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Book Club Reflection: In the Distance by Hernán Díaz

21 Sep

It is rare for me to not finish a book before our book club meets, but that’s what happened this past week. I couldn’t manage to finish In the Distance by Hernán Díaz in time for our meeting. I had less than two hours left of the audio when we met.

Our leader had some great information about Díaz. The book was sent int during an open call for manuscripts and is his first novel, which he’d been working on for years. Díaz lived in first Sweeden and then Argentina before moving to New York. He didn’t travel to the locations he mentioned to research the novel. It’s a bit of a travel novel and a Western. The story shows the chaos of the Wild West more than the heroic side that’s often portrayed in Westerns. The corrupt Shariff is an example of the American Dream of the West gone sour. It was pointed out that most Westerns set in the late 1800s like this one were not written during that time period. Most Westerns are about an idealized and mythological West that’s common in literature but isn’t necessarily true of history. (From this article from The Nation)

There were a few of us who listened to the audiobook for this one and we found that those of us who listened disliked the book more than those who read it. We didn’t feel the narrator’s voice matched the story. Those who read the book noticed something that passed me by. There was almost no dialogue in the first half of the books because Håkan didn’t speak English and didn’t understand what was being said. He’s a foreigner in the West, even though everyone there is not from the area. He’s the most foreign foreigner in the land.

During the book, Håkan has a lot of different companions and one reader counted nine in total. I wasn’t a fan of this episodic storytelling and a few of my fellow readers felt the same. We were disappointed when characters like the woman with black gums never showed up again. It made us question the purpose of certain parts of the book. Lorimer was one character we tended to like. Many of us felt he was comparable to Darwin.

Many of us were frustrated that Håkan never found his brother, but many people suspected it. Marking it to New York wasn’t part of his story. When he decided to return to Sweden, most weren’t surprised. A reader suggested that he’d lost touch with reality a bit in thinking he could walk across Russia, but others thought he’d honed his skills enough to be able to do it. One reader was very familiar with Sweedish immigration and told us that many Swedes who left for the US went back to Sweeden so it’s likely Lionus may have done that and they’d be reunited at home. So maybe there is a happy ending?

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Book Club Reflection: The Woman Who Gave Birth to Rabbits by Emma Donoghue

15 Jun

My book club met via Zoom to talk about our last book, The Woman Who Gave Birth to Rabbits by Emma Donoghue. If you read my review, you’ll know I wasn’t the biggest fan of this book, but I find those books make for the best book discussions.

Donoghue was born in Dublin and moved to England before settling in Ontario, Canada. Her stories settings reflect her Irish and English periods. Many of her other work has a strong subtext of LGBT characters in history, discussing how they lived and how their sexuality was repressed by society. We see this in the short story, How a Lady Dies, in this collection. We also wondered if the sisters in Salvage may have been lesbians.

Most of us liked the story Dido. I don’t think it’s by chance that it was one of the longer stories! There’s a 2013 movie based on the same historical figure called Belle. We all felt like Dido’s story could have been a full novel and it looks like a screenwriter agreed in their own way. We felt it spoke to us a bit more in light of the current #BlackLivesMatter movement in the USA. It was one of Donoghue’s stories that spoke to us a lot about current events despite the historical setting. Her uncle knew the discrimination and racism she would face outside their home but Dido was unaware.

Another story that seemed to speak to our times was Ballad, about the Black Plague. The way the people acted to prevent them from getting the plague reminded us of the current COVID crisis. The woman who boiled coins before she’d touch them spoke to us specifically. We may have thought that was overkill before, but it seems very logical now.

We had surprising little to say about the title story, The Woman Who Gave Birth to Rabbits. We felt sorry for her. It was no wonder she got so sick with how the scheme was conducted. Having a rabbit shoved inside you is not the least bit sanitary! We found it odd as well that she’d give birth on command and for shows. That made it even more unbelievable.

