Why You Should Be Using Your Public Library’s eBook/Audiobook Collections (And A Note On The Threat to eBook Lending)

EBooks. Love them or hate them they are here to stay.

As a librarian I have an innate love for print, print books, magazines, newspapers, journals. It makes me sad that a lot of that media is being forced towards a digital only platform. Books, however, seem to be enjoying a resurgence in the popularity of their print form. There is something in the kinesthetic experience of holding a print item, reading the words on a piece of paper and flipping through pages. I’m sure my love of print is also connected to my hoarder tendencies (imagine a dragon jealously guarding his hoard of gold, stroking the shiny jewels and coins and that is me with my back issues of Writer’s Digest and National Geographic, my books, and newspapers I think have “historic value”).

Ebooks and audiobooks were not created to replace print. There are many aspects of digital content that are innocent of the nefarious agenda of replacing print. Many people find ebooks and audiobooks an accessible alternative to print, those with visual disabilities in particular but there are others with physical limitations who find digital content more convenient.

As a breastfeeding mother I have discovered trying to balance a print item much more difficult than holding my phone for the hours a day I find myself trapped beneath a sleeping or nursing baby. As a millennial I also find I am much more likely to remember to grab my phone above anything else when taking the kids outside, to the park, to a play place, or doctors office.

Since downloading Overdrive and utilizing my public library’s subscription I have read/listened to 11 books this year. That is a lot considering I also had a baby this year AND had to deal with a lot of scary appointments involving my new baby.

I work full time and have a long commute so the audiobooks have been a godsend. The radio’s Top 40 gets old real quick and while I enjoy my Apple Music subscription I also find this time valuable for catching up on stories via the audiobooks. I listened to the entire Outlander series via audiobooks in the last two years (purchased through Audible). Audiobooks and ebooks are viable alternatives for when print books are genuinely inconvenient. For those working, commuting, and parenting they seem to be a particular boon and I am grateful for the access.

Ebook lending in particular for libraries has been threatened by a controversial policy change from Macmillan Publishing which expands the embargo period on new title releases. An embargo is jargon for a period of time in which there is limited or no access to a title, also common in academic journals available through college databases. Essentially the policy change means that libraries will only be able to purchase one (1) perpetual access ebook in the first eight weeks after a title’s release. One.

Let me say that again.

One.

For large library systems, super popular titles, low income and those with disabilities this is not good news. Ever used a library service to check out an ebook or audiobook and got put on a waitlist (#6 out of 14 holds on 3 copies, etc.)? This would make that waitlist a heck of a lot longer, all but guaranteeing you won’t get to read that new release for several months unless you get frustrated enough to buy it (which is the goal).

This is misguided for a few reasons. One: library acquisitions count for a healthy number of book sales. Alienate libraries and your authors may find themselves choosing over publishing houses. Two: library lending has been known to increase books sales by satisfied patrons on subsequent titles from authors they have enjoyed via check outs. Library lending of ebooks allows patrons to discover new authors which will lead to purchasing future books by favored authors.

This shift in policy is not exactly a lone duck attack on Libraries’ ebook lending. Penguin Random House and Hachette have also changed policy on library licensing of new ebooks, eliminating perpetual access, limiting acquisition licensing to two years (expanding from one year to two years access in Penguin’s case but still eliminating perpetual access licensing which is a collections nightmare). What these publishers fail to realize is that many users of libraries do not have the disposable income to invest in new books if they are unfamiliar with the author. They most likely will just go without. Low income individuals, heck in the current economy even middle income individuals are not going to willy nilly spend money on books they aren’t invested in. Libraries provide the platform for readers to invest in authors, in series, in publishers.

In a statement from the American Library Association’s President, Wanda Brown explains, “Macmillan Publishers’ new model for library ebook lending will make it difficult for libraries to fulfill our central mission: ensuring access to information for all…Limiting access to new titles for libraries means limiting access for patrons most dependent on libraries.”

The ALA encourages library patrons to contact Macmillan Publishing with their concerns.

