“So I wondered what was different about us-”

hillbilly elegyThe Brown Baggers met on April 19th and discussed J.D. Vance’s bestseller Hillbilly Elegy. Hillbilly Elegy is a memoir of Vance’s time growing up in Ohio and how Appalachia shaped his life.

The Brown Baggers had mixed feelings about the memoir. Many readers thought the book was depressing and hopeless, while others enjoyed the story and how Vance overcame poverty. However, all agreed that the story was interesting.

Most readers thought that the strongest characters in the book were the women in Vance’s life. Readers especially liked Vance’s grandmother, Mamaw, and how she raised Vance when his mother was not able to. Mamaw was extremely loyal to her family and she was the one who encouraged Vance to go to college and pursue higher education. Vance’s sister and aunt were also bright and capable women who helped Vance throughout his life.

Readers had a few criticisms of the book- mainly that some of Vance’s stories and claims seemed exaggerated and even far-fetched. Others found it odd that Vance had no trouble moving in various social circles and never seemed to struggle to fit in. Several readers also pointed out that Vance lumped all of the inhabitants of Appalachia into one group, when in actuality, the Appalachian population is diverse in terms of both race and economics. And, some thought that Vance might not be the best person to speak for an entire group. Some mentioned that Vance even seemed to resent his neighbors.

It was pointed out that Vance did not technically live in Appalachia, but rather a few counties over from the Appalachia border. However, the culture is what was important, not the where he actually lived, some readers noted.

There were some positive values of the Appalachian culture mentioned in Vance’s book- mainly Vance’s family, especially his grandmother and sister. These women were always there for Vance and helped him to succeed. There was also the support structure that enabled Vance to step out of poverty, along with a fierce loyalty to family, and love for the country.

Titles Mentioned:
Radiance of Tomorrow by Ishmael Beah
What You Are Getting Wrong About Appalachia by Elizabeth Catte
Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk by Ben Fountain
Gray Mountain by John Grisham
Ramp Hollow by Steven Stroll

More Information:
Review from the New York Times
Review from the Los Angeles Review of Books
Article from the Oxford University Press
Article from the Washington Post

The Brown Baggers will meet again on May 17 at 12pm to discuss The Bad-Ass Librarians of Timbuktu.

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