Thursday, December 8, 2016

Hillbilly Elegy by J.D. Vance

Hillbilly Elegy: A Memoir of a Family and Culture in CrisisHillbilly Elegy: A Memoir of a Family and Culture in Crisis by J.D. Vance
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Super interesting read. I have so many thoughts about this memoir, but it's like an avalanche of thought, and I can't get my bearings.

As a native of rural Kentucky and Ohio, Vance is an excellent tour guide into the world of Appalachia, without being condescending. More people should have read this before the 2016 election, as it is clear now that the dynamics he discusses are at play all around the country in many different types of communities.

Even though I grew up speaking Spanish in New Jersey, I can relate to a lot of the class-based issues he discusses. Especially when I went to law school. I didn't have as big a culture gap as Vance did by the time I entered law school, but it was still a substantial culture gap. Many of my fellow classmates came from families with lawyers and had a lot of individualized help from family and family friends. I'm sure many professors or administrators would have helped, but I didn't even know I should get help in making career preparations and choices. Honestly, I didn't even know what questions to ask. A lot of what I learned about the business and practice of law and networks came in the "too little too late" variety. I also had to sit through conversations where fellow law students discussed the "poor" like they might hypothesize about the plight of pandas in China. Hi! I'm sitting right here, you guys! But one thing I did pick up on quickly was that, in a world where most people don't pay for their own tuition, it's déclassé to discuss money.

This book doesn't directly address something I've noticed has become a problem. More and more, some liberals declare that because a person is "white" and male that he is automatically privileged and can't understand any hardship or injustice. This is ridiculous to me. Privilege and disadvantage come in many different colors, shapes, sizes, and flavors. The book illustrates how wrong this conception of privilege is, without engaging in a (likely unsympathetic) comparison of disadvantaged groups.

The book is a little tricky and a little challenging on how to deal with these complex issues. The author is conservative and possibly planning a run for office one day? But as a liberal, I respect his measured consideration of the issues. I felt challenged to see things in a somewhat different light than I had before, and this is exactly what I seek to do when I invest time in reading a book. I'm pretty sure this book will be a good use of time for others as well.

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