The Vine Witch: Book Review

The Vine Witch (Vine Witch #1) by Luanne G. Smith

The Vine Witch is best served with a large glass of wine (your choice of vintage). The perfect Guilty pleasure for those cozy October nights.

The Vine Witch

Written by Luanne G. Smith

Published 2019 by 47North

Downloaded on Kindle through Amazon’s FirstReads Program

Fantasy/Paranormal Fiction

Elena is a vine witch, more than a connoisseur of good wine, she has the ability to cultivate, in every magical sense of the word, the grapes of a vineyard to grow, harvest, and ferment the best wines the Chanceaux Valley has ever seen. Unfortunately, the wine business in 19th century (albeit an alternate universe) France has many rivals and Elena finds herself the victim of a curse, living as a frog for seven years before finally reversing the curse and returning home to find her beloved vineyard on the brink of ruin AND bought out by a lawyer of all people named Jean-Paul Martel, a man who values science over magic.

Smith does an excellent job inviting us into her new world of vine witches. I got serious Neil Gaiman vibes a la Stardust. The magical world is woven into the Industrial Revolution of Europe during the 19th century during the rise of modern science and technology’s popularity.

Besides creating a dynamic new world, Smith gives us a rollicking adventure, a delightful bit of mystery with a very satisfying twist, and a bit of romance to warm these chilly fall evenings.

I am very interested to see what subsequent books in this world will be like as it appears to be the first in a series. Fans of Stardust, Harry Potter, and alternate universe historical fiction like steampunk will enjoy this debut.

My Rating

4/5 Stars

City of Girls: Book Review

A Note from the Reviewer: I sincerely apologize for how I have been writing my book reviews thus far. I have been spoiling endings without remorse and not indicating when a spoiler was ahead. From this review forward I promise to do better about omitting spoilers (or warning about them if absolutely necessary to an honest review).

City of Girls by Elizabeth Gilbert

“In my experience, this is the hardest lesson of them all.

After a certain age, we are all walking around this world in bodies made of secrets and shame and sorrow and old, unhealed injuries. Our hearts grow sore and misshapen around all this pain—yet somehow, still, we carry on.” -Vivian Morris City of Girls

City of Girls

Written by Elizabeth Gilbert

Published 2019 by Riverhead

Borrowed via OverDrive

Historical Fiction

Vivian Morris is a 1940s era 19-year-old WASP experiencing the glamour of New York City after a less than stellar attempt at college. She goes to live with her Aunt Peg, a WWI nurse turned theatrical producer with a curious history of her own. While living at The Lily, Vivian is dazzled by the gorgeous showgirls, cigarettes, booze, and sex without consequences. The glitzy vision is shattered one reckless night and Vivian must decide what kind of girl she wants to be.

City of Girls is a book about female relationships, the complexity of those dynamics, how they are shaped by jealousies and the idea of male territory. Set against a decidedly conservative backdrop, Gilbert digs deep, showing how women can prop each other up but also how we can absolutely decimate each other.

Gilbert’s grasp of language is so natural, I can’t help but feel viciously jealous. The words poured through my brain. This was such an easy novel to get lost in, which is really saying something with two kids under the age of three.

This book is a fantastic pick for fans of classic Hollywood, WWII-era historical fiction, or those who enjoy stories with unexpected endings.

My Rating

5/5 Stars

The Library Book: Book Review

The Library Book by Susan Orlean

It wasn’t that time stopped in the library. It was as if it were captured, collected here, and in all libraries — and not only my time, my life, but all human time as well. In the library, time is dammed up–not just stopped but saved.

The Library Book by Susan Orlean

A love letter to libraries, to books, to the audacity of our human need to preserve and pass on stories, The Library Book is filled to the brim with delightful observations on all of these things and more.

Susan Orlean weaves two stories together, a parallel account of the Los Angeles Central Public Library fire in the 1980s and the greater history of libraries throughout time, but more specifically focusing on US public libraries.

