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

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.

Hillbilly Elegy: Book Review

Hillbilly Elegy Book Review Book Cover

Hillbilly Elegy: A Memoir of Family and Culture in Crisis by J. D. Vance

In the introduction to Vance’s Hillbilly Elegy, he admits he finds the existence of this book “absurd.” After reading it, I have to agree with him. This review will read a little bit like a rant.

A Little Context

Jackson, Kentucky is the seat of Breathitt County, a small town in a big county nestled in the foothills of the Appalachian Mountains. Built on the banks of the North Fork Kentucky River, Jackson was once a bustling timber and coal town. The decline of the coal industry meant coal jobs vacated Jackson in the 70’s/80’s. Fairly recently, however, the coal temple located off Hwy 30 W outside Jackson city limits has opened back up, igniting a spark of memory and hope in the locals.

The town of Jackson and the communities in the surrounding county don’t have a lot of things to make us hope these days. Our children continue to be our biggest source of inspiration. We transfer our broken dreams onto their small shoulders, put all our resources into their education, their abilities, and hope they will achieve the dreams we never had the opportunities to achieve. It’s why, in the currently raging debate on statewide K-12 education in Kentucky, we so staunchly defend teachers and are willing to take on the burden of higher taxes to provide a well-funded pension system for them. Though our legislators seem to be struggling with the logistics of actually fixing said pension system using any method. Lawyers have a way of muddying these things.

Take Hillbilly Elegy: A Memoir of a Family and Culture in Crisis by J. D. Vance. Yale Law School graduate. California resident. Marine vet. Self-described hillbilly. But not really.

There Are No Hillbillies Here

I cannot find fault in all of Vance’s book or his experiences as he escapes from a difficult domestic situation. That is an understatement. He had a Hell of a childhood and his teen years seemed to have been worse. I sympathize. He had a difficult life growing up with an unstable mother and rotating cast of fathers. As he mentions (repeatedly), he was able to overcome those difficulties and achieve a happy, successful (to date) life.

But this book is not about hillbillies. This book is not about Appalachia. This book is not about Jackson, Kentucky however often he invokes our name, invokes hurtful stereotypes that weren’t true even in the 40’s when his grandparents out-migrated for work in Ohio at the tender ages of 17 and 14.

The Jackson, Kentucky he describes is not the Jackson, Kentucky I was raised in and now raise my daughter in. The majority of the book, as a memoir of an individual growing up in Middletown, Ohio, joining the Marines, then going to Ohio State and Yale Law, has nothing substantial to do with Jackson, Kentucky, Appalachia, or “hillbillies.” He has a habit through the book of imposing the bad habits and poor choices of his family members on their status as transplanted hillbillies.

Hurtful Stereotypes

Let’s be clear, his Mamaw is mentally ill. She did a heroic thing, taking her grandchildren in like that but her actions are clearly unhinged. Her birthplace has nothing to do with her described behavior and mannerisms. I lived with my Jackson, Kentucky grandparents nearly my entire life and they behaved nothing like this. Growing up in Jackson, Kentucky, attending churches, funerals, going through the school system, meeting my friends’ families, marrying another Jackson, Kentucky resident, I have never noticed this behavior as the norm of us “hillbillies.”

I lived down a holler. That’s a road off the main highway. These hollers may be one lane, paved or gravel, and the people who live up them are usually related somewhere down the line. And if they’re not yet, they will be. Hollers are basically the driveway to Appalachian communes. There are wild residents like every other community, but the majority, especially Vance’s grandparents’ generation, behave like any other person in that age group. With a little more cooperation when it comes to feeding each other, tending family farms, and delivering errant cattle.

My grandparents were church-going people, I was pretty much raised in a pew. My Granny sang hymns and my Grandpa taught Sunday school. They dressed to the nines, stockings, slicked back hair, shaved face, and copious clouds of Avon cologne and perfume. They sparred verbally but the swearing and such is not the norm for that generation. I was raised to expect soap in my mouth for uttering a bad word. To be clear, fart was considered one such bad word.

An Epidemic

The drug problem in Southeastern Kentucky ranks among the most concerning in the nation. Admittedly we rank close to Middletown, Ohio. But I don’t think the reasons behind our shared problem resonate similarly. I do think the shared opioid addiction is the reason Vance evokes Jackson, Kentucky at all. And named his book what he did, though the title and the references to Kentucky are incredibly misleading and misrepresent his content.

Misrepresents Himself

I picked up this book expecting something entirely different and relevant to my culture. It had nothing to do with us, a wasted read. I don’t share Vance’s political ideas. I can’t relate to his experiences being raised in a middle-class family, even struggling with a drug-addicted parent. Growing up in a single wide trailer for much of my childhood, then a doublewide trailer into adolescence and young adulthood, I find it hard to think of him bereft living in a non-mobile home. Being able to buy a house (still in Jackson, KY) with my husband was a huge life achievement for me.

