Friday, October 13, 2017

Thankful Thursday...on Friday - Figuring things out




As a part of active recovery, a gratitude list is paramount for me.
What I want to do here weekly is not just be thankful for the easy stuff (although that does have a place)...but I want to take the negative and spin it positive.

So, no negatives here.  
Only positive.

1.  our new church...the energy, the friendliness, the welcoming, the opportunities...

2.  my backyard - it's finally been cool enough to sit outside in the mornings...it's a wonderful space.

3.  my husband - he can fix anything!  

4.  my husband again - he didn't even grumble when the washing machine in our new house leaked through the ceiling. Wowza!

5.  Fall Break - I think we should have one of these each week ;) 

6.  access to healthcare...and choices...I've got a little health issue and moving forward, I'll have decisions to make.  I'm just glad I get to make those decisions.

7.  the stairs in our new house - they may keep me from gaining 200 lbs. now that root beer has become my new nemesis.

8.  root beer and M&Ms - I've always turned to these two during times of stress, but these guys have made me realize that my dependence on them is not so different from my former dependence on alcohol.  We're currently discussing a truce and possibilities going forward.  The stairs have been invited to participate in the negotiations as well as my bathroom scale.

9.  being able to drive off campus of my job and truly leave town - I needed this so badly.

10.  the washing machine in my new house - through the leaking incident, I've learned to be more mindful of my house and its workings...and more careful and aware of how the insides of a house work together similar to the insides of a clock.

11.  my AA friends - I haven't been going to meetings - choir practice at my new church happens on Wednesday nights at the same time as Sobriety Sisters.  I am trying to find a meeting that I can attend at least once a week, but my sisters still keep in touch.

12.  choir - oh, how I've missed choir.  I really didn't realize how much until that first night of practice.  We sang an old spiritual called "Soonah," and literally, my eyes had tears in them.  I've been blessed by every practice and the one Sunday morning anthem I've been involved in so far.

13. my brain is truly beginning to feel clearer...my ob/gyn told me about 6 months ago that it typically takes about 18 months for a recovering alcoholic's brain to truly recover...November will be my 18th month, and even though I still struggle, I have really been noticing a difference lately.  I'm more focused, more present, more aware, more ok, more lots of stuff that I haven't been in a long, long time.  

14.  this blog...I'm not here everyday...and I'm applying grace to myself for that.  It's ok.  I started this blog 7 years ago for myself.  When I look back at my posts, whether or not anyone else reads them, they bring me joy.  This space has become exactly what I intended it to be...mine.

This week's list could go on and on...and that should probably be the next item on the list...that I have so many things to be thankful for.



What are you thankful for today?

Wednesday, October 11, 2017

Can't Wait Wednesday - Seven Days of Us


Linking up with Wishful Endings today :)

Every week, I skim through the "Coming Soon" list at Barnes and Noble for the following week.  
I love looking at the covers and selecting finalists for my upcoming favorites.
Yes, I'm a book nerd.

If I find a cover that interests me, then I open it up and read the blurb...there are way too many books to read for me to waste one more second, so a book has to grab me...where I am in that moment.
And most of the time I can't even predict what that moment looks like.
It's up to the book really ;)

I force myself to stop at 1 choice.
1
That's it.

Without further adieu, here's my Can't Wait choice among the "Coming Soon" selections on Barnes and Noble for the week of October 16, 2017:


The Seven Days of Us by Francesca Hornak





Here's the synopsis from Barnes and Noble: 
(I've highlighted in red the parts that yell at me loud and clear that I must read this book!)


A warm, wry, sharply observed debut novel about what happens when a family is forced to spend a week together in quarantine over the holidays...