The story Account was a fun one to read. It used a very unusual story format that we hadn’t seen before. Nonetheless, it built tension and had a complete arc to it. It was one of few we recommended to a reader who hadn’t finished the book.

Overall, these stories felt rather staccato. They would build tension and drama but didn’t always feel like a complete story. It wasn’t until you read the note that explained the broader context that the story made any sense. The librarian who sponsors our group said she could see the desire to write like this. In doing research as part of her job, she’d often come upon snippets of information and want to expand on it and learn more but didn’t have an outlet for it.

The collection did show a wide range of Donoghue. There was a large variety of stories she was able to tell and capture many different narrators’ voices well in the process. Many of her stories spoke about historical women and how they had no voice in history. Many had no power to change their stations but did what they could with the lot in life they’d been handed.

It looks like we’ll have one more Zoom meeting at least before we return to in-person meetings. I miss seeing these readers in person so I’ll look forward to the day we can all be together again.

Until next time, write on.

You can follow me on Goodreads, Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, and Instagram. I’m available via email at And as always, feel free to leave a comment!

Some of the links on this post may be affiliate links. Taking on a World of Words is a participant in affiliate programs designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by linking to products. If you purchase a product or service through an affiliate link, your cost will be the same but Sam will automatically receive a small commission. Your support is greatly appreciated.

Book Club Reflection: A Mother’s Reckoning by Sue Klebold

19 May

I read the book so long ago that A Mother’s Reckoning felt like this meeting was never going to happen. We have had some disruptions at our library so that it even got canceled for a few days but then was back on. I ended up volunteering to lead the discussion. This was an emotional discussion for us because of the nature of Sue’s tragedy but I think we still had a good discussion.

It was hard for Klebold to grieve the loss of her son because outside of her immediate family, no one was grieving with her. They were angry at what Dylan had done and unable to see that she’d lost a child, too. One of our readers felt it was amazing Tom and Sue could get up every morning. Not only did they lose Dylan, but they also lost the child they thought Dylan was. Their Sunshine Boy ended up doing something unforgivable and they had to reconcile that. Sue did well writing this book and acknowledges she had help to do so. One thing we found throughout her writing is how much she blamed Eric for the tragedy. She says she recognizes that Dylan was a part of it, but she still seems to point a finger toward Eric.

There are a few parents in our group and we talked about the secrets that are kept between parents and children. Some readers shared stories of things they found out their children had done as teenagers that didn’t come out into the open until their 30s. Almost all of us admit to doing something our parents didn’t know about or lying to our parents about what we did. Some felt sorry for the parents of this generation. Growing up, there was a house phone and you knew who your kids were talking to and you had a chance to talk to their friends. Now, parents need to check their children’s phones for text and social media. Still, kids can hide a lot by deleting texts and creating second social media pages. Kids will always find a way if they want to.

Eric and Dylan were both early releases from their diversion program even though that was rare. They were able to put up a good front, similar to Ted Bundy and other unsavory people who knew how to win people over. Dylan lied about how he was feeling and the depression he was suffering from during his intake for the program. One reader pointed out that many times depressed individuals will lie about how they’re feeling because they don’t want to feel like a burden and talking about their depression can feel like burdening others.

The Columbine tragedy caused a lot of changes to our society. It was one of the early indicators of the problems associated with bullying. The teachers in the school are accused of not stopping a toxic culture of bullying that fueled the anger Dylan and Eric felt. They saw it so often that they thought it was normal and didn’t think it was worth speaking out against. This showed how dangerous it can be to normalize that behavior. There were two other readers on our call that were around my age and shared what they remembered changing in school after Columbine. We didn’t remember active shooter drills. I think those became more common after Sandy Hook. There’s been research that the drills are traumatizing for children. What we do remember is the number of bomb threats that were made in our schools afterward. One girl remembered monthly threats before a girl’s friends finally turned her in for making them. We recalled people who were known to do them to get out of tests. I remember one that was in the middle of my AP Spanish exam.