In 1986, a fire broke out in the LA Central Public Library, causing catastrophic damage to the building, the collection, and the psyche of a community on the brink of such historic events as the AIDS epidemic and the LA Riots. A man named Harry Peak is considered suspect due to a mercurial ebb of alibis and a questionable mental composition. As Orlean relates the details of the fire she takes us back through time exploring our nation’s history with libraries and their changing mission.

I should preface my review with the fact that I am a professional librarian and this book offers many flattering views towards my career and greatest passion, reading. As such it is impossible to remain impartial.

Of course I loved this book and the compliments paid to myself and my colleagues as a whole. Orlean’s often nostalgic observations on the nature of public libraries, the public’s expectation of them, resonates deeply with my own understanding and experience working in a library and using them recreationally. The story structure is interesting and allows the reader to seamlessly travel with the author as she moves from the LA Library fire to historic milestones in library history.

The Library Book is perfect for fans of books about books, stories that celebrate the bibliophile and the places they inhabit. Though non-fiction, it reads with the ease of a light-hearted novel.

My Rating

4/5 Stars

The Tiger’s Wife: Book Review

The Tiger's Wife. A novel by Téa Obreht.

The Tiger’s Wife by Téa Obreht

Haunted Family Histories and a Tiger’s Wife

Téa Obreht blurs the line between reality and mythology in The Tiger’s Wife, spanning the majority of a man’s life. That man? The narrator’s grandfather whose influence on her life is profound. Set against the back drop of multiple wars which leave indelible marks on this novel’s diverse cast of characters (including several doctors, a tiger, a taxidermist, a mute girl, a deathless man who judges when others will die, among many others).

The main story line introduces us to Natalia, a young doctor trying to find her way in the dust of the latest war. She has been guided her entire life by her grandfather, a stolid aging doctor with somewhat eccentric routines, including taking his granddaughter to visit the zoo to see the tigers and carrying an old copy of The Jungle Book everywhere he goes.

Natalia learns of her grandfather’s death while traveling to deliver vaccines to children in a rural area of the country and grapples with her guilt of keeping his secret from her grandmother and mother as well as not being with him. Alongside the narrator’s struggle, the twining tales of the deathless man and the tiger’s wife reveal themselves weaving a melancholy story of regret, guilt, hope, and loyalty.

Modern Myth Telling

Tiger’s Wife

I have rarely read such an original attempt at crafting modern myth, fable, fairytale or whatever you want to call the three storylines that this novel contains. Obreht masterfully spins what feels like a timeless tale, as timeless as any story written by the Brothers Grimm or Charles Perrault. The titular tale, The Tiger’s Wife is a novel that could stand on its own. In fact, my one complaint about the book is really that the conclusion made me feel like the grandfather could have been more minor character than main character to the tiger’s wife’s impact on the story overall.

The Tiger’s Wife, so called by superstitious villagers driven to desperation by the threat of war at their border, is an enigma from beginning to end. She is the child bride of the village’s butcher, sold to him when his bride to be elopes under his nose and her desperate father tricks the butcher into marrying his youngest, mute child instead.

The butcher, feeling betrayed and trapped and grappling with his sexuality, becomes violent with the girl. Far away from family and surrounded by the suspicious villagers, she must endure alone. Until she meets the young man, Natalia’s grandfather as a child, who befriends the girl after catching her feeding a tiger who had struck terror into the village lately. The tiger, of course, being the tiger in the Tiger’s Wife, is an escaped zoo animal accustomed to a life of ease and scared from his home by its bombing and starved by his inability to fend for himself in the wild. His attachment to the wife of the butcher is not unusual, except her lack of fear towards the beast.

The grandfather and Tiger’s Wife bond over the tiger, the equivalent of Shere Khan from The Jungle Book (the tome he carries near to his dying days in his jacket) to the child. The fate of the Tiger’s Wife is integral to the grandfather’s story, his guilt for his betrayal, despite his ignorance, scars him for life. This is evident in his continued fascination with the tigers, the book he carries. He has periodic meetings with who he calls the deathless man, a mysterious man who appears to never age and who cannot be killed no matter how earnest the attempt.

