Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Book Brief: Hillbilly Elegy by J.D. Vance

Hillbilly Elegy: A Memoir of a Family and Culture in Crisis 
by J.D. Vance
Harper, 2016
272 pages
source: borrowed hardcover and audiobook from the library

Publisher's summary:

From a former Marine and Yale Law School Graduate, a poignant account of growing up in a poor Appalachian town, that offers a broader, probing look at the struggles of America’s white working class. Part memoir, part historical and social analysis, J. D. Vance’s Hillbilly Elegy is a fascinating consideration of class, culture, and the American dream.

Vance’s grandparents were “dirt poor and in love.” They got married and moved north from Kentucky to Ohio in the hopes of escaping the dreadful poverty around them. Their grandchild (the author) graduated from Yale Law School, a conventional marker of their success in achieving upward mobility for their family. But Vance cautions that is only the short version. The slightly longer version is that his grandparents, aunt, uncle, and mother struggled to varying degrees with the demands of their new middle class life and they, and Vance himself, still carry around the demons of their chaotic family history.

Delving into his own personal story and drawing on a wide array of sociological studies, Vance takes us deep into working class life in the Appalachian region. This demographic of our country has been slowly disintegrating over forty years, and Vance provides a searching and clear-eyed attempt to understand when and how “hillbillies” lost faith in any hope of upward mobility, and in opportunities to come.

At times funny, disturbing, and deeply moving, this is a family history that is also a troubling meditation on the loss of the American dream for a large portion of this country.

My thoughts:

Hillbilly Elegy seems to be everywhere lately. The author was even an ABC News election night commentator. Ironically, I finished reading the book just hours before election results were announced.

Hillbilly Elegy  is interesting and eye-opening memoir, reminiscent of The Glass Castle.  Vance shares his experiences openly and in the process changed my perception of 'hillbilly culture'. The writing is very good and, as it turns out, Vance is also a fine audiobook narrator.

The book, however, is not as strong from a big picture/social commentary standpoint... which leads to my, probably mistaken, expectations. Is the book a memoir or a social exposé? I was hoping for some equal combination, but doubt that was the author's intent.

My personal 4-star rating reflects my (mistaken) expectations.  Hillbilly Elegy is easily a 5-star memoir.

Highly recommended.

Tuesday, November 29, 2016

Nonfiction November Week 5: My Growing TBR List

Nonfiction November is a wrap! It's been a great month and I truly enjoyed my nonfiction reading. Week 5 is hosted by Lory at Emerald City Book Review.  Here is the prompt:
New to My TBR: It’s been a month full of amazing nonfiction books! Which ones have made it onto your TBR? Be sure to link back to the original blogger who posted about that book!
First, I need to apologize. I forgot to note who mentioned these books! I'd go back and look if I had time, but...  If you talked about any of them this month, please let me know and I will add your link. Next year I'll be sure to add names as the books join my TBR.

Second, this is not a complete list of books added to my list. I'm afraid that post would be far too long.

And finally, I want to thank our hosts for planning and organizing this event.  Well done, ladies!
Katie at Doing Dewey
Julz at Julz Reads

by Mary Oliver

by Jan Jarboe Russell

by Elizabeth Little

by Candice Millard

by Matthew Desmond

by Lisa Sanders

by Jonathan Eig

Now the question is how many of these books can I read before next year?


Sunday, November 27, 2016

Thanksgiving Weekend Update: November 27, 2016

Has it really been just a week since my last update?? After I hit the publish button on Sunday, we endured a record-breaking 30" snowstorm that lasted until Tuesday afternoon, a record-breaking Thanksgiving (and Friday leftover feast) crowd, and an epic kick-off to the Christmas season with our annual family party... my cousins are the best. Now I am exhausted! We'll take our daughters to the train station in a few hours, then I'm going to curl up on the couch with a book, a blanket, and a cup of tea for the rest of the day!

Despite all the cooking, feasting, and general commotion, I did manage to finish one book this week:

My Beloved World By Sonia Sotomayor
In keeping with my Supreme Court theme, I read the memoir of the third woman appointed to the highest court... a truly inspiring account of her life up until the time she was appointed to the federal judiciary.

