Why you should read “Hillbilly Elegy, A Memoir of a Family and Culture in Crisis”, by JD Vance.
As usual, my trip to Target led me to the “New Books” section. I had already placed 4 or 5 in my cart when I noticed this title about Hillbilly’s called “Hillbilly Elegy, A Memoir of a Family and Culture in Crisis”. To me, Hillbilly’s were those who lived back in the 1950’s or before. I thought this title was probably a discussion on who they were, and how they have now changed, so I added it to the stack. I was very wrong. This book is a thoughtful recollection of the author’s, not too far in the past, coming of age, and the story of his family before him. I was captivated from page one, as JD Vance so vibrantly exposes the loves and challenges of his beloved Hillbilly Family.
My Personal Experience Reading this Book…
So here is the thing, by all sanity and reason, I should not want to know most of the people in the book. The picture is painted of a group of foul- mouthed, violent criminals by almost any standard. But, as I continued to read, I couldn’t help but wish that I had had the opportunity to meet Mamaw and Papaw. Not just because of the love that radiated from their misguided attempts to love, but because of the hope which they had for the future, specifically, Mamaw.
Mamaw is the author’s maternal grandmother, and her hope in life was to guide her family out of the hills of Eastern Kentucky, and into a better life. She appeared to know that the barriers caused by a lack of education and resources had plagued the proud bunch of Hillbilly’s she called family. They were stuck working in manual labor and the low wages it paid, and a forced reliance on social welfare. But, there was the hope that an educated life for her children and grandchildren would bring a life filled with the finer things; running water & safety.
Emotions and curiosity aside, the reason to read this book, is because it will cause you to reflect on where your community stands in relation to the Hillbilly’s. I live in a rural community in Northern California, and there are a few similarities the deeper off grid you go. But even in metropolitan areas, the conflict of pride over desperation, or of finally losing all hope and submitting to the system is evident.
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Similar to the hills of Kentucky or Ohio, in every community there is someone who is on Social Welfare. There are families going without because they are the working class poor and too proud to ask for needed help. There is a family who has less, but is more proud than the family who appears to have everything. Every town has norms and mores, and every town needs change. Not the type of forced government change that is often ineffective and misguided, but the kind of change that comes when a family decides to make a change, week by week, generation by generation, always ensuring the next generation will get it right.
What do you think? What is the solution to the challenges “Hillbilly’s” face? Or is it a challenge that does not need solving?