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Hillbilly Elegy

24 Dec 2017

When one gets married, there is an expectation of a gift or favor given to the attendees by the bride and groom. Taya and I had both been to many weddings in the past where we were less than enthused with the party favor. Not that we expected something better as in we wanted a gift, but rather that we would prefer nothing over a forced cliche. Some people have done better, in particular, she told me of a wedding where in lieu of individual gifts, the whole wedding had adopted a rhino. Thinking about our wedding, and are desire to make it true to who we are, we put some thought into this wedding favor. This long process eventually led us to decide to buy each wedding guest a book. We decided to get a unique book for each person, one that represented something about us as well as matched the person we were giving it to. This was a bit of an undertaking, but 60+ books later and now that the whole process is over, we both think it was a great idea. One book that we decdied to get was Hillbilly Elegy. Granted most of the books we gave people we had a connection with, a handful were selected more for the particular individual along with our own desire for the book. This one neither of us had read before giving it away, but I finally got around to reading it and I am really happy with our choice.

Hillbilly Elegy has many insightful moments. The best, or possibly worst, part is how much of the story tied in with my own life. I was not economically poor as a child, my parents did not divorce, we did not live in a poor town. Nonetheless, there are still quite a lot of similarities in how I was raised, where my values came from, and how I interact with the world (for better and worse).

Now part of my perception of the downside of this book could be fully colored by that prior statement about how I was grew up, but too much of this book comes across as selling his accomplishments or his perceived accomplishments. Even writing that I disagree with. I don't know how to say it, but parts of the book just read like too simple of a linear narrative describing the sequence of his life. It was like "I went to school, then I graduated, then I went to the Marines." Parts of that straight narrative got to the point where it felt too much like he was just telling me things he had done and less about why I should care. The first half of the book was more heavily laden with insight into the culture and evolution of poor white people. As the book progressed into his more recent past, it read more like a retelling of what he has been up to for the past few years rather than disecting that life.

Don't get me wrong though, he definitely sprinkles insights throughout the book. Even near the end, explaining how his current actions are colored by both his origins but also what he has learned by moving to the other side of the tracks.

I highly recommend this book as a view into a large portion of America that is largely invisible outside of where it is happening. As a bonus, it is quite short. It would have been significantly worse had he tried to stretch it out any longer like some other memoirs I have read.


Category: book