It’s Christmas, and for the first time in years the entire Birch family will be under one roof. Even Emma and Andrew’s elder daughter—who is usually off saving the world—will be joining them at Weyfield Hall, their aging country estate. But Olivia, a doctor, is only coming home because she has to. Having just returned from treating an epidemic abroad, she’s been told she must stay in quarantine for a week…and so too should her family.
For the next seven days, the Birches are locked down, cut off from the rest of humanity—and even decent Wi-Fi—and forced into each other’s orbits. Younger, unabashedly frivolous daughter Phoebe is fixated on her upcoming wedding, while her older sister, Olivia, deals with the culture shock of being immersed in first-world problems. 
Their father, Andrew, sequesters himself in his study writing scathing restaurant reviews and remembering his glory days as a war correspondent. But his wife, Emma, is hiding a secret that will turn the whole family upside down.   
In close proximity, not much can stay hidden for long, and as revelations and long-held tensions come to light, nothing is more shocking than the unexpected guest who’s about to arrive…


Have you heard anything about this author or this particular title? 
What do you think?

Tuesday, October 10, 2017

The Fire By Night by Teresa Messineo - TLC Book Review


The Fire By Night  by Teresa Messineo


Format? oversized paperback

Source? provided by the publisher via TLC Book Tours in exchange for an honest review.

Why?  I love working with TLC, and I love historical fiction

Title? the title is taken from a verse in Exodus...just follow the light...I wasn't sure how the title fit until writing this review.  The light at the end of the tunnel...the light of hope...the light as a beacon...the Lord leading the Americans to find the prisoners.
  
Cover?  I had mixed feelings about the cover.  While there are planes in the sky, the nurse is nonchalantly biking down what almost looks like an asphalt sidewalk with a lunchpail in her hand.  The sky is hazy...so I'm assuming the planes are dropping things...I'm not sure why she would just be calmly riding her bike.  I'm still pondering this.

What Now?  I want to know everything I can get my hands on about nurses in WWII who were not supposed to see combat but saw it anyway and then were sworn to secrecy after the war was over.
My mind has been blown.

Golden Lines

"War is the punishment for sin, Sister," she had said from memory, along with a hundred other pat answers.  Punishment for sin.  What colossal sin had some fool committed for this to be its outcome? (23)

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers had constructed the whole nightmarish labyrinth, never imagining for a moment that this wraith of a woman would be flitting around it in the dark, awaiting her own death in the morning; never imagining that a storage bunker they constructed would become the last bastion of freedom... (40)

I will not lose these six men, Jo vowed to herself, repeating aloud, "I will not lose them." (48)

And then we both joined the Army.  What were we thinking.  That it'd be fun? (73)

Not now, Kay pleaded with herself.  Stop remembering. Stop thinking. (93)

The baby kept crying, and the sound kept Kay alive.  It was as if he were screaming and crying and speaking out on her behalf, on behalf of them all... (103)

America was pulling out, dragged down by eight thousand bloodied soldiers pulling at her pant cuffs, slowing down her retreat. (141)

Maybe God was in the emptiness, in the cold and pain and despair.  Maybe finding Him there would be faith. Maybe even imagining He could be there was hope. (160)

"God bless you, Lieutenant McMahon.  Even if I should die, my love for you never will." (209)

Life must go on. (230)

We'll be together again, after all this time.  We will be strong again together - just as we had to learn to be strong apart. (291)

"...if the world of men ever tears itself apart again, it will take an army of nurses to put it back together." (294)

Summary

Jo and Kay.  An unlikely friendship in an unlikely environment.  
An enlisted sorority that became a fight for survival.  
A story that hasn't been heard but oh so desperately needs to be heard.
For 65 years their stories were stifled because no one must ever know of the horrors experienced by WWII nurses who saw just as much combat if not more than their fellow male soldiers.
Their lives were changed in ways they never could have guessed. 
They would never be the same again. 
This is their story...and gracious what a story.

What I Liked

Jo and Kay - two of the best female protagonist I've read in a long time.

The history...