I think it’s fair to say school shootings are a curable disease in American culture. There’s a lot that can be done to limit them besides gun control measures: education around adolescent brain illness, anti-bullying campaigns, and encouraging students to speak up when their peers need help. Klebold is fighting for treatments for brain illness and we all commend her for her effort.

Our next meeting will be virtual as well, but the hope is that we’ll return to meeting in person soon. I just want to order some duck nuggets while we meet. Until next time, write on.

You can follow me on Goodreads, Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, and Instagram. I’m available via email at And as always, feel free to leave a comment!

Book Club Reflection: Exit West by Mohsin Hamid

16 Apr

I already had one book club read and discuss Exit West by Mohsin Hamid so I didn’t reread the book. After the discussion, part of me wishes that I had. It seems that with the pandemic going on, this group got some very different messages and related to the characters differently than I did when reading it about a year ago.

Hamid was born in Pakistan but lived in the US in his childhood before returning to Pakistan and then to the US again for school. He studied under Joyce Carol Oats and Toni Morrison at Princeton and I could see some elements of Morrison’s melodic prose. Hamid’s novel Moth Smoke was turned into a movie that gained a fair amount of popularity. Some of our members enjoyed the writing style more than the plot. In retrospect, there isn’t too much of a plot to the book. One reader described it as a novel of ideas which doesn’t require character development or plot. Saeed and Nadia’s relationship isn’t the focus of the book, but it’s what’s happening during the book. The writing keeps the book moving.

It took some readers a while to realize that the doors were physical and not metaphorical. The helped make the logistics of migration disappear so that the book didn’t focus on how people get from one place to another but rather on the emotional side; why do people move? If we could all travel this quickly between places, would we migrate? We wondered if we would leave our homes and go somewhere with more freedom. I hear Sweden isn’t locked down. In the end, Saeed and Nadia have a happy ending and we don’t think that’s always likely. Our society will have to start accepting migrants more readily for these outcomes to be more common.

Many were struck by the short vignettes peppered through the story. They helped us see a variety of migrant experiences. Saeed and Nadia’s journey is what a lot of us think of when we hear that someone migrated but the people in the vignettes moved for a wider variety of reasons. For some migrants, there isn’t a single driving reason pushing them away and it can be hard to explain why they are going. In the end, some people did start to go home. As the situation at home changed, some went back. But others were settled and comfortable and stayed. One story that stuck out was the woman in California who lived in her house for so long that the world around it changed. There’s a great quote here, “We’re all migrants through time.” As things around us change, we adjust to the new normal. And once you leave a place, it continues to change. You can never return and expect something to be as it was before you left. Like you, it has changed. And when you leave, you damage the relationships left behind. Even if you don’t intend to. Technology makes it possible to keep up with someone, but it’s never the same. And often it ends completely.

Because of the current pandemic, some of the themes in this book spoke to us in different ways. The confinement that the characters felt when they were new was relatable because we can understand that feeling better. We’re also seeing drastic changes to socioeconomic status. People who were middle or upper class are losing jobs and unemployment and underemployment are running rampant. The characters didn’t realize their lives were about to change until they did, much the same way this pandemic has taken the world by storm and changed everything in a matter of weeks. Saeed and Nadia don’t know where they’ll end up or what the world they find will look like. We’re equally blind.

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Book Club Reflection: What the Eyes Don’t See (Round 2)

16 Mar

I had my second book club meeting about Mona Hanna Attisha’s book What the Eyes Don’t see. It was great to talk about this with a different group of people and see that we all hold similar opinions about how terrible the crisis is and how it’s shown us there is a lot of injustice built into our political system.

Our leader mentioned Dr. Mona’s TedMed talk which I’ll include here. She said it’s a good summary of the book. I have it playing in the background as I write this and so far I’d have to agree. This title was selected as the Great Michigan Read for 2019-2020. However, her events in Southeast Michigan were last year and I missed them all. There are a few more events outside my area if there’s anyone else in the state who wants to hear her speak. Another reader shared my surprise that there wasn’t a ghostwriter listed on Hanna’s byline. We wonder if maybe an amazing editor is responsible for this comprehensive book.