The whole book did read as a kind of appeal for “outsiders” to not judge white, working-class men for voting for Donald Trump. And I just don’t think they need any more help or understanding in that area.

There are several conflicting ideas in Vance’s book, for instance at the end when he puts out a call for action to Jackson, Kentucky to rise up and meet the needs of our at-risk children. But he had spent the beginning of the book exalting the culture for our emphasis on family. It just reflects his deep misunderstanding of the culture and the work being done to protect our kids here in Eastern Kentucky.

Its all well and good to draw attention to social problems afflicting our area (and nation) but Vance offers very few (half-assed) pathways to solutions. In fact, he admits there are no solutions and that we can only hope to save a few. But again, Jackson, Kentucky is not Vance’s home and he doesn’t have to help us. He doesn’t have to live with these problems. Vance escaped his Middletown problems. So, why write a book with emphasis on the problems these areas are facing at all?

Final Thoughts

After reading his book, I don’t understand his intentions, except to brag that he is successful. I don’t know if he thinks of himself as a hero to poor kids in Appalachia. I hope not, that would be incredibly sad.

As I said before, I sympathize with the struggles he did endure. But I think he greatly exaggerated his position as poor. Maybe its the “hillbilly” in me but I can’t consider him poor when his grandparents were willing to step up financially in cases where they did struggle with his mother’s mismanagement of her money.

Co-Opted Experience For Gain

I grew up poor, one of three kids to a single mother working part-time at the local Walmart (not a supercenter), living in a used, single wide trailer. My grandparents were also poor, legally blind, and unable to work beyond some small-scale farming that kept us in frozen vegetables through the winter. They owned a small plot of land inherited from my great-grandfather and their house was built by some charitable organization or another.

We had food stamps, Medicaid, CHIP, LIHEAP, and welfare. You name a government social program and it probably kept us fed, warm, housed, or alive. These same programs that Vance derides as a crutch for his drug-addicted, domestically challenged neighbors provided opportunities for me that allowed me to stay with my family, kept me and my siblings together and got us through.

Lack of Awareness

These programs evolved from the New Deal Era programs targeted at defeating poverty. Obviously, that hasn’t happened but I think its a little too nail on the head to blame stagnant/declining employment and wages on social welfare as an enabler for “freeloaders.” From my work with local oral histories, I have listened to countless stories from the time period that praised the New Deal for saving the region from total collapse and starvation.

Our Problems Are Bigger Than This Book

Places like Jackson, Kentucky have other much more complex problems keeping us in the hole. Our isolated location, difficult terrain, corrupt local politicians and their large land holdings they refuse to develop/charge high rent for, and crime rate (the name Bloody Breathitt was given to us for our tendency for violence not our WWI volunteer rate, FYI) are just a few of the issues that keep us from achieving the same economic growth as the rest of the nation.

I’m not even sure Vance addressed the employment problem in Jackson, Kentucky, the fact that 30% of our population has left in the last 20 or so years. I believe he was tenuously trying to connect the loss of factory jobs in Middletown to the loss of coal jobs in Kentucky but that isn’t really a fair comparison because we are not located in an area where other industries can easily supplant lost ones. Our roads are woefully out of date, among other infrastructure concerns, and many of our cities are one bad year away from insolvency.

There is a difference in individual poverty and institutional poverty.

Frustrating

I am just a little riled that Vance tried to use my culture, my home, and my people as a way to justify his political ideologies.

I did not enjoy this book, found it to be confusing and uninteresting. His title and summary were unrelated to the actual content of the book. The author posits himself as something poor kids should emulate but he doesn’t seem to understand that kids in poverty lack the resources he had available to him, regardless of his mother’s addiction.

2/5 Stars

More Book Reviews

A Court of Wings and Ruin

Heartless

The Fiery Cross

TBR Additions: May 2018

I have been so unmotivated this month, Y’all. Not feeling blogging or writing in general, work has been hectic and my brain is constantly exhausted. But here are my TBR Additions: May 2018 titles.