Now I must decide what to read next. There are still four days left in Nonfiction November. Should I begin one last nonfiction title or pick up a much-anticipated novel? Hmmm...

On the blog//
Tuesday Intro: My Beloved World
Nonfiction November Week 4: Supreme Reading

In the kitchen//

The week ahead//
It's time to put away the Thanksgiving/fall decorations and get started on Christmas! An anniversary dinner at our favorite inn... my father's 81st birthday... and then on Friday we leave for Florida. We'll load up my old car,  spend a few days driving down, and then fly back the following Saturday.  The car gets to live in FL permanently, but we must travel back and forth until retirement ;-)

I hope you enjoy what's left of the long weekend. How did you celebrate Thanksgiving? What are you reading today?

This post will link to It's Monday, What Are You Reading? hosted by Kathryn at Book Date.

Tuesday, November 22, 2016

Tuesday Intro: My Beloved World

I was barely awake, and my mother was already screaming. I knew Papi would start yelling in a second. That much was routine, but the substance of their argument was new, and it etched that morning into my memory.
"You have to learn how to give it to her, Juli. I can't be here all the time!"
"I'm afraid to hurt her. My hands are trembling." It was true. When my father made his first attempt at giving me the insulin shot the day before, his hands were shaking so much I was afraid he would miss my arm entirely and stab me in the face. He had to jab hard just to steady his aim.
My Beloved World
by Sonia Sotomayor

One book often leads to another... As I was finishing the last few pages of Sisters in Law over the weekend, I knew I had to keep reading about the other women on the Supreme Court. Fortunately, my library had both the ebook and audiobook of My Beloved World available, and I downloaded both. I've read about a third of the book so far and am loving it!

Here is a portion of the goodreads summary:
The first Hispanic and third woman appointed to the United States Supreme Court, Sonia Sotomayor has become an instant American icon. Now, with a candor and intimacy never undertaken by a sitting Justice, she recounts her life from a Bronx housing project to the federal bench, a journey that offers an inspiring testament to her own extraordinary determination and the power of believing in oneself.

What do you think? Would you continue reading?

Every Tuesday, Diane at Bibliophile by the Sea posts the opening paragraph (sometime two) of a book she decided to read based on the opening. Feel free to grab the banner and play along.

Monday, November 21, 2016

Nonfiction November, Week 4: Supreme Reading

Nonfiction November is entering its fourth week already... and Julz of JulzReads has taken over the hosting duties. This week's prompt:
Be The Expert/Ask the Expert/Become the Expert: Three ways to join in this week! You can either share 3 or more books on a single topic that you have read and can recommend (be the expert), you can put the call out for good nonfiction on a specific topic that you have been dying to read (ask the expert), or you can create your own list of books on a topic that you’d like to read (become the expert).
I'm not a lawyer, but I have been interested in the Supreme Court for most of my adult life. The Nine by Jeffrey Toobin is the best book I've read on the subject. Earlier this year, I enjoyed Notorious RBG by Irin Carmon and Shana Knizhnik. (my review)

This month my Nonfiction November reading seems to have (unintentionally) taken on a Supreme theme. Last weekend I finished Sisters in Law, a dual biography about Sandra Day O'Connor and Ruth Bader Ginsburg, by Linda Hirshman. As I was reading the final pages, I impulsively decided to dive right into My Beloved World by Sonia Sotomayor... a wonderful book so far.

by Irin Carmon and Shana Knizhnik

My Beloved World by Sonia Sotomayor

Can you recommend other books about the Supreme Court?

Sunday, November 20, 2016

Weekly Update: November 20, 2016

Hello and happy Sunday! It's Thanksgiving week and winter has arrived with a vengeance. It's snowing now and we're expecting 12" or more by tomorrow. I need to make a grocery store run, so will head out soon before it gets much worse. Hopefully the storm will not impact our family and friends visiting for the holiday.

On to the books...
I'm embracing Nonfiction November this year. In the past, I've posted a review or two and read at least one nonfiction title, but this year it has been all nonfiction, all the time... and I'm loving it!

