Friday, March 03, 2017

Book Log: February 2017

My youngest sister has been doing an annual post of books completed, and I always enjoy looking through it. I do keep a log of my finished books, so I thought cataloging my completed books at the close of every month would be a good way to dust off this blog and encourage me to jot down a few lines -- or a few paragraphs -- with my impressions (a compiled list will appear at the close of the year). I don't like spoilers, so while I put some initial thoughts after each title, when possible I'm purposely vague regarding plot specifics so as not to dissuade any of you from reading them. This is my second year doing this; here is a page containing the 2016 posts (or here is a list of all 2016 books, without the commentary on each one).

The included Amazon links are affiliate links; many of these titles I check out from the library or already own, but should you be inclined to purchase one, these links only mean Amazon will give me a small percentage of the cost, at no additional expense to you.

10) 2/27: Hillbilly Elegy: A Memoir of a Family and Culture in Crisis by J.D. Vance
Our family spent much of February with the plague (or, rather, a rotating cycle of various illnesses), so while I wasn't sick the entire month, tending to family meant reading time decreased. I certainly read, but with several in-progress books being longer in length, it meant progress was made across the board, but only one book was completed.

Hillbilly Elegy, released in mid 2016, was the February selection for our book club. In it, J.D. Vance describes his life, as well as the lives of his extended family, in Kentucky and southern Ohio. His hillbilly life is one that we don't often encounter (a culture of systemic poverty, violence, devotion to family at the exclusion of outsiders, and so on). Vance details how he changed the trajectory of his life.

I found myself highlighting frequently throughout the book, as it raises a lot of questions. Vance admits he doesn't have easy answers. Education alone can't solve the problem, for instance, when so many students experience regular trauma at home that keeps them in a flight-or-fight mentality, making the ability to focus and succeed in school that much more difficult.

Two main things stood out to me: first, the importance of having someone in your corner that believes in you and can walk you through experiences that are foreign to you is instrumental to you believing you have worth as well as helping you to see options available to you. Second, we see many instances of unhealthy relationships; in Vance's experience, the healthy marriages/families happened when they married an outsider. When so many in your group deal with struggles through physical and verbal abuse, alcoholism, and abandonment, marrying someone with a different background can upset the typical system as you learn there is another way to live, which leads to healthy exchanges and relationships.

Vance discusses how freeing it was to learn he had choices in his life - that led to one of the most touching points of our book club (I asked my friend if I could share here, and she graciously agreed). One friend opened up about her family life growing up, how her mother struggled with depression and her father was abusive. How she couldn't relate to friends talking about how they would fight with siblings, since she and her siblings banded together. Hearing her share of that time in her life, as well as learning how she thrived later in spite of those beginnings was powerful and a reminder of the resilience of the human spirit (one example of what was instrumental to her was the nurturing attention from a mother she nannied for, which gave her confidence in her self-worth and intelligence; furthermore, when she herself became a parent, she decided she wanted to do everything in her power to interrupt the cycle she lived through and therefore invested in two years of parenting classes to give herself the best opportunity for change)

I've been reflecting more and more on how powerful it is to open up about our life experiences, to be vulnerable in sharing what we've survived, and in so doing, let others know that they're not alone in similar struggles, that there is hope. This revelation only reinforced that - I know I for one felt honored to have this small glimpse into her struggle and resulting triumph over hardship. Our stories are powerful.

All this to say, Hillbilly Elegy was a thought-provoking book, and a reflective insight into a way of life and a culture that I didn't have previous exposure to.