TBR Additions: May 2018

Adult Fantasy Fiction

The Pisces Book Cover and Link to Amazon Page
Tags: adult, fantasy, contemporary, fiction 

The Poppy War Book Cover and Link to Amazon Page
Tags: adult, fiction, fantasy, science fiction fantasy

What Should Be Wild Book Cover and Link to Amazon Page
Tags: fantasy, fiction, magical realism, adult, literary fiction 

Adult Sci-Fi

Medusa Uploaded Book Cover and Link to Amazon Page
Tags: science fiction, adult, fantasy 

84K Book Cover and Link to Amazon Page
Tags: sci-fi, fiction

Historical Fiction

The Map of Salt and Stars Book Cover and Link to Amazon Page
Tags: historical, fiction

Non-Fiction

Girl Wash Your Face Book Cover and Link to Amazon Page
Tags: non-fiction, self-help, personal development 

YA Fantasy Fiction

Tags: fantasy, romance, young adult

King of Scars Book Cover and Link to Amazon Page
Tags: fantasy, young adult

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Top 5 Favorite Literary Heroines

What makes female characters literary heroines? For me, these are females who instilled in me a sense of power in my gender. These women, most of whom are positioned in times of absolute masculine authority, defy conventions. They set out to achieve their heart’s desires in spite of everything thrown at them.

I can’t remember when I learned to read, but I know it was very early. I have been enamored with reading my entire conscious life. My favorite books feature strong female main characters. So, narrowing down my top five favorite literary heroines was a challenge. I could switch these out so many others like Anne Shirley, Feyre Archeron, Elizabeth Bennett, Offred, Annabeth Chase, I could go on and on…

The List of Literary Heroines

But here, in no particular order exactly, are my top five favorite literary heroines. Also included are the books they are featured in and the writers who gave them life (dominant females in their own right).

Jo March from Little Women by Louisa May Alcott

Little Women Book Cover Literary Heroines with link to Amazon page

Jo March was my childhood hero. She was independent, stubborn, but loveable, and a writer. In fact, it was my introduction to Jo March that inspired me to want to be a professional author and to start writing my own stories. I loved the way she dreamed and then pursued her dreams, rejecting the social constructs of her time. Little Women was a book I reread over ten times throughout my life. I bought multiple editions of it, though my favorite is an old copy my aunt gave me before she passed away.

Laura Ingalls Wilder from Little House on the Prarie Series by Laura Ingalls Wilder

Little House in the Big Woods book cover with link to Amazon pageLaura Ingalls Wilder tells the story of her childhood growing up on a homestead. She tells stories of traveling west, meeting colorful characters, meeting her husband, and eventually becoming a teacher and starting a family. Of course, Wilder took some artistic license with her memories for entertainment value but her heroine, Laura Ingalls, still makes the list. She was mouthy and adventurous though she eventually settled down as was expected of a woman of her time. The impressive part of her story is the transition of her portrayal in her semi-biographical books to her real-life role as a famous, beloved children’s author. I can remember doing all of my book reports in elementary school over her, and it was a series I reread many times.

Hermoine Granger from Harry Potter Series by J.K. Rowling

Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone book cover and link to Amazon pageI don’t think anyone my age or younger wouldn’t have Hermoine Granger on their list of favorite literary heroines. There are many reasons for that, the first being that Hermoine is not the main character of the series, but she is smarter and more talented than the main character. Right to the end. The Brightest Witch of Our Time. Hermoine’s friendship with Harry Potter and Ron Weasley starts off rocky. They do not take to her as quickly as they do to each other, treating her like an annoyance. But Hermoine proves to be an invaluable resource, as a friend, schoolmate, partner-in-crime, and finally a spouse. Hermoine owns her power, doesn’t try to dumb herself down or dim her shine and I think that was so needed for girls, in the 90s and today.

Claire Fraiser from Outlander Series by Diana Gabaldon

Outlander Book Cover with link to Amazon pageClaire Fraiser is a recent favorite of mine. I started listening to the Outlander series on audiobook a little over a year ago. Claire is a former WWII nurse, so right off the bat we know she has been through something incredible. But the story opens at the close of the War, Claire and her husband are attempting a second honeymoon. They are trying to reconnect after eight years apart; he was a soldier. She is ripped from her world and thrown in 18th-century Scotland where she meets and is subsequently married to Jamie Fraiser. Claire falls in love with him, and when an opportunity presents itself to return to her own time, she stays. She wholly owns herself and is confident in her intelligence and sensuality.

Jane Eyre from Jane Eyre by Charlotte Brontë

Jane Eyre Book Cover with link to Amazon page to buy bookDespite the latest terrible movie adaptation of one of my favorite novels of all time, Jane Eyre is a complicated woman to keep down. An orphan for much of her life, she had to learn quickly that to survive she had to take matters into her own hands. That is what she does when she travels to Thornfield Hall and encounters the mysterious and intimidating Mr. Rochester. She then proceeds to marry him (with some stuff in between). Again, here is a woman born in a time when they were more likely to be sold off in marriage. Jane Eyre overcomes her environment, her position as a poor orphan and a governess, and achieves her heart’s desire.

Check out my other book related posts!

The Fiery Cross: Book Review

Heartless: Book Review

TBR Additions: April