Finished reading//

Hillbilly Elegy: A Memoir of a Family and Culture in Crisis by J.D.Vance
An interesting and eye-opening memoir (especially in light of the recent election), but not quite as strong from the big picture/social commentary standpoint. I'll post a review soon.

I finished this dual biography yesterday... two extraordinary women with very different legal styles, philosophies, and paths to the highest court. If you're at all interested in the Supreme Court, this is a must read. I'll review this one soon, too.

Current reading//

My Beloved World by Sonia Sotomayor
An impulse choice. As I turned the final pages of Sisters in Law, I clicked over to my library's website and borrowed both ebook and audiobook. The opening chapters are instantly engaging.

On the blog//

Book Brief: Ten Days in a Mad-House  by Nellie Bly
Nonfiction November Week 3: Book Pairing
My Current Read: Sisters in Law  by Linda Hirshman
Nonfiction November Week 2: What Should I Read Next?

The week ahead//

There will be cooking... lots of cooking. We're up to 21 for Thanksgiving dinner, but the number could go higher. We will make multiple trips to the train station (wish the girls could leave the city at the same time). We'll cut down our Christmas tree on Friday while everyone is home, and the annual extended family Christmas party (complete with Yankee Swap) with my cousins is on Saturday. It's going to be a family-filled week!

The rest of the year will be a blur of holiday activities, a trip to Florida, birthday and anniversary celebrations, shopping, cooking, etc. I'm hoping to maintain a regular blogging and reading schedule, but we'll see...

How was your week? What are you reading?

This post will link to It's Monday, What Are You Reading? hosted by Kathryn at Book Date.

Friday, November 18, 2016

Book Brief: Ten Days in a Mad-House by Nellie Bly

Ten Days in a Mad-House
by Nellie Bly
ebook, Open Road Media 2015
(originally published 1887)
101 pages
source: borrowed from the library

Summary (from goodreads):
In 1887, Nellie Bly accepted an assignment from publisher Joseph Pulitzer of the New York World and went undercover at the lunatic asylum on Blackwell Island, America’s first municipal mental hospital. Calling herself “Nellie Brown,” she was able to convince policemen, a judge, and a series of doctors of her madness with a few well-practiced facial expressions of derangement.

At the institution, Bly discovered the stuff of nightmares. Mentally ill patients were fed rotten, inedible food; violently abused by a brutal, uncaring staff; and misdiagnosed, mistreated, or generally ignored by the doctors and so-called mental health experts entrusted with their care. To her horror, Bly encountered sane patients who had been committed on the barest of pretenses and came to the shocking realization that, while the Blackwell Island asylum was remarkably easy to get into, it was nearly impossible to leave.

My thoughts:

This short book, a piece of investigative journalism, embarrassed an institution and helped bring about its eventual closing. It also prompted a grand jury investigation which was instrumental in bringing about policy changes and budget increases in the New York  Department of Public Charities and Corrections.

Bly's conversational tone held my interest throughout as she recounted her experiences at Blackwell Island asylum. I didn't realize there were female journalists at that time, or that reporters had such a long history of going undercover for a story. I found parts of Bly's narrative difficult to read. Thankfully, her account is short... much more would have become depressing.

Of particular interest is the fact that Bly, once admitted, did not keep up the feigned insanity:
From the moment I entered the insane ward on the Island, I made no attempt to keep up the assumed role of insanity. I talked and acted just as I do in ordinary life. Yet strange to say, the more sanely I talked and acted, the crazier I was thought to be by all....
She felt many of her fellow inmates had been wrongly admitted, and went on to speculate that conditions within the asylum were bad enough to make anyone insane:
What, excepting torture, would produce insanity quicker than this treatment? Here is a class of women sent to be cured. I would like the expert physicians who are condemning me for my action, which has proven their ability, to take a perfectly sane and healthy woman, shut her up and make her sit from 6 a.m. until 8 p.m. on straight-back benches, do not allow her to talk or move during these hours, give her no reading and let her know nothing of the world or its doings, give her bad food and harsh treatment, and see how long it will take to make her insane. Two months would make her a mental and physical wreck.
 Overall this was a quick, interesting read.

My rating:


Related Posts with Thumbnails