The Most Relevant Book

Have you heard people talking about the Hillbilly ElegyThe Economist says, “You will not read a more important book about America this year.” It is being recommended to help understand our nation’s divide and the recent political climate, and is being made into a movie!

I am currently reading the book, even though I am familiar with the communities described by the author, J.D. Vance. I have been surprised by two things while reading this: One, I know these people and scenarios. They are familiar. I can put names to the certain characters that appear in each scenario. I know a firey grandparent that believes any kind of personal education is the way to self-betterment, who also rails against the system that over-educates and under-utilizes young people. I can think of a number of families wrecked by alcohol and normalization of violence. I have had many friends who were raised by grandparents because their mom had them when she was somewhere between 15-22 and just wasn’t ready, and having a kid made it harder to be ready. All of these social factors impact education and job viability.

The social/working structure described in the Midwestern towns in this book reflects the ones I have observed in every Indiana town I have lived in. The author calls the region of these trends the “hillbilly highway” and describes the migration of “hill people” from… well, the hills of Appalachia to the growing suburban hubs of the Midwest. These hubs centered around steel factories and coal mines. My own family has always had at least one foot in the oil industry in some way, and my dad still works for an oil company. These hubs also started to close as production demand and value decreased. My dad was laid off at a company during the recession, and I can think of two other very close friends who also watched their dads deal with a career ending abruptly as a result of the changing economy. These lifestyle changes impact the entire household, and when someone loses a job and benefits and the regularity of a full time work schedule, there is definitely a disphoria that affects the individual who has lost that consistency.

I would like to clarify that I have never thought of the people I love and grew up with here in the midwest as hill people, but the hill people of J.D. Vance’s world draw many parallels with the people I love here in the rural Midwest, and considering all of these class factors helps to explain the world views of my family that, as a young, urban, liberal woman I have often struggled to accept.

I have been thinking a lot about the effect of growing up in a rural place (often conservative environments) and moving to an urban center, especially since that is exactly what I have done, but also because many people and art forms that are important to me have followed a similar trajectory. For example, at a festival I participated in last week, I was chatting with two friends and top-notch musicians about their background, and they revealed that each of them grew up in small, conservative towns. They are not angry at their red towns or bitter about their upbringing. They love and respect it, even as young men currently living in large metropolitan areas. They can identify those people that they love, even the ones who come off as being on “the wrong side.” They see and understand what that side is and why it exists, and what factors shaped those views. It helps that they both have anthropological perspectives attached to their view of these communities. Maybe that is the important thing, anyway, to just step back and take it all in, instead of passing broad judgements about who is right and wrong in an argument or debate. It also helps that their beloved art form, folk music, is a tradition born out of traditional roots and thriving in urban epicenters. In a way, genres like folk and blues thrive because they have followed the same trajectory that we as young rural transplants have made.

On the flip side, I have close friends who are endlessly furious at our little state of Indiana for voting the “wrong” way, introducing ludicrous bills restricting the rights of people who don’t look like the majority and the state leaders. I listen to their bitterness inactively, because I have spent years being angry and fighting and railing against my family, but I know that force and aggression don’t change minds, and I can finally see that these ideologies are not mindless acts of hate. I have seen my family change their minds- really, no one should be completely and forever stuck in their current point of view, and people who are informed and take note of their current reality will make informed decisions regarding their reality. For example, my mother recently evolved her view regarding education and access to resources surrounding birth control. She is religious, but is also the mother of two daughters. She has seen that even in a community that is very religious, many women become pregnant at a young age and don’t have an opportunity to become independent or manage their own life and income. She also knows that finally, for the first time, those unplanned pregnancies are decreasing, and women have control over the trajectory of their life. So she may not ethically agree with some of the more controversial aspects regarding access to birth control, but she believes that institutes like Planned Parenthood are providing a necessary service to women, and providing them with education at the very least. This evolution of opinion didn’t happen because I was angry and kept fighting with my family. These changes of opinion (and I have had many of my own) happen from a careful observation of how our society functions, and from noticing what works and what doesn’t.

This awareness of other people’s world views often manifests itself in the arts. Musicians exploring these themes in their own lives and work will often explore these elements using folk traditions. One example of this is “Michael Conway,” a song he written about the exploitation of rural people in need of work and money. As much as this strikes us as a white, blue-color, “hill people” problem, this affected different migrations in American history, and this song follows the life of an Irish-American immigrant name Michael Conway. The song calls the copper mining community of Butte, Montana the, “richest hell on Earth,” referencing a new perceived high standard of living, which was traded by unknowingly forfeiting good health and long life.