The Deathless Man

The deathless man is the second myth/fable/fairytale woven throughout the story. He is the nephew of Death, cursed by a betrayal to his job of reading the cups of people to tell them whether they are dying. The grandfather’s adult life is tracked by these meetings with the deathless man, the meetings always set in a dreamy kind of disbelief.

The deathless man offers insight to the grandfather on death throughout these meetings, revealing he cannot die, and that this is the aforementioned curse. Being a doctor, the grandfather is not unfamiliar with death as a concept, even without his history with the Tiger’s Wife. The connection is truly made by the identity of the deathless man’s wife to the grandfather and deathless man’s choices on those around him. His disobedience touched on the lives of the taxidermist and butcher, the grandfather and Natalia. So many threads in the tapestry of the deathless man’s life.

Flawless Prose

The Tiger’s Wife is an impressive creation. The writing is simply stunning, the descriptions, word choice, originality…truly one of the better books I have read in a while. Being a collector of literary prizes this is not wholly surprising after the fact. I did not expect to enjoy the story as much as I did. I picked up this book after reading about its receipt of the Orange Prize for Fiction in an issue of Writer’s Digest. I have read a couple of other winning novels and really enjoyed them so thought I would give this one a try.

The author exhibits such control over her language and storytelling overall. A difficult thing to do with three tales that must come together by the end. Again the modern myth making was one of my favorite things about this novel. If you love language above all else, this is a book for you.

My Rating

4/5 Stars

More Book Reviews

Echo North by Joanna Ruth Meyer

Daisy Jones & The Six by Taylor Jenkins Reid

What You Are Getting Wrong About Appalachia by Elizabeth Catte

Echo North: Book Review

Echo North by Joanna Ruth Meyer

Echo North by Joanna Ruth Meyer.

A Good Faith Effort for Echo North

Echo North looked like an appealing retelling of the Norse tale and one of my favorite fairy tales, East of the Sun, West of the Moon. I quickly added it to my Amazon cart, anticipating a quick, enjoyable read during my maternity leave. The book did not disappoint on being a quick read.

The retelling was done fairly well, just enough originality threaded in to keep it from feeling like every other retelling. It is no East by Edith Pattou but the author made a good effort as an homage. There were some great elements to this story, but the author fell short of fully realizing her story’s potential. Some characters were memorable, but the important ones often felt flat and gray.

[Spoilers Below]

Fairy Tale Retelling

Echo North reimagines the fairy tale, East of the Sun, West of the Moon, with influences from Beauty and the Beast and Tam Lin. I love a good fairy tale retelling, I’m a huge Robin McKinley fan. In some important ways, Echo North was respectful of the genre of YA retellings. However, the YA fairy tale retellings market peaked several years ago and the burden fell on the author to justify this book’s existence so far past the height of the genre’s relevance. While the book was moderately enjoyable, it was also disappointing.

Echo North Highs

What made the book stand out the most was what felt like an underdeveloped plot twist the author just realized at the end of writing the book (and didn’t bother returning to the beginning and middle to fully capitalize on). Although there is something to be said of subtly and surprise twists, this was so out of the blue it was nearly laughable. As such, the dual timelines could have made the book so special had the author taken more time to develop it.

Another high was the main character’s appearance. I like how her angst about her appearance, and the superstition her appearance ignited in those around her, drove the story.

Echo North Lows

Hal, the love interest, is probably the dullest romantic character I’ve ever read. I felt no chemistry between him and Echo and wasn’t necessarily rooting for his rescue by the end of the novel. So Echo could have saved herself 10 years and gone straight home for all the affection they showed each other. There were no heart pounding moments and no knuckle biting romantic scenes that justified Echo’s feelings or actions towards Hal.

Mokosh is perhaps the most underserved character the author introduced. She was interesting, mysterious with a depth I envied for the love interest. Unfortunately the author let this beautiful character’s story fizzle out with no real resolution.