Spring 1945, The Western Front
the HMS Newfoundland
propaganda leaflets dropped by the Germans
American POWs, men and women
Penicillin, the miracle drug
nurses performing surgical procedures in the field
the Geneva Convention
Dresden
May 1942, Malinta Tunnel, Corregidor
The Rape of Nanking
Santo Tomas Internment Camp, Manila Philippines
Starvation
Typhus
Sicily
Pearl Harbor
repatriation
nurses education - learning to read German names for medicines and instruments
the Japanese and German soldiers
the numbers of troops and civilians killed and injured across countries
theaters of war
Gen. McArthur and The Forty-Fourth Tank Division, the First Cavalry
the GI Bill

The vividness of the description...I could see the blood splattering...the dirt flying...the shocking events happening...without any time to adjust and readjust...how in the world these women kept their wits, I'll never know.  They are a testament to the spirit, strength, and survivorship of women.

The relationships...I don't have words for this depth...I can only imagine the kind of relationship formed when your lives are at stake...literally...you can see the enemy coming...over and over again.

Suicide and PTSD awareness - when you finish The Fire by Night, if you've ever wondered why so many soldiers struggle when they return home, you won't wonder anymore.
"shell shock"
"battle fatigue"

Messineo weaves Jo and Kay's stories together separately...she also weaves their individual lives (the soldier and the woman) together separately.  I'm not sure I even have the words to describe how well Messineo does this.  I think this strategy is why Jo and Kay are so believable and likable...I walked away from The Fire by Night feeling as if I know these women...that their tragedies are mine via knowing them...as if they were my grandmothers or another long lost connection. 

Aaron and David, the men
Admidst all the hate, the war, the tragedy, there was still good.

The importance of knowing the reality of war.  I think this is really an important point in our current time. Every generation away from history becomes more and more ready to carry our country's flag into war.  Do the people yelling and screaming for war even really understand what it is they are asking for?

I don't think so.

Jonesy - what a sweetheart

 Father Hook - his story made me cry.  

Messineo adds in just enough of Jo and Kay's "normal" life to hold things together...to keep me reading...to see the hope in the future amidst all the pain and suffering of war.
I was also very thankful for the glimpse into Kay and Jo's lives after the war, both personal and still navigating the military as more truths are told.

Mrs. Greerson - thankful for precious souls like hers.

What I Didn't Like

The sexist behavior of many of the men in this story, and of the system itself.

The fact that this story has been hidden.  About midway through The Fire by Night, I stopped reading and started Googling, convinced that Messineo was over-dramatizing what had possibly happened to female nurses in WWII...I never heard about this in history class or even since...and I'm one of those geeks who loves to read and learn.  It didn't take me long to realize that Messineo wasn't dramatizing one bit. Not one bit.
Then I got mad.


Overall Recommendation

I want every American woman in the world to read The Fire by Night.  I'm appalled that there is so much of our history missing from everything we ever learn in school.  History can't die if we don't let it.

The Author - Teresa Messineo


Facebook


Other Stops on the Tour


Tuesday, October 3rd: Girl Who Reads
Thursday, October 5th: Musings of a Bookish Kitty
Friday, October 6th: West Metro Mommy
Monday, October 9th: BookNAround
Tuesday, October 10th: Peppermint PhD
Wednesday, October 11th: Life By Kristen
Thursday, October 12th: Based on a True Story
Friday, October 13th: Literary Quicksand
Monday, October 16th: Into the Hall of Books
Tuesday, October 17th: Sara the Introvert
Wednesday, October 18th: Books and Bindings
Thursday, October 19th: Jathan & Heather


Sunday, October 8, 2017

49th Birthday, late edition - thanks, Nate.



I logged in today to change my "About Me" status here on the old blog...gotta change that 48 to 49...whoop whoop!

