Hillbilly Elegy, a memoir written by J.D. Vance , is a brisk read that has established itself on the New York Times Best Seller List. The book is a captivating personal story with a broad reach into class distinctions within American society. Vance extends the hillbilly narrative beyond the hollers of his Kentucky heritage.
I am reminded of two similar memoirs, Jeannette Walls’ The Glass Castle and Tobias Wolff’s This Boy’s Life. I would not attempt a ranking here but the status of Wall’s book as a best seller in this genre speaks for itself. Time will tell if Hillbilly Elegy has similar staying power.
J.D Vance’s personal story is a narrative of a culture that few American’s know or understand. It’s impact is broadened because it is contemporary and opens a greater understanding of the polemic in which the country finds itself today.
Narrated with shocking honesty, Vance’s story took great courage to tell. It is deserving of your summer reading list.
J.D. Vance is a graduate of Yale Law School and is an Investment Banker in San Francisco.
When I read Jeannette Walls’ memoir The Glass Castle I believed that I had read the ultimate survival story of an adolescent growing up in a completely dysfunctional family. Survival is the word that continues to come to mind when reflecting on Walls’ wonderful book that since its publication in 2005, continues to be a best seller. See gordonsgoodreads.com
That preamble leads me to the discovery in my library of a volume which must have been left over from one of my children’s required reading lists, Tobias Wolff’s This Boy’s Life.
First published in 1989, this memoir is another detailed account of a youngster’s struggle to survive under the most bazaar family circumstances. Toby’s mother, just like Jeannette Walls’, is a nomad, seeking a better life and fortune , always where the grass may be greener. Unlike Walls’ , Toby’s mother leaves his father and moves from man to man finally ending up in rural Washington living with a despicable and violent drunk. Each chapter will make the reader into a believer of the survival tactics that children adopt to conquer insurmountable obstacles.
If this memoir has escaped your reading list, don’t delay. After you have read the book you may wish to Netflix the highly acclaimed 1993 movie This Boy’s Life starring a very young Leonardo DiCaprio and Robert De Niro.
Tobias’ brother Geoffrey who stayed his father in Connecticut, had a very different upbringing from Toby ( Choate/Princeton). He is an important character in This Boy’s Life . He also became an author having written among other novels Duke of Deception in 1979 and The Age of Consent in 1995.
This Boy’s Life ends with Toby leaving ,or better said in the context of the memoir, escaping for the war in Vietnam. His experiences are detailed in his second memoir Pharaoh’s Army, Memoirs of the Lost War.
I join the millions of readers who are fans of author Jeannette Walls. Amazingly, her memoir The Glass Castle , first published in 2005 remains on the New York Times Best Seller List eight years after its initial publication! Walls also authored best selling Half Broke Horses, a memoir of her grandmother Lily Casey Smith.
Her new book, The Silver Star, will likely not reach the status of either The Glass Castle or Half Broke Horses but it certainly qualifies as a good read, easily accomplished in two or three sittings.
In some ways, similar to The Glass Castle, Walls weaves a story of a dysfunctional mother, acting more like a sibling as opposed to an adult role model. The main characters, two sisters ages 12 and 15 are essentially left on their own as their mother pursues a constant parade of greener pastures and purported life changing opportunities. When mom is present, the lifestyle is at best nomadic and always chaotic.
The silver lining in this story comes at the hands of a distant uncle who despite his “old fashion” views creates a safety net for the girls and brings a sense of stability for the first time in their lives. The book’s title Silver Star beckons the discovery of an unanswered question.
While The Silver Star is not a memoir, Jeannette Walls fills these pages with her life experience of making the best of an imperfect world.
You may notice in the Sunday New York Times Book Section that there are two important new categories of Best Sellers, Fiction Print and Electronic and Non-Fiction Print and Electronic.
According to the Times, the new rankings reflect weekly sales for books sold in both print and electronic formats as reported by vendors offering a wide range of general interest titles. The sales venues for print books include independent book retailers; national, regional and local chains; online and multimedia entertainment retailers; university, gift, supermarket and discount department stores; and newsstands. E-book rankings reflect sales from leading online vendors of e-books in a variety of popular e-reader formats.
Popping off the page of Non Fiction Print and Electronic, this Sunday, February 20, 2011, ranked at number 11, is the 2005 memoir The Glass Castle by Jeannette Walls! This is a new world of reporting who is reading what and when. It is the essence of Gordon’s Good Reads’ philosophy that people like to discover wonderful books that they may have overlooked.
If you have not read The Glass Castle, first published in 2005, I urge you to do so. You will find this memoir of survival in a very dysfunctional family astonishing and nearly unbelievable.
A suggestion. Why not read Walls’ second book about her family first? Half Broke Horses, published in 2009, a true-life novel, is the story of Walls’ no nonsense and resourceful grandmother Lilly Casey Smith. By doing, so you will learn from who Jeannette Walls received her grit, allowing her to survive The Glass Castle. It is every bit as captivating. and wonderfully written.