Hanna shared how many people knew about the crisis before she spoke out and how many people tried to discredit her when she did speak out. We had a debate about if these people were indifferent to Flint residents and just didn’t care or if they were coving their own butts. We’d like to think that they did care about people but were worried about themselves first. It’s not a great situation, but it seems more humane. We liked that Hanna pointed out that the people of Flint did notice there was something wrong and that they spoke out. They were ignored. They have pushed away because they were poor and minority. But they did speak out. They did care and they wanted something to change. They just needed another voice to speak along with them.

Again, none of us had heard about the DC Water Crisis. We’re all shocked that something of this magnitude is so unheard of. As a result of the Flint crisis, water testing in Michigan has changed and as of this past summer, five cities in my county (not my city thankfully) have found high lead levels. One of these, Birmingham, is a very wealthy community. So it seems the problem isn’t a wealth-based issue, but the solutions will be.

Until next time, write on.

You can follow me on Goodreads, Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, and Instagram. I’m available via email at And as always, feel free to leave a comment!

Book Club Reflection: What The Eyes Don’t See by Mona Hanna-Attisha

9 Mar

I’m glad to say we had a better discussion in our book club this month than we did last time. I think we all felt a lot more vested in this book than we have in some of our fiction books. With Flint being so close to home, most of us related to something in the book as a personal experience we’d shared or known someone who’d shared it.

Hanna picked a great title for her book. She’s talking about a lack of knowledge, not being able to ‘see’ something because you don’t know to look for it. But lead is also colorless, tasteless, and odorless, so it was something the eye couldn’t see. I wondered how much of the writing (and title) were her doing and how much assistance she might have gotten from a ghostwriter.

Hanna had to be very brave to do what she did. I think she was very lucky to have her brother prepare her for the personal attacks she received. We agreed she had a good network to support her when she spoke out. We had a member describe her as ‘hyper’ because she was doing so many things at the same time. One member spent time in medical school and felt that she was typical of many doctors. To get through school, they have to balance a lot of things in their lives and learn to function at a level like Hanna. She also felt that many doctors tend to lose their empathy because they’re dealing with illness and death so often. Hanna didn’t give that impression. She also came off as rather humble. We noticed she didn’t have Dr. or MD in her author byline.

None of us were aware that DC had a similar lead crisis. We were shocked, especially that more people didn’t suffer legal consequences. It seemed appropriate that some of the players in the Flint crisis faced criminal charges. Though we were surprised the governor didn’t. Snyder was so well-liked before this crisis and took a huge fall from grace. Many of us had the impression that he was more culpable than those who were charged. Many of them were likely following orders from higher up the food chain.

Some of the facts that hit us the hardest were about the developmental future of these children. Hanna talked about the PTSD that children can have from their environment and the toxic stress that their environment can create. It was devastating to hear about the home for neglected children with 5,000 ppb levels. With all the stressors in those children’s lives, they don’t have much of a chance.

I look forward to talking about this book with my other club in a few weeks. It will be interesting to see what a different group has to say about the same text.

Until next time, write on.

You can follow me on Goodreads, Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, and Instagram. I’m available via email at And as always, feel free to leave a comment!

Book Club Reflection: The Extra Ordinary Life of Frank Derrick, Age 81 by J.B. Morrison

17 Feb

It’s always interesting how much a book club discussion can change your perspective of a book. I’m almost always glad I went to a meeting, especially when I didn’t like a book.

There is a sequel to Frank’s story, Frank Derrick’s Holiday of a Lifetime. From the cover, it seems he makes it the US to visit his daughter. I read this book, but another member listened to the audio and said it was well done. This wasn’t the kind of book we normally read and I wasn’t surprised to hear that our organizer was a fan of the author’s music. If you knew us, you wouldn’t be surprised either.