49 has been a pretty decent year.  
I've been sober for the entire 49th year, and while still working every day to hold onto that sobriety, I feel more and more confident as each day passes. 
One of the things I love about being a "middle aged woman" is that for so many issues, I just don't care anymore what other people think.
This is who I am.
Like it.
Or not.
Doesn't bother me one way or another.
Gosh I wish I could have convinced my 9 year old self that...or even my 29 year old self...or golly, even my 39 year old self.

The numbers don't scare me.
But, I'd be lying if the changes in my body don't aggravate the crap out of me. 

I'm not running anymore because my stupid lower back can't recover.
I can't see a thing...nighttime especially is ridiculous.
The wrinkles on my neck, chest, and of course these "jowels" on my jawline have, in fact, begun to bother me...my vanity I guess.
I'm technically in menopause but still having hot flashes.
Probably looking at a hysterectomy for Christmas.
Thanks, Santa :) 



Whatever.
I said it.
It bothers me.

But, guess what?
I'm alive.
And I'm enjoying life.
We've moved to a new house.
I'm reading again.
My kids are all doing ok and working through their own lives.
The husband and I are figuring out this new chapter of our marriage.
It's all good right now.

I'm a realist though...and I know that the ebb and flow of life will continue as it always has.  
I'm ok with that.
I truly am.



Sunday, September 24, 2017

My Shhhhhhhedule Isn't Working Out Too Well.



It's been over a month since I was here.
And that makes no sense because I love it here.
So much.

One thing that's definitely happened is that school started back, one kid moved to Montana, another kid moved back home from Key West, we bought a house and moved, we prepped our house to sell and put it on the market...

Ok, that was more than just one thing.
And I already forgive myself.

I'm a little in mourning.
Somehow someway we bought a house with no bookshelves.
How the heck did I do that?

The buying and selling of our houses happened pretty quickly so I didn't have time to ponder the absence of bookshelves very much...but I've mentioned here more than once how many books I own. 

What the heck was I supposed to do with boxes and boxes and boxes of books and no place to put them?
Y'all, I gave a lot of books to the library.
I really did.
It was hard at first, but you should have seen the look on the small town librarian's face when I showed up with my boxes.  She was so thankful for the collection I had amassed, and that made me feel very much like I was doing the right thing.

As much as I like actual books...and there are some I'm not sure I will ever be able to give away...I do get the idea that there are going to be some books on my shelves that are TBR leftovers or books I read and even liked but don't remember one thing about.
Why in the world would I keep those if someone else might could read them and enjoy?

I'm even thinking that I might update my Kindle and start reading more books there.  The newer Kindles do allow the reader to see the book covers...and I'm a book cover freak.
I can also borrow more from my library.
Imagine that.
Maybe my library patronage would also help the libraries stay relevant.
I cannot even imagine a world without libraries.
I can't imagine it, y'all.

I can still buy books if I want, but then I can donate those right along to the library when I'm done.
It will help my budget too...if I have nowhere to put books, I can't buy stacks of them and store them on shelves.
Does that even make sense?

I have no idea, but it's what I'm telling myself right now.

😌





Wednesday, August 16, 2017

Simply from Scratch by Alicia Bessette - Book Review


Simply from Scratch  by Alicia Bessette
Dutton 2010

Format? Hardback

Source? picked up on a sale table somewhere some time ago...from my TBR shelves as I was cleaning out.

Why?  I was looking for something light...but not too light.  Something about someone (female protagonists are best for me it seems) who is damaged but is strong enough to muddle through somehow.  

Title? literal and figurative meaning.
  
Cover?  I'm a cover freak.  The cover of Simply from Scratch almost made me put it in the library box.  The cover makes you think the book will be about a young mother baking in the kitchen with her pink pinstripe apron and Uggish looking boots on.  Thankfully the little excerpt at the bottom indicates the book is about grief and friendship...and of course the inside cover blurb confirms that.
I don't recall a single thing about Uggs in this book...as a matter of fact, I wouldn't think Uggs would be suitable for the snowy weather in Massachusetts.
Zell never wears a pink apron either...she actually wears Nick's camouflage one.