My Rating

3/5 Stars

More Book Reviews

Daisy Jones & The Six

What You Are Getting Wrong About Appalachia by Elizabeth Catte

Hillbilly Elegy by J. D. Vance

Reading Goals 2019: Microhistories & Writing Reference

2018

My 2018 Goodreads Reading Goal was set at 20 books. I have to this point read 23 books and I am *hoping* to read another 2 before the ball drops on January 1st.

What about 2019?

I have started to think about what I want to set my reading goal for 2019. As a working mother, reading can be a super difficult thing to carve out time for. I found myself sneaking in pages during bath time, after bedtimes, and during breaks at work. That equaled about 23-25 books for me in 2018.

Granted, I did not prioritize reading over certain other areas of my life, like Netflix binging and social media which can seriously eat up huge amounts of your free time without realizing.

My greatest obstacle ended up not being a mother of a toddler or a full-time academic librarian, but rather a general disregard and disrespect for reading over non-soul fulfilling activities.

With all that in mind, I am hoping to increase my reading goal for 2019 from 20 books to 30 books coupled with a New Year’s Resolution to watch less TV and spend less time on social media and my smartphone.

What’s in my TBR pile?

My specific reading goals include reading more microhistories which are non-fiction books which focus on a very specific historical topic like Salt: A World History.

This is in connection with my writing goals for 2019, which include completing all drafts of my WIP, Changeling, which I have written about and shared pieces of frequently here in the past, get through the second draft of another WIP, Foxface, which was my 2018 National Novel Writing Month project, and write the first draft of at least two more story ideas I have been incubating the past year, an adult literary fiction novel titled The Gospel of Eve and a YA Fantasy tentatively titled Daring based on the myth of Virginia Dare and the Lost Colony of Roanoke.

I also want to read more writing reference type books, obviously to compliment my writing goals. I have many in my TBR pile I have stocked up on over the last year so I really want to get through all of those.

My Owned TBR Writing References:

Revision & Self-Editing by James Scott Bell

Time to Write by Kelly L. Stone

The Essential Guide to Getting Your Book Published by Arielle Eckstut and David Henry Sterry

Writing & Selling the YA Novel by K.L. Going

Paper Hearts by Beth Revis

That list will undoubtedly grow as I buy/check out other writing references through the year. My favorite writing reference author is James Scott Bell and I have read at least two of his other references in the past year, he has many more, which I will probably add to this list soon.

Setting goals and getting ish done!

I think, and this is certainly not an independent thought, that setting goals and intentions is the best way to ensure you achieve those goals. These are concrete titles, numbers, and deadlines. There is accountability in that and that is so important for adult-type learners (Hello, twenty-nine, I see you creeping up on me).

Question-time!

What are your reading/writing goals for 2019?

Do you prefer to set goals/resolutions each year or do you set non-traditional time frames (two years, six months)? Do you set time-frames at all?

Extras

"Why try to cheat the Gods out of a game I am prepared to win?" An excerpt from Foxface on abookishmama.com
The last line of my 2018 NaNoWriMo project!

NaNo ’18: New Projects, Old Projects, and This Crazy Thing Called Life

I have been MIA lately and I am not ashamed.

Between work and the projects I have going on and having a toddler, husband, and household to run blogging is pretty low on the totem pole of importance.

What I have been doing, however, is working on the second draft of my Camp NaNo ’18 project, Changeling. That is an experience. I have been carving out an hour or so every few days to work on it.

After my first read through of the first draft I made notes and the second draft is implementation of those notes. This is essentially just me deleting large chunks of the first draft and writing entirely new scenes to make things connect and make a little more sense than it did before. Besides some glaring plot holes in draft #1, I am also changing place names (turning real place names into fantasy names to give myself more creative license in future drafts), and fixing obvious grammatical errors.

So that has been an experience. I am not done with the edits and I am already marking places where I need to return in the 3rd draft and do some major revisions.