The book spoke a lot about getting old and the loneliness that it can entail. The older members of our group identified more with frank. When his wife died, he was very lonely. One member has a British husband and she described for us that the attitude toward retirement is very different in the UK. In the US, retirement is a time to travel, indulge your hobbies, and volunteer. Her husband grew up feeling that retirement was when you sat down and waited to die. Thankfully, he’s changed his tune about retiring with an American bend to it.

One reader felt that Frank was a crotchety old man. If he’d been younger, we might not have described his pessimism and sarcasm this way, but because he’s older, the word seems to fit. Many suspected that he was in the early stages of dementia and wondered how that might have accounted for some of his behavior.

The structure of the book gives us only Frank’s perspective. We don’t get anything about how Kelly feels about him or how his daughter is dealing with being so far away. The daughter is a real mystery because we don’t know what’s going on in her house or in her head. She might well suspect that her father is perfectly fine after his accident and that’s why she didn’t come. Or she may really have a financial burden that makes her unable to come to visit. Some felt she was a neglectful daughter and others wondered if she knew her father all too well.

A lot of us wanted to talk about the scene where Frank went swimming. A few thought it was a suicide attempt. Others saw it as a baptismal scene where he was able to wash himself of the loneliness that had surrounded him since Sheila’s death and find a way to move forward. I’d never considered that it could be a suicide, I saw it as more of the latter.

One of our members works with the public in a similar fashion to Kelly. She’s run into situations where the patients didn’t want her to leave and were a lot like Frank in how much they clung to her. I was surprised to find out I was in a vast minority who thought Frank and Kelly’s beach trip was a bit too much. Others said Kelly was kind, and to think of it like a teacher who buys school supplies or clothes for kids who don’t have them. When she became more professional and formal with Frank at the end, it was because she realized they’d gotten too close and that she needed to put up a boundary. I’m still on the fence about this one.

We contemplated if Frank really thought he had a chance with Kelly. He did think she was going to kiss him at one point and he seemed nervous about being bathed by her but he doesn’t explicitly say much else about her. It seemed more like a schoolgirl crush than anything serious to me.

We meet again right after my Greece trip so everyone wished me happy travels. I’ll look forward to sharing my travels with this group.

Until next time, write on.

You can follow me on Goodreads, Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, and Instagram. I’m available via email at And as always, feel free to leave a comment!

Book Club Reflection: Pachinko by Min Jin Lee

6 Feb

My book club met recently to talk about a book I loved, Pachinko by Min Jin Lee. Unfortunately, we had some members who seemed more interested in talking to each other than they were in talking about the book. Those of us who pushed on were able to have some semblance of a discussion, but it was much shorter so this will be a smaller post.

One member brought some Korean wedding ducks a friend of hers had given as a gift. The friend was living in Korea and sent these wooden ducks to our member. Ducks mate for life so the wish was for our member’s marriage to be the same. It was fun to see a bit of the book’s culture join us for the meeting.

A few members commented on the speech in the back of our books that Caroline Kennedy gave. She calls the book a ‘fun summer read’ and many felt that was off base. We think of summer reads as light and short novels without much depth. This book was the complete opposite, so we wondered if the remark was supposed to be read sarcastically.

Many of us didn’t realize it was so hard to be Korean in Japan. Because it’s an island, Japan has historically had a very closed culture and it was not very welcoming to foreigners who came for any reason.

I was surprised how many people showed up to the meeting with a hand-written family tree! It was an easy way to keep track of the names. (I was one of two without one.) Some people felt this was a flaw in the book and that there were some characters who were unnecessary and that the book could have been shortened a bit by removing them.

Many were shocked at the prevalence of sex in the book. Hana was a clear example of this, but Noa’s Japanese girlfriend was highly sexualized as well. We were most surprised by the quick scene in the park when Goro’s wife (I may have this wrong) ran into a prostitute. We weren’t expecting the prevalence of sex, though we agreed nothing was graphic. It was very noticeable in a culture that was otherwise so formal.