What Now?
I looked to see if Alicia Bessette has written anything else, but all I could find was a reprint of what seemed like the same story as Simply from Scratch...but renamed A Pinch of Love? Or the other way around?

Goodreads suggested Starting from Scratch by Susan Gilbert-Collins so I've added it to my Wishlist :)

Golden Lines

"Aye," I say in Captain Ahab Voice - that of a sloshed but kindly pirate. "Let it burn.  Yer a saucy wench, Rose-Ellen." (2)


For a couple of years now, my heart does this weird thing, at weird times.  Like now: four in the morning.  The weird heart thing is sort of like being a widow - familiar by now, and yet completely foreign. (13)


Nick was one of those guys who always knew he'd get married, buy a house, and get a dog.  He accomplished all three tasks in exactly that order. (51)

Ye Olde Home Ec Witch pinches Ingrid's cheek.  "How did you get here, Pumpkin Pie?" (79)

I'm crying as hard as I did when I found out Nick was gone.  I have no idea what prompts the sobs.  They just come.  And whoever says it takes one year to recover from the death of a spouse is crazier than I am.  Balls. (95)

Nick turned and locked his grey eyes on E.J. (152)

I'm five feet from Ahab.  Four feet.  I hear his teeth chatter.  I see muscles quiver under his fur as snowflakes land there. 
Three feet.  I reach out my arm.  "Cookie time, Cappy," I whisper.  My fingers are one foot from his rump. "Please." (187)

As I get up to leave, she throws both arms around me, rests her chin on my head, and steers me to the door. "Well, Zell, there's only one thing I know that's harder than death," she says.  She helps me into my coat.  "And it seems to me like you're doing a pretty decent job at it."
"What's that?" I say, yanking on my mittens.
"Life." (223)

Red hat against blue, blue sky. 
I know where she is. (250)

"I've got to start from scratch now," says Zell, her voice quiet and steady.  "Every day.  Every minute, it seems." (291)

We are all connected. (298)

Summary

Rose Ellen Carmichael Roy (Zell) lost her husband Nick in a freak accident in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina.  Their lives had been mapped out perfectly, high school sweethearts married, promising artistic careers started, and greyhound dog rescued...until The Trip. 
It's been a year, but Zell's life has not progressed much since the day she found out Nick was gone. 
She's pretty much going through the motions and still numb when she meets her 9 year old neighbor, Ingrid, whose mother left shortly after she was born.
 Ingrid is quite precocious and is enamored with TV personality Polly Pinch.  Ingrid convinces Zell to enter a Polly Pinch baking contest with her, and they begin spending a lot of time together.  
Zell begins to breath again, albeit slowly, and some days are one step forward and two steps back.
But she is breathing.
Life is by no means easy for Zell, Ingrid, or any of the other characters in this snowy but warm little Massachusetts community, but they do the best they can to bring closure to the tragedy that took Nick's life and pull together as they always have in the past.


What I Liked

Zell - Rose Ellen Carmichael Roy

Loved that Zell and Nick were high school sweethearts in a small town and they are still adult friends with their high school friends...such history with one another.  


Ingrid - "I love ya and I like ya"...one of my favorite sayings from a character ever :) 


Ingrid's dad- Garret Knox - a good guy...pretty trusting at first to leave his kid with a neighbor he hasn't even met, but after that, a really nice guy.

Ingrid's allergy to peanuts - this was an obvious foreshadowing for a major event...but I still enjoyed it.

Captain Ahab - dog - I'm a dog lover!  And I love it so much when an author integrates breed details into a story - Ahab is a greyhound...a rescued one at that.  They can only let him off leash in enclosed areas due to his prior training of chasing the rabbit.  All he knows is to run.  


Zell's job - draws medical illustrations for a living - so very unique!


Hank the skeleton - loved this detail :) 


Memory Smacks - Zell the widow...her personality, her daily routine, her loneliness, her pain.  Bessette really go this part right...I could feel Zell's pain in my own chest on many occasions.  



