Two books finished!

It’s a noteworthy accomplishment these days for me – finished two books!

The House in the Cerulean Sea by T.J. Klune – several readers on Twitter recommended this book, and the blurb was fanciful enough to capture my attention.  I’m not entirely sure how to classify it, and I have a lot of questions about the world-building/setting, but the narrator was engaging and the story did not drag.  It’s been a long time (9 years) since I read anything by Klune, and my primary criticism back then was that the book needed read like a first draft in need of serious editing and tightening.  That criticism is not, I think, warranted with this book.

Hillbilly Elegy by JD Vance –  a colleague mentioned reading this for her book group, saying it made the opioid epidemic and related issues make more sense to her.  She grew up on Long Island, solidly middle to upper class, went to private/parochial schools and then a Jesuit college, and her husband is very much the same, so their worldview and experience, while not small or provincial, is framed by that.  I have Opinions and Feelings about this book that I am sorting through still; although I did not grow up in Appalachia, some of the socio-economic situations described are not unfamiliar among my extended family.  Vance vacillates between self-congratulation and self-flagellation in a way that is disconcerting at times, and seems to sometimes to absolve himself and his own choices of responsibility.  Ex:  at one point he lists a bunch of things in the realm of etiquette/manners that he didn’t know when starting law school, but since many books on interview prep mentions them, and any college job placement center includes them (or did back when I was in college at a state school), it seems unfair to blame Appalachian culture for that lack.  Like I wrote above, I’m still sorting through my reaction.  And I’m interested in checking about Appalachian Reckoning, which seems to be a collected counterpoint based on the blurb.

2 Comments

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2 responses to “Two books finished!

  1. I never read Hillbilly Elegy, although I skimmed excerpts, in part because the gush of praise came mostly from people who don’t seem to know much about the area or the people. Like you, I have had extended family members in similar economic situations (in rural areas of flyover country) and as a social scientist, the emphasis on individual stories over social context and constraints makes me itchy. Some people make bad choices, some people have no good options no matter what they do, and some people capitalize on the good fortune that comes their way. I’ve heard mixed things about Appalachian Reckoning but on balance I’m glad it’s there as a rebuttal.

    • As I read, I kept waiting for some social science, or more than the limited amount that was included. If the book is framed as merely a memoir, that’s fine, but as actual analysis/explanation it fails. It’s not clear to me if Vance is the one who has done the framing or others. He does point out the places in life where he got lucky and occasions when made dubious choices.

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