of what it means to be free.

William Spencer establishes himself as a writer to watch in his debut book, weaving masterful storytelling and cultural insights in a page-turning adventure.

Spencer gives detailed and immersive descriptions of the countryside and cities, including weather, wind, and road conditions.  Whether a bucolic French countryside or the middle eastern desert, I thought he took excellent notes.

The journey originally happened in the late 1980s, and I wonder what was changed since then! Even though some elements may now be outdated, it was extremely interesting to read about the culture and culture shock, customs and people that Spencer encountered.

I heavily enjoyed the Turkey through Pakistan chapters the most.  Spencer met, for example, a college student at Damascus university taking an English lit course – and when talking about “popular authors”, none were familiar! The culture shock also came through as Spencer and his friend, Rudy, had to navigate different customs and hospitality norms, from how to act towards women to how much skin to cover.  Another image that stuck with me was the author sitting on the bank of Sea of Galilee, where Jesus walked on water in the bible, and someone was waterskiing on Christmas eve!  I can see where his expectations and reality would have totally clashed in those situations.

Spencer was struggling to reconcile the western ideal with the eastern reality, and it gave me some things to think about too.  I liked that he could say like OK, my impression on these locals is adding to their impression of Westerners, and that’s important.  Especially in those middle eastern chapters, I found the author becoming more likeable in my mind as he started accepting things as they came.

I also really, really liked the longer Pakistan chapter at the end. I had a doctor friend from a northern region (I forgot where) and he showed me tons of videos and told stories from home, and I could definitely feel some of that regard from the expats that Spencer wrote about, even in the 80s or early 90s.

The last thing to mention is that photos and sketches from the journey are included! The photos are mostly of people, while the sketches are of scenery, trees and such, and I think they added a lot to the story.  The only thing that mystified me was how long it took for Spencer to just accept the fact that there is both good and bad in every culture! One cheating merchant or unruly group of kids would sour his mood towards an entire region, even where most experiences were positive, then he would swing back again when the next good thing happened.

That said though, the book was a great mix of hardship, positive and negative, and I think a great portrayal of the journey.  There is absolutely no way in today’s day and age that one is going to visit half of these places and I loved getting a glimpse of the foreign countries.

Definitely check this one out if you like travelogues, memoirs, new ideas and cultural exploration.  It’s a slow ride but totally worth it

Categories
Biographies, Memoirs, Nonfiction

ARC Review: Trout Water by Josh Greenberg

It was a good week when I had the complete and utter joy of requesting and receiving an early copy of Josh Greenberg’s memoir/journal/ruminations called Trout Water: A Year on the Au Sable! What was your last nonfiction read??

Bookish Quick Facts:

  • Title: Trout Water
  • Author: Josh Greenberg
  • Publisher & Release: Melville House, 3/23/21
  • Length: 176 pg
  • Rate & Recommend: 🌟🌟🌟🌟✨ yes for fishermen and fans of nature stories!

Here is the synopsis from GoodReads:

It’s the beginning of trout fishing season, and Josh Greenberg — proprietor of one of the nation’s most famous fishing outfitters, on America’s most iconic trout-fishing stream, the Au Sable River in Michigan —is standing in the Au Sable at dusk when he gets the call that a dear fishing buddy has died.

The solace he takes from fishing — from reading the movement of the river water, studying the play of the light, and relying on his knowledge of insect and fish life — prompts him to reflect on the impact of the natural world on his life in his fisherman’s journal.

Over the course of a year, the journal transcends fishing notes to include some beautifully lyrical nature writing, entertaining stories of the big one that got away, cheerful introspection about a love that’s hard to explain, and yes, a tip or two.

Eventually, Josh Greenberg realizes he hasn’t been all alone in the woods, not really. Much of his relationship with his family and friends has played out on the river. And as he catches — and releases — trout after trout back into one of the most beautiful rivers in America, Greenberg comes to help us realize, too, that there’s more to fishing than catching fish.

What. A. Joy.  The novel opens with the death of a colleague, where he is putting such importance on a phone call that he hardly remembered afterwards, but he remembered the trout rising that evening. Afterwards we follow him through memories, fishing trips, outings with his sons and family, and even an encounter with what might just have been an Indian skin-walker!

I liked the little bit of actual mysticism that was added in along with the generalized mysticism that anglers like to tie into fly fishing.

For non fishermen this book might drag at times, but I am seeing good reviews from casual readers that just Googled a few more perplexing terms.  Don’t know what a hex formata is? Google the term and then let Greenberg take you there!

The descriptions of the waters, scenery, trout, flies, hatches, and life’s toll in general are borderline reverent. I felt so THERE while reading.  I could have been wading in the shallows watching for a rise, the last reflection of the light dulling the waters. Greenberg offers a few good tips as well, of course, but I think his descriptive style is the strong point in Trout Water.

I grew up on a salmon river and it wasn’t until I went out west and started learning to fly fish that I started appreciating literature on the sport.  I have so much respect for this author and think the book is a great addition to the growing body of fly fishing literature.

I don’t know so many non-fiction but readable stories for non-anglers, but this book would read as a simple good story as well.  For fictional books I think Norman MacLean is a staple, obviously, and I have to recommend my dads book too! Anyone have any other good fishing book recommendations?