Ye Olde Home Ec Witch - Mrs. Chaffin - Trudy - I'd like to be Trudy someday...no cares at all about what anyone thinks or thought of me...my chainsaw in hand doing what I do best...and proud of it.


Massachusetts - snow - Bessette described these portions well too...I could feel the cold, see the snow (what little experience I have with it), not just its beauty but the possibility of serious danger as well.


Nick's emails - a way to get to know Nick...I did feel as I read Nick's emails that the Nick in the emails didn't really match Zell's memories of Nick...of course Nick was growing as a person on The Trip, and maybe that's why?

What I Didn't Like

Ingrid's mom - who leaves her child?  I realize there are reasons sometimes...but Ingrid's mom doesn't have one that in my mind makes any sense.  

Celebrity Chef Polly Pinch - Meals in a Cinch - Polly Pinch was a little over the top for me...way too sweet and way too silly, not to mention her unforgivable secret.


All the pirate talk was a little overdone I thought, but then I remembered that I talk like my dog all the time. Oy.


The Trip - the accident was crazy...wow.

Nick and Zell's friend E.J. thinks he should have died instead of Nick.  Many of their friends were on The Trip as well, so I was never sure why Bessette decided to give E.J.  alternating sections in each chapter.  I thought about it on my review while writing this post and still couldn't figure out what I was missing.  :(  

Zell's heart "condition" and the lead up to a very flat ending seemed out of place to me.  Her palpitations sounded like panic to me...and it would have made total sense for it to end out that way...


The present in the oven...no way in the world I could have not opened it.

Mr. Bedard's cat :( 

Overall Recommendation

This book was my first read that caught my attention after my reading funk.  I'm drawn right now to books about women who crawl their way back from trauma of some kind.  Zell is a survivor.  One day at a time with the help of her friends.


The Author




Alicia Bessette


Website



Monday, August 14, 2017

Book Review - Hillbilly Elegy by J.D. Vance




Hillbilly Elegy by J.D. Vance
HarperCollins 2016
Format? Hardback
Source? from the Library

Why?  I'm a sucker for cultural analysis and memoirs...and studied working class literacy in grad school.

Title? Being from the deep South, Mississippi, I'm very well acquainted with the "hillbilly elegy" as it were...my home state follows me everywhere.  I was also aware of the Appalachian Hill people's struggles and the opioid epidemic that threatens not just their livelihoods but their lives...and is beginning to threaten the lives of many across the U.S.  Hillbillies were lured in and are being snuffed out...are snuffing themselves out...they are dying...and there's no way out for many.
  
Cover?  Not really anything special...I didn't see the American flag until I looked back at the cover to type up my reflections here...but maybe that's exactly the point.

What Now? Return the book to the library, pay my rather large overdue fine, and then buy the dang book like I should have in the first place.
Oy.

Golden Lines

"The people of Breathitt hated certain things, and they didn't need the law to snuff them out." (16)

Mamaw never spent a day in high school.  She'd given birth to and buried a child before she could legally drive a car. (35)

Even in death, Papaw had one foot in Ohio and another in the holler (105)

To my grandparents, the goal was to get out of Kentucky and give their kids a head start.  The kids, in turn, were expected to do something with that head start.  It didn't quite work out that way. (36)

Seeing people insult, scream, and sometimes physically fight was just a part of our life.  After a while, you didn't even notice it. (73)

Mom would officially retain custody, but from that day forward I lived in her house only when I chose to - and Mamaw told me that if Mom had a problem with the arrangement, she could talk to the barrel of Mamaw's gun.  This was hillbilly justice, and it didn't fail me. (78)

The people who ran the courthouse were different from us.  The people subjected to it were not. (79)

One of the questions I loathed, and that adults always asked, was whether I had any brothers or sisters.  When you're a kid, you can't wave your hand, say, "It's complicated," and move on. (81)