Overall, progressing though slowly.

I am hoping to finish the edits before November 1st so I can begin a new project with slightly less guilt.

Foxface: A Novel. Justice is for the rich, for everyone else there is revenge. Author name: PhantasyCreator90. NaNo 2018.
NaNo signature banner featuring NaNo ’18 project.

As always, the new project is shiny and I am itching to move on. But I think Changeling is worth suffering over so I am committed to the revisions.

The shiny new project is a little different of a vibe from Changeling. For one, the shiny new project is steampunk so right away the time and setting will be vastly different. Tech will play a big role in it which is a challenge.

I also think the characters I am writing are vastly different and it will be interesting to get inside this new creation’s head and soul and see what I can find there. Foxface has suffered much more than Viviane and Rose (Changeling‘s main characters) and she has a score to settle. From my preliminary visits with her, she doesn’t seem content to let anything go.

Foxface, like Changeling, requires a lot of research into the historically relevant aspects of the story. Its heavily inspired by the politics of the Scandinavian region during the 1800’s-1900’s and the oppression of the Samí people in Norway. But its steampunk so its alt-history and I can take a few freedoms with some of the details.

I obviously like challenging myself with these history inspired stories. I think the context of certain events in human history just adds such an interesting significance to fiction. I like grounding my dreams in reality, I guess. Not even sure that means anything.

Anyway, that is the short of my creative projects. I have been sneaking in some reading time where I can. I think since my last review (Girl, Wash Your Face) I have finished seven more books:

  1. A Breath of Snow and Ashes (Outlander Series) by Diana Gabaldon-3 Stars
  2. Troubleshooting Your Novel: Essential Techniques for Identifying and Solving Manuscript Problems by Steven James-5 Stars
  3. Mama Gone Geek: Calling On My Inner Science Nerd to Help Navigate the Ups and Downs of Parenthood by Lynn Brunelle-3 Stars
  4. Arabella of Mars (Adventures of Arabella Ashby Series) by David D. Levine-3 Stars
  5. An Echo in the Bone (Outlander Series) by Diana Gabaldon-3 Stars
  6. 1984 by George Orwell-5 Stars
  7. Crooked Kingdom (Six of Crows Series) by Leigh Bardugo-5 Stars

I should have been writing reviews for these books but honestly my mental health has not lent itself to a desire to do that. Taking anti-depressants regularly keeps me sane but it puts a noticeable damper on my ability to write, or write something I feel comfortable sharing.

But I am currently reading three books and I am hoping I will be able to write some meaningful reviews for those. Check my Goodreads if you’re interested in what I’m currently read.

Enough of that, back to work!

Girl, Wash Your Face: Book Review

Girl, Wash Your Face: Stop Believing the Lies about Who You Are So You Can Become Who You Were Meant to Be by Rachel Hollis

This book, Girl, Wash Your Face, brought me to tears so many times.

I have been absent from this blog for a bit. The reason for that is I felt burnt out and discouraged when I didn’t get the feedback I wanted from my past blog posts. I had also taken a step back from writing my novel (draft two) for the same reasons. I recognize that that is not productive or conducive to establishing a career as a writer. If I want to pursue that path I need to push through.

Rachel Hollis was an integral part of that motivation during this period.

Writing From the Heart

Hollis writes her truth and is unashamed of doing so. I love that. Sure, I could not relate to everything she spoke about or the way she approached certain topics but she openly acknowledged that her truth may not resonate with everyone. She offered her stories anyway, knowing she might experience pushback or complaints of alienation. This book is not about prioritizing her beliefs above others but offering her perspective so others experiencing similar things can take what they want and apply it to their own lives.

Hits Close to Home

Hollis delivers several instances of advice that hit so close to home to what I was (and am) struggling with. There are other personal things she hit on that I struggle with but the most impactful impressions were those relating to my professional goals. As a working mother, I felt like the advice she gave meant so much more. Had anyone else delivered these specific messages, I may have ignored it, scoffed even. How could someone who didn’t understand the pressures of my life tell me how to accomplish anything in my limited free time?

