Round V (and probably final round, as I am running out of things to share…yes, I am that boring) of Fun Fact Friday.
I graduated from Providence College with a Bachelors in Social Sciences. Go Friars!
I took primarily Sociology classes and really was a soc major minus the capstone class. If I only knew then what I know now I would have taken the darn class. It wouldn’t have affected my career either way, but still. I should have just done it.
I love the study of sociology and researching/engaging in discussion on things related to culture, social interactions, and group dynamics. Cue in a book review…
A colleague of mine recommended that I listen to an audiobook by J.D. Vance called Hillbilly Elegy: A Memoir of a Family and Culture in Crisis. I haven’t had much success with audiobooks (can’t concentrate and lose focus easily) but I thought I would give it a shot. I am glad I did.
4 disco balls
Published: June 28, 2016 by Harper
Category: Memoir, Non-fiction, Politics
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.
The audiobook is narrated by the author, which to me is always a plus. I drew a few parallels in J.D.’s story to my own:
- Our grandparents were supportive and had a significant impact on who we would become
- We both grew up in single parent households and have an interesting family tree (not exactly the same sibling situation, but very close)
- We would both be lucky enough to go to good schools that would allow us to achieve upward mobility
Unlike Vance, I grew up in a different area that had more job opportunities and was not reliant on 1 big corporation to provide jobs for the majority of the town. My mother worked very hard for me and my sisters to have a better life, which Vance would point out was rare among the white working class in the Appalachian region where he is from. A note that you will have to listen out for if you listen/read his memoir.
Vance lived primarily in a single parent household with his mother and sister; his mother struggled with a heroin addiction. Vance was raised and nurtured by his grandparents. As we learn from listening to Vance’s story: it truly takes a village.
Vance’s story will give you some perspective on how social class, community and your views on the American Dream are rooted by your upbringing and opportunities in your region. How achieving upward mobility is of the minority (especially without a supportive village), and even though he has “made it” he still struggled with the effects of his family life.
It is not about agreeing or disagreeing with his viewpoints; I felt it was more of a thought-provoking read. I listened to all Vance had to say to try and truly understand what could be done to provide more support to those areas that lack resources.
I would actually recommend the audiobook versus reading (am I really saying that?!). Hearing Vance’s story told in his voice definitely has an impact: it is genuine, open and honest.
Have you listened to, or read, Hillbilly Elegy? Let us know what you thought!