The fallen world described by the Christian religion matched the world I saw around me: one where a happy car ride could quickly turn to misery, one where individual misconduct rippled across a family's and a community's life.  When I asked Mamaw if God loved us, I asked her to reassure me that this religion of ours could still make sense of the world we lived in.  I needed reassurance of some deeper justice, some cadence or rhythm that lurked beneath the heartache and chaos. (87)

Mom flailing and screaming in the street was the culmination of things I hadn't seen.  She'd begun taking prescription narcotics not long after we moved to Preble County. I believe the problem started with a legitimate prescription, but soon enough, Mom was stealing from her patients and getting so high that turning an emergency room into a skating rink seemed like a good idea (113) 

Mamaw could spew venom like a Marine Corps drill instructor, but what she saw in our community didn't just piss her off.  It broke her heart. Behind the drugs, and the fighting matches, and the financial struggles, these were people with serious problems, and they were hurting. (142)

Depending on her mood, Mamaw was a radical conservative or a European-style social Democrat...I quickly realized that in Mamaw's contradictions lay great wisdom. (142)

It would be years before I learned that no single book, or expert, or field could fully explain the problems of hillbillies in modern America.  Our elegy is a sociological one, yes, but it is also about psychology and community and culture and faith (145)

Though we sing the praises of social mobility, it has its downsides.  The term necessarily implies a sort of movement - to a theoretically better life, yes, but also away from something.  And you can't always control the parts of your old life from which you drift. (206)

But there is enormous value in what economists call social capital.  It's a professor's term, but the concept is pretty simple: The networks of people and institutions around us have real economic value.  They connect us to the right people, ensure we have opportunities, and impart valuable information.  Without them, we're going it alone. (214)

Whether I made it (the cut for membership in the Yale Law School Journal) or not isn't the point.  What mattered was that, with a professor's help, I had closed the information gap.  It was like I learned to see. (217)

Nothing compares to the fear that you're becoming the monster in your closet. (224)

Summary

J.D. Vance should have ended up like all the others who grew up around him in poverty, with drug addictions, and jobless.  He should have been "stuck"; however, with the fierceness of the people around him, he was able to move out and up.  His story should end with graduating from Yale Law School, and he should be considered a successful story of pulling oneself up by one's bootstraps.  The problem with that stereotype is that it doesn't take into consideration the consequences growing up within a failing culture that is America's white working class.  The idea of "just getting out" isn't as simple as many want it to be.  The crisis that Vance describes in Appalachia isn't one that can be shaken off and forgotten.  Vance does an incredible job of showing that to readers.  Upward mobility isn't just a social climb that can be affected by geography.  There are much deeper issues within which to delve if we are to address the crisis of working class whites, including psychological, cultural, social, medical, and educational issues to name only a few.  Yes, J.D. Vance is a success.  Yes, he made it out.  But, his story and many others like it were far from over as they crossed state lines.     
What I Liked

The historical details - Appalachian Regional Commission/ Lyndon Johnson
Jackson, KY to Ohio via Route 23
the migratory flow between Kentucky, Ohio, Indiana, Michigan
growing up in the "holler" catching "minners" and "crawdads"
Kentucky coal country
Middletucky
Hatfields and McCoys in Appalachia compared to The Sopranos

Ron Selby, the Advanced Math teacher - "I had that kid in class; he's not smart enough to make a functioning bomb."

Mamaw - As harsh as Mamaw Blanton's language (conversation with J.D. about why he was not gay made me laugh out loud, snort and spit my coffee fashion ;) ) and life could be, she loved her grandchildren...and had a truly soft heart for anyone in need.  She definitely lived the "take care of everybody" lifestyle and loved to "spend time with those babies."
Mamaw made sure J.D. had anything he needed, any time, any place.  
What an unconditional love this woman had for her grandson.