Hollis shares so many experiences with me as a working mother. She struggles with guilt for choosing to spend any time away from her children, she’s a small-town girl who grew up in a conservative environment. She’s a wife. I could connect with her and believe that the advice she gave was meant in earnest. Not only that but if she could accomplish all she has maybe I can do it too.

Permission

The biggest takeaway from Hollis’ book was the idea of giving myself permission to pursue my dream. Permission to fail, to rise, to face criticism and keep going anyway. Trying to do anything big, working towards a goal, these are scary and uncomfortable things. Its always going to be easier to not pursue them. But you are giving up the potential for so much happiness and fulfillment. Hollis demonstrated how that bravery paid off in her life. She gives me hope. I feel this atmosphere of support in her narration and in the community she has created online.

Boss Babe

Rachel Hollis runs The Chic Site, a lifestyle type website where she shares recipes, fashion inspiration, travel blogs, and general advice for women. The site combines her experience as a mother, wife, and Boss so make sure to check that out and get to know this fantastic author.

5/5 Stars

More Book Reviews

What You Are Getting Wrong About Appalachia: Book Review and Hillbilly Elegy Comparison

Hillbilly Elegy

A Court of Wings and Ruin

What You Are Getting Wrong About Appalachia: Book Review and Hillbilly Elegy Comparison

What You Are Getting Wrong About Appalachia by Elizabeth Catte

Publisher’s Summary

In 2016, headlines declared Appalachia ground zero for America’s “forgotten tribe” of white working class voters. Journalists flocked to the region to extract sympathetic profiles of families devastated by poverty, abandoned by establishment politics, and eager to consume cheap campaign promises. What You Are Getting Wrong About Appalachia is a frank assessment of America’s recent fascination with the people and problems of the region. The book analyzes trends in contemporary writing on Appalachia, presents a brief history of Appalachia with an eye toward unpacking Appalachian stereotypes, and provides examples of writing, art, and policy created by Appalachians as opposed to for Appalachians. The book offers a must-needed insider’s perspective on the region.

The Review

The Appalachians Can Save Themselves

Elizabeth Catte is an East Tennessee native, with a Ph.D. in public history, which she received from Middle Tennessee State University, and co-owns a historical consulting company. Not only is she professionally suited to write about the state of the Appalachian region today in relation to the history that fed our current issues, but she is a native and is intimate with the struggles of the residents in the poor, coal region of the Appalachians.

This book was short, a quick read, and that is really my only criticism and the reason this book is 4 stars instead of 5. I would have loved a longer book so she could go into greater detail on some of the topics she discusses. However, I understand the need to publish her book quickly on the tail of Hillbilly Elegy so that she could capitalize on its success and the conversation it ignited. It is incredibly difficult to get the mainstream media and average American to care about subjects such as this or be receptive to correcting inaccurate and painful stereotypes that Vance invoked in his disturbingly bestselling memoir.

An Intelligent Woman’s Worth is Far Above Rubies

As a historian and history consultant, Catte knows her history of the region and is a credible source for relaying that information to her readers. She takes the responsibility, where Vance negligently fell short, of setting the stage of Appalachia as it was developed through the years. Catte talks about the industries that took from the region, the evolution of local workers’ rights and struggles through this time, and most importantly, the assertion that Appalachia (as an immense region) is not wholly Scots-Irish or white.

She accurately describes the diversity of the region. Catte aligns Appalachian needs with modern issues. She shuts down the notion of Other that so many paint Appalachians, that they genetically differ from the rest of the nation. We don’t. To paint us that way, Catte explains, is to promote eugenics (“the study of or belief in the possibility of improving the qualities of the human species or a human population, especially by such means as discouraging reproduction by persons having genetic defects or presumed to have inheritable undesirable traits (negative eugenics) or encouraging reproduction by persons presumed to have inheritable desirable traits (positive eugenics).”-From Dictionary.com). The idea of preventing the breeding of Appalachians through sterilization was promoted by prominent spokespeople from the area and beyond during the 1960s-70s. Eugenics was a favored idea of Nazis, FYI.