This book tells us over and over that a woman’s lot is to suffer. Honestly, we didn’t feel that things had changed too much from the time this book was set until now. Two or three generations ago in the US, women had the same expectations out of life as Sunja did on a small island in Korea. The suffering of a woman seems to be almost universal.

None of us had heard of Pachinko before and we imagined it like upside-down Plinko. In the end, every man’s job revolved around it and it was very central to their stories. It is a game of chance and it’s always rigged just a bit. But the player remains hopeful that they can win, even knowing that they probably won’t. We believed it was a good metaphor for life.

Noa was a great character and very dynamic throughout the book. One thing that seemed inconsistent with him was that he was so smart, but he couldn’t figure out that Hansu was his father. It seems if someone’s paying for your school and living expenses, you might expect they’re more than a friend of your mother. It was understandably hard for him when he did figure this out and his subsequent death was tragic. We were bothered by how little attention seemed to be paid to Noa’s death. It was so sudden and tragic but we’re spared the suffering it caused and the book moves on.

Hansu makes many appearances in the book to come to Sunja’s rescue. We never get a solid answer on how he came to be married to a rich Japanese woman besides his good looks. We felt there might have been something more buried there. We did see that he had a bad side. Even though he risked a lot to help Sunja, we still see him hitting a prostitute and being controlling at other times. He’s a very unpredictable character and was someone we enjoyed seeing come up periodically.

Most of us adored this book and I’m so glad I was able to hear Lee speak about it. I hope our next book is as engaging! Until next time, write on.

You can follow me on Goodreads, Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, and Instagram. I’m available via email at And as always, feel free to leave a comment!

Book Club Reflection: Beautiful Ruins by Jess Walter

10 Dec

My book club met to discuss Beautiful Ruins by Jess Walter pretty soon after I finished reading it. It feels like ages since this happened because of my NaNoWriMo slow down so I’m glad I can finally tell you about it.

I was the only person in the group who hadn’t seen Cleopatra. I’m not sure I want to see it now that I know more about it and understand that its popularity was due to the romance between the leads. It sounds like the movie itself wasn’t that great.

Many felt Walter’s description of Italy brought the place to life. I loved the descriptions of Pasquale’s home and family. It was very vivid and easy to envision.

Most of us didn’t like Pat and we felt that his section was a bit ‘too much’ and hard to believe. He was an addict like his father. He was also dramatic and a good actor like his father. He wasn’t much like Alvis, his adopted father, except toward the end when he became very domesticated. We thought this might be a way of dealing with his addictions. It was hard reading about Dee and how she didn’t tell him for so long. She never resolved how she felt about Dick and we think she was avoiding him coming back into her life. She was trying to escape from Dick. And it got harder and harder to tell Pat after time went by until it was forced on her.

We all felt Pasquale was the most likable male character in the story. He was also the only one who didn’t want to be an artist, but he was still a dreamer, trying to make a wonderful hotel. He never seemed young to us, likely a case of an ‘old soul.’ He also wasn’t described much physically except for his eyes.

Within the book, Walter has a lot of different stories, like Alvis Bender’s first chapter and Shane’s pitch. When each plotline started, it was like getting pitched a new script because they seemed so separate at first. It took Walter 15 years to finish this book and we could see why.

One of the memorable lines from the book was, “People want what they want.” We felt that the motivator was present throughout most of the book. These characters hurt others in pursuit of getting whatever it was that they wanted. The town Pasquale lives in translates to ‘Port of Shame’ and each character seems to air their shame during the story. Michael Dean went even further than that and took someone else’s shame (Dick and Liz) and turned it into a spectacle for everyone to ogle.