Papaw - Despite his "bullshits" and his grouchiness, he never met a hug or kiss that he didn't welcome. (108)
Papaw also loved J.D.  In fact, he was J.D.'s father since his own biological father nor any of his mother's potential candidates could or would step up.  Papaw taught J.D. how to shoot so well that in the Marine Corp, J.D.  qualified with an M16 rifle as an expert.  He also played math games with J.D. after a young J.D. came home one day worried about his lack of math skills.  
When Papaw died, J.D. spoke at his funeral:
I stood up in that funeral home resolved to tell everyone just how important he was.  "I never had a dad," I explained.  "But Papaw was always there for me, and he taught me the things that men needed to know." 

Discussion of Religion - Organized religion was not something J.D.'s family nor many of the other families he knew spent much time on.  This fact calls into question yet another stereotype about working class southern "conservatives."  Despite the stereotype, J.D.'s biological father and his new family were the only real religious families that J.D. ever knew. 
Mamaw reassured J.D. that God never leaves your side.  She believed that without a doubt, but she also believed that God helps the man who helps himself.   
Mamaw believed it was fine to pray to God for help with your problems, but you best be ready to do the work on your part as well.

Psychological focus - Once J.D. became successful and "escaped" the trap, he had to deal with the conundrum of still seeing in himself some of the very behaviors he had worked so hard to get away from.  Especially where relationships were concerned, J.D. had to re-learn much of what had been unconsciously taught to him during his childhood.  
In Hillbilly Elegy, J.D. presents rich research and sources to explain this phenomenon:
"Significant stress in early childhood results in hyperresponsive or chronically activated physiologic stress response, along with increased potential for fear and anxiety.
the part of the brain that deals with stress and conflict is always activated...the switch flipped indefinitely." (228)

Educational focus - Even though J.D. received access to higher education via his service in the military, he needed more...and that doesn't mean just money.  What so many see as common knowledge parts of the educational system are huge stumbling blocks to students who come in from the outside.  The Ivory Tower isn't famous for welcoming outsiders and is well-known to throw gatekeeping devices in students' way.  J.D. wasn't asking for special favors either.  He honestly didn't realize what he even needed to ask for help with.  Academics wasn't the problem.  The largest roadblock was the system itself - institutional, political, and social...and much of it unconscious or accidental...the roadblocks of privilege.

J.D. Vance's book made me pull back out some of my old textbooks on working class literacy...I haven't done that since I finished my last degree because I was exhausted with academia.  
For the first time in many years, my research brain is piqued, and I'm ready to re-visit some of those theories.

What I Didn't Like

There really wasn't anything about Vance's memoir that I didn't like as far as the book itself...there were more than a few things that made me very sad...so sad that I had to think about, analyze, and really process before writing my review.  But, again, I think that's Vance's point.

I wasn't crazy about J.D.'s mama...I don't "fault" her really, but I don't "forgive" her either.  
He was just a child, and he needed his mama.  But, she wasn't there.  She had a lot of extenuating circumstances, but that doesn't change the fact that she wasn't there.
I was and am beyond glad that J.D. had other people around him to take care of him.  
J.D.'s mom did have a library card and made sure he had access to books.  She herself became a nurse and cared deeply about "enterprises of the mind"...she was one of those moms who got carried away "revamping" a science fair project. 
Her own lack of education about how a man should treat a woman was unfortunately handed down to her own children tenfold and exacerbated by her quest to find a suitable father for J.D. and Lindsay..."adventures" which pulled them further and further away from being able to live within a stable family environment.
And, then, there were the drugs.  Drugs for which she was probably given a prescription but very quickly lost control of.
Addiction is a huge issue...a crisis of epidemic proportions.

Overall Recommendation
Americans tend to have pretty egocentric views about the world and even within our own borders.  Vance's book Hillbilly Elegy reminded me a lot of Jeannette Walls The Glass Castle, two books I think everybody needs to experience.  

The Author





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