4/5 Stars

Hillbilly Elegy Versus What You Are Getting Wrong About Appalachia

Catte’s book is obviously a direct and scathing rebuttal to J. D. Vance’s Hillybilly Elegy: A Memoir of a Family and Culture in Crisis. That is critical in understanding her position while writing this book. I felt similarly enraged and misrepresented after reading Vance’s “memoir.” When reading his memoir, I felt somebody local to the region needed to step up and refute his claims. A better person could not have stepped up to the plate. I will thank God every day for women like Elizabeth Catte and her little (enormously important) book.

Vance’s Shallow Take Versus Catte’s Research

The historical perspective she frames in this book is so important. She discusses Appalachia, coal mining, employment in the areas coal mining has left economically destroyed and/or stagnant. She references the greater discussion of white insecurity in America at the moment. So often you hear the cliched phrase, “Those who don’t learn history are doomed to repeat it.” Nowhere is that phrase more chilling and pertinent than this book. Catte exposes the similarities in moments in our local history that do seem to repeat themselves and will continue to do so while these images and beliefs about Appalachians exist.

Appalachia: An Exploited Region & People

Catte explores the role of activism in Appalachia. She studies the tactics corporations and politicians used to undermine those activists and their message. Catte is honest about race in the region. She discusses the history of racism white Appalachians played a part in. Vance tried to absolve us of any blame which is grossly historically inaccurate. She relates several documented instances which inform her position on this. But Catte does absolve the region of its accused blinding whiteness. People of color do occupy Appalachia. POC share the history of the region. They struggled alongside white Appalachians in the coal mines, on the railroad, farming. Diversity exists here where outsiders insist it does not. They subsequently try to erase the ownership of the region of people of color, the lives they’ve built, and the inroads of progress they’ve made.

Vance excludes people of color from his memoir when discussing his beloved “hillbillies.” He repeatedly refers to the Scots-Irish ancestry of the region. He falsely claims Appalachians have retained that genetic heritage more than any other community in the nation. Catte astutely accuses him of racist generalizations by erasing people of color from the region and culture. She also references the settlement of French, German, English, Swedish, Scandinavian, Dutch, etc. in the area. She shreds his tendency to favor the eugenics theory. He implies that the shortcomings of Appalachians are a result of shared, flawed genetics.

His book, when viewed through this lens, should scare the shit out of us. We are not genetically different from the rest of the nation though the notion is so widely shared by outsiders. Eugenicists from the outside considered forced sterilization to limit our population in the past. Because corporate interest is such a powerful force with our government at all levels.

Vance’s Unscientific Claims About Appalachians

Catte goes further in her accusations against Vance’s theories. She calls out his preference for sources favored by white supremacist and nationalist individuals. Vance references eugenics theory and practice, “brain drain.” He praises the proud Scots-Irish genealogy. These should all be viewed as red flags for his priorities. Especially as there is no doubt he will run for a political office in the next five years.

K.O.!

Overall, her authority shines through and makes Vance’s novel and theories pale in comparison. Vance lacks viable research. Vance lacks insight into the sociopolitical structure of the Eastern Kentucky area he references repeatedly. His insistence on their (consequently his) genetic purity really expose him for what he is. Vance is a politically ambitious, pseudo-intellectual with white supremacist tendencies.

Even more stark after reading Catte’s response is the insincerity of Vance’s assertions. Vance claims writing his memoir did not mean he intended to be a spokesperson for the poor, white working class. Yet he continues to tour and speak on the topic. He published a book on the subject knowing very, very little of the truth behind the struggles in the region. Vance intended to capitalize on national insecurities using Appalachians to justify white insecurity and nationalist trends. This attempt is glaringly obvious when read in conjunction with Catte’s rebuttal.

In short, read What You Are Getting Wrong About Appalachia, not Hillbilly Elegy.