Seaside Book Club –
by Deborah Rogers –
Exceptional wintery weather caused the cancellation of our February Book Club. I was very disappointed, having made quite an effort to read our book of the month, Hillbilly Elegy by J.D. Vance. I don’t read a lot of non-fiction and it wasn’t an easy read for me; I’d been looking forward to hearing what I expected would be diverse reactions from our group.
Thankfully many members reached out by email to share their feedback. Hillbilly Elegy is a best-selling autobiography. Vance grew up a self-described “hillbilly” in the so-called rust-belt of America, in Middleton, Ohio. His book describes his journey from there to Yale Law School to his current position as a venture capitalist. So far, so rags-to-riches, except at heart Vance’s story isn’t so much about his trajectory as it is about trying to explain the place and society he comes from.
Vance feels that the poor, white American is little understood, and poorly served by its government. And in telling the story of his dysfunctional family and their friends and neighbours, he provides an insider’s perspective on a region, and sector of society that doesn’t usually get much exposure. It is undeniably a sad book. Vance’s childhood is a litany of violence, abuse and extreme poverty. But it’s also full of characters who love, and are fiercely loyal too, especially his grandparents. I found the author to be surprisingly dispassionate considering the subject matter, and personally didn’t warm to him despite feeling sympathy for his story. Other readers though, loved the book. They found it very revealing about the rust belt working class, causing them to wonder where their future is going, and the way they seem to have entrusted it to Trump and his promises.
Another comment was that Vance learned diametrically opposed things about the poor versus the rich. As a child he learned to defend honour with violence and to be loyal to the hillbilly culture. Once he was exposed to the rich he learned they have connections and help each other with job contacts, references and supportive encouragement. In essence they do things differently and that produces different results.
The strongest message the book gives though is the inequality in America, that poverty, whichever race is experiencing it, is oppressive and removes opportunity. Several people emailed to say that they feel this book is a must-read to help understand what is happening in America today, politically and socially.
Thanks for reading along, and sharing your thoughts. Our next meeting takes place March 13 from 6:30 to 8 p.m. at the Shoal Centre. We’ll be discussing The Power by Naomi Alderman. For more information and to sign up to our mailing list: www.seasidemagazine.ca/book-club.
Book Club Q & A
Q How do you choose the books?
A The book selection is a little down to luck – each month the Sidney/North Saanich Library tries to get hold of a book club set for us to use. Availability is based on demand. So far we have had a choice between several titles each month, and have voted which one to use. Generally this will mean that people can leave the meeting with a copy of next month’s read. Book Club members can suggest titles they would be interested in reading from the VIRL book club sets list:
Q How do you structure the meeting?
A Members bring questions or discussion points with them, written down. These are put in a “hat” and drawn from to keep the discussion going. It leads to diverse questions and no need for anyone to feel self-conscious. The meeting is facilitated by Seaside Magazine’s Deborah and Sidney/North Saanich Library’s Virginia.
Q How do I stay up to date with Book Club happenings?
A Sign up for our mailing list and you’ll get meeting reminders by email. And follow us on Facebook to see everything that’s happening at Seaside Magazine!