 

 

My next read? The Unsettlers, seemingly related, maybe even telling the reverse story. Why are the urbanites jumping off the grid?

Related: Dystopian Novels that Warned You this Was Coming

Related: Summer Re-Reads

Dystopian Novels that Warned You this Was Coming

Or, a manual for navigating dystopian present/future.

When I first read 1984 by George Orwell, I was pretty spooked. Soon after, I watched it performed as a play and I was even more spooked. I told my dad that it scared me a little bit, especially the TVs with eyes (webcams) and ears (Amazon Echo) and how they invaded what a person did even when they were alone- their private moments and thoughts. My dad responded with a cool “You think that’s terrifying? How about reading 1984 in 1983?” Touché, Dad, touché.

Fahrenheit 451 was my assigned summer reading one year in high school. I was worried it would be boring, but I LOVED it. It felt so relevant and the writing seemed contemporary and engaging to me, even as a teenager reading a book written in the fifties. If you love books or hate fire this story will freak you out in a way that makes you question the role of technology and government. To be honest, I was super scared of the kindle for years just for this reason- I thought it would overpower hard copies.

Speaking of my fear of the kindle, I am now reading The Handmaid’s Tale for free on my beloved device. I don’t need to tell you much about why this is relevant or frightening. I want to always live in a society where women are treated as equal counterparts in the workplace and have complete personal control over their own bodies.(This protest hits a little close to home!) Also, The Handmaid’s Tale has parallels withFahrenheit 451, in the “banned and burned books” department.

The Hot Zone is not sci-fi or a dystopian story- it is real life. Every member of my family has now read this book, which is a strange thing for a household to bond over, but we can all carry informed conversation on the topic of wide-spread epidemics and the hysteria surrounding Ebola and Zika. These diseases don’t go away- this informed account of Ebola was written in 1995.

Slaughterhouse Five Do you ever feel like you are unstuck in time? Things are going backwards or the past has moved forward? This is a war story, among other things. It is also absurd, thoughtful, and humorous.

One of my favorite myths is about the original radio broadcast of War of the Worlds as a special Halloween episode in 1938. As the story goes, people heard the broadcast and thought it was actually happening! Not many people, though, as the broadcast was not received by a large number of people. Despite its rumored ability to create mass hysteria, or perhaps, because of it, this story from the late 1800’s has continued to frighten us using every relevant form of media.

The Stranger avoid becoming disillusioned and dispassionate. Avoid guns, they are seductive and damaging. (Orange is the New Black won’t let us forget that.) Maybe avoid prostitutes/pimps for the same reason? Warning: the stream of consciousness will suck you in and confuse you greatly.

 

 

Related: Summer Re-Reads and In the Handmaid’s Head

Action for Climate Change is On YOU

I am not interested in debating the semantics and politics surrounding climate change, but I am interested in keeping our planet clean. If you have ever hiked at a major park or taken part in beachside clean-up, then you know that there is plastic in the ocean and plastic in the trees and plastic everywhere. It seems that as a nation we are not going to be taking immediate action towards addressing climate change anytime soon… what can we do, as individuals, to decrease our carbon footprint?

      1. BYOB- Bring your own bag. Chicago just rolled out a $.07 bag tax that has motivated many to start carrying their own. I LOVE these baggus. 41b8bKoSbsL._SL250_
      2. My sister took part in a beach clean-up along Lake Michigan last year, and since then I have not been allowed to use disposable straws. Do we event need straws? SOMETIMES a smoothie or iced coffee really is best sipped through a straw. Get a set of reusable straws and always keep one in your purse so you are ready at the coffee shop. Don’t let this happen.2015-06-06-07-16-40
      3. This shower timer has been a bit of a morning-routine/water bill game changer for me. It runs for 5 minutes before it needs to be flipped, which means if you want a 10 minute shower, you know to flip it once. Otherwise, that 5-10 minute shower easily turns into 15-30 minutes… and now you’re late for work, and you wasted 2 gallons of water for every minute spent in the shower. Two gallons of water is more than you are drinking in a day, and could save an entire family from dehydration. Time your showers!41GI1cbBLXL._SL250_