Category Archives: Book Review

HILLBILLY ELEGY – A memoir of a Family and Culture in Crisis, by J.D. Vance

December 10th, Saturday 2016

“If you believe that hard work pays off, then you work hard; if you think it’s hard to get ahead even when you try, then why try at all? Similarly, when people do fail, this mind-set allows them to look outward. I once ran into an old acquaintance at a Middletown bar who told me that he had recently quit his job because he was sick of waking up early. I later saw him complaining on Facebook about the “Obama economy” and how it had affected his life. I don’t doubt that the Obama economy has affected many, but this man is assuredly not among them. His status in life is directly attributable to the choices he’s made, and his life will improve only through better decisions. But for him to make better choices, he needs to live in an environment that forces him to ask tough questions about himself. There is a cultural movement in the white working class to blame problems on society or the government, and that movement gains adherents by the day.”
J.D. Vance, Hillbilly Elegy: A Memoir of a Family and Culture in Crisis

“What separates the successful from the unsuccessful are the expectations that they had for their own lives. Yet the message of the right is increasingly: It’s not your fault that you’re a loser; it’s the government’s fault.”

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

“There is no group of Americans more pessimistic than working-class whites. Well over half of blacks, Latinos, and college-educated whites expect that their children will fare better economically than they have. Among working-class whites, only 44 percent share that expectation.”
J.D. Vance, Hillbilly Elegy: A Memoir of a Family and Culture in Crisis

“Barack Obama strikes at the heart of our deepest insecurities. He is a good father while many of us aren’t. He wears suits to his job while we wear overalls, if we’re lucky enough to have a job at all. His wife tells us that we shouldn’t be feeding our children certain foods, and we hate her for it—not because we think she’s wrong but because we know she’s right.”

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

Excellent book – Vance writes about the problems of the white lower economic class of America. He comes off very direct and honest in telling his tale of growing up in Kentucky and Ohio. I think it is one thing to research an area or class in the United States but quite another to actually have lived it as a kid. The book helped me to get a better understanding of the problems facing lower social economic status whites. Joblessness, divorce, substance abuse, poverty, etc.… these issues are a fact of everyday life for the characters in the book. Working where I do I have some understanding of these issues but at the same time I did not appreciate some of the finer details. And how these issues change people’s beliefs and attitudes. This book is a must read for those who want to better understand the issues that surround this group in America. It is available at Amazon for about 12.25 in paperback.

The picture below is from skiing at A-Basin last Monday 12/5 – the snow is finally starting to fall!!

“When Things Fall Apart: Heart Advice for Difficult Times” by Pema Chodron

December 1st, Thursday, 2016

“Nothing ever goes away until it has taught us what we need to know

…nothing ever really attacks us except our own confusion. Perhaps there is no solid obstacle except our own need to protect ourselves from being touched. Maybe the only enemy is that we don’t like the way reality is now and therefore wish it would go away fast. But what we find as practitioners is that nothing ever goes away until it has taught us what we need to know. If we run a hundred miles an hour to the other end of the continent in order to get away from the obstacle, we find the very same problem waiting for us when we arrive. It just keeps returning with new names, forms, manifestations until we learn whatever it has to teach us about where we are separating ourselves from reality, how we are pulling back instead of opening up, closing down instead of allowing ourselves to experience fully whatever we encounter, without hesitating or retreating into ourselves.”

― Pema Chödrön, When Things Fall Apart: Heart Advice for Difficult Times

“Rather than letting our negativity get the better of us, we could acknowledge that right now we feel like a piece of shit and not be squeamish about taking a good look.”

― Pema Chödrön, When Things Fall Apart: Heart Advice for Difficult Times

“The most fundamental aggression to ourselves, the most fundamental harm we can do to ourselves, is to remain ignorant by not having the courage and the respect to look at ourselves honestly and gently.”

― Pema Chödrön, When Things Fall Apart: Heart Advice for Difficult Times

I have made the habit of trying to read 50 books each year – in all categories. And when I say all categories – I really mean all categories. This has been going on for about 15 years. I have never made it to 50 but have gotten in the high 40s a few years. I am now close to 500 books and hope to cross that barrier next year. It is a lot harder than what it might seem with all the distractions in our modern lives. To get the full scope or to really understand a story and the author’s point of view, you sometimes have to come back and read it more than once. Plain and simple: It is time consuming, it can dominate a huge part of your day… but I believe well worth the effort.

This book was first published in 2000 and it is as relevant today as it was back then. It is a short one, only about 150 pages but packed full of information. To summarize the book or to give what I think as the underlying theme: that when things get confusing, difficult, ugly, messy, really terrible… they fall apart… the idea is not to run away but to turn into it, to lean on the sharp points so to speak. And the realization that most of what we do in our daily richtuals is nothing more than distraction, an escape from the grim and not so grim realities of modern life.

As example, while reading this I was reminded of what the former president, George Bush Jr. told the American public after 911 – “To go shopping” – which on the surface sounds crazy but this was nothing more than a way to escape for a few moments from the harsh reality of 911. An escape from the fear, the confusion and the worry that was generated by this terrible event. Pema shows us that we don’t need to do this, that there is a better path. She also shows that it does not take a watershed event to create this need for escape. Everyday life does this all the time. You really do not have to go looking for it. I think it is in this realization, that this occurs everyday, day in and day out, Pema makes one of the most important points of the book. When we become aware and use the everyday events to practice not running away then we are better prepaired for the bigger life chaning events that we all will face at sometime.

This is one of those books that can be read and reread. Each time you will come to a new understanding of how we “gloss over” our lives, both the good times and especially the bad, not really being in the moment, and always seeking escape. And therefore never having really lived life. I would have to say that this is one of the best books that I have read all year.

If you are a prime member you can get the paper back version of the book for about 10$ on Amazon.

The picture below is from my nephew out in Washington – it is his first day of downhill skiing this year at Steven’s Pass. Looks like it might be a great snow year in the Pacific Northwest.