We felt that almost every character could be described as their own Beautiful Ruin. Most of them are striving for beauty and art in their lives. A ruin survives time, but it’s not intact and most of these characters have to go through trouble to get through their struggles. The gun bunker and the port town were physical examples of beautiful ruins. We thought the moment with Dee and Pasquale in the bunker was one of the sweetest moments in the book.

Most of us were not fans of the ending. The story wrapped up too quickly and it felt like everything worked out too well, almost like a fairy tale. We were also left a bit confused about what happened between Pasquale and Dee. It felt like a romance, but not much romantic happened. And we were confused about how she managed to travel the way she did if she was so weak. It felt a little magical.

I missed the November meeting because I was out of town and we’ll skip December because of the holidays so I’ll be back with this group in January to discuss Pachinko by Min Jin Lee. I’m already loving the book.

Until next time, write on.

You can follow me on Goodreads, Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, and Instagram. I’m available via email at And as always, feel free to leave a comment!

Book Club Reflection: Hillbilly Elegy by J.D. Vance

10 Oct

I was beyond excited to talk to my book club about Hillbilly Elegy. I enjoyed the book a lot and I thought that living in the Midwest, a lot of people would have some personal connections with the story and Hillbilly culture. There were some, but not as many as I’d hoped. It was still a good discussion.

This book was released in 2016 and many early reviews said it would help explain the phenomenon of Trump winning the election. A lot of us weren’t sure that it helped us understand that at all. It was a mix of a memoir and a policy book. He didn’t have specific recommendations for policy and how to fix the problems he pointed out many times. Vance had a lot of description and didn’t let the reader’s mind picture something the way a fiction writer would. He told his story and some of our readers felt his story was very specific to him while others felt the story could be generalized for the region and people.

The Hillbilly culture Vance describes goes back to the Scotch/Irish immigrants. Those groups left their homeland to escape poverty, the same reason that Vance points out they’re now leaving Kentucky and the hills. One of our members felt that the break-up of the Hillbilly people wasn’t the only small ethnic group being broken up. She saw parallels with the Jewish communities she grew up with and how they had begun to fracture with the next generation.

Vance points out a lot of positive values in the Hillbilly culture that we felt were a little double-sided. Loyalty was stressed a lot and family was very important. Mamaw was a strong character and applauded for pouring gasoline on her husband and lighting him on fire though she could easily have been a murderer for that. We wondered if her strong character made it hard for Vance’s mother to form an identity and become her own person.

Many of us admitted that we have a very one-sided view of poverty and people on welfare. Vance provided us another side to the story and reasons why people end up taking the payments. He could have so easily ended up on welfare we well. He was lucky and admits that if any one element of his upbringing had been different, he would have ended up somewhere completely different and not have had the success he does.

J.D.’s mother’s addiction was a big part of his childhood. We talked a lot about the biological reasons she could be addicted, but also about the social and cultural reasons that could have led her to addiction. We speculated, but there wasn’t a ton of background that explained her addiction well.

Vance was very aware of his culture and the poverty associated with it from a young age. He started reading about it in high school. He seemed very critical of those taking food stamps but when the government was offering him something for free (college) or his grandmother (social security), he wasn’t critical at all. For his GI Bill, he seemed to feel that it was OK to get government assistance when he’d earned it with his service. What the difference was between those on food stamps and his grandmother’s Social Security checks, we didn’t really understand.

There were a few key elements to J.D.’s life that made him successful. He always knew he had someone who would be there for him. His grandmother and later his wife were huge supporters for him and gave him something to fall back on. His aunt was another constant in his life that he relied on. He was also able to figure out what he didn’t know and was open to asking for help when he needed it. Not everyone can do that and not everyone has someone to ask so Vance was very fortunate. He was told about the Marines and that seemed to force him to grow up a lot and he has his cousin to thank for telling him about that. He was also very intelligent and got to where he is because of that intelligence. But without one of the other elements, it might not have been enough.

This book was great for discussion and I’m really glad we finally read it. I wonder if book clubs in other parts of the country would have connected with it so well.

Until next time, write on.

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