I found Sarah Smarsh's Heartland fascinating and informative. She has a writing style that is precise in delivering its message. It flows and is written in such a way that it feels like Smarsh is speaking directly to one person, which may be due to the fact that the book is actually written to an unborn daughter, August, that never existed. I found the approach fascinating, and it made the book more personal. Having grown up in a rural area myself, and in a family that certainly wasn't "well-off" by any stretch of the imagination, I had no trouble relating to the overall story and struggles Smarsh described.
Smarsh makes quite a few valid points and provides credible, well-researched information to back them up. Heartland is a more personal look into the rural middle class culture and economic situation than other books that cover this subject. My only complaint would be that it felt like Smarsh was blaming her family's teen pregnancies/single motherhood/being tied to dangerous men on being poor, when in reality, that comes down to a choice of whether to abstain or not. Just because you're poor, doesn't mean you have to be promiscuous. Smarsh herself proved that, abstaining in order to make sure she was never tied down or held back from her goals.
The teen mother/single mother issue is more an issue of raising and a personal and moral choice. All the issues that were a result of a teen pregnancy could have been avoided simply by choosing not to have premarital sex. So I don't think it's quite fair to blame your teen mom/single mom status on your economic status. There's quite a few of us who grew up poor without getting pregnant and tied down. Now, maybe I'm misreading Smarsh's intent regarding this subject, so I say all of this completely open to discussion. I just don't agree with blaming bad choices on your economic status.
Other than that one issue, I thoroughly enjoyed Heartland and would highly recommend it. It is enlightening and informative, and really an excellent look into economic issues faced by many in this country.
I give it a 8/10.
There has been a great deal of buzz around J. D. Vance's Hillbilly Elegy since its release in 2016, there's even a movie in development based on the book that will be directed by Ron Howard. I've had it on my radar for some time now, trying to get my hands on a copy, which proved hard due to it always being sold out around here. I finally found a copy in an indie Vermont bookstore recently, and read it fairly quickly.
Having grown up in/surrounded by the "hillbilly" culture, I found myself relating this book more than others of the same nature, often nodding my head at certain antidotes, stories, and descriptions. Hillbilly Elegy and Sarah Smarsh's Heartland are two books often compared to each other, as they seem to be two sides of the same coin, covering a similar culture but in different approaches and conclusions. I found Elegy the more relatable of the two myself.
While Heartland seems to lay blame on the government for the family's troubles, including teen pregnancies and such, Elegy distributes the blame fairly among its rightful owners. In Hillbilly Elegy, Vance acknowledges that a great deal of his family's (and the culture as a whole's) hardships were brought on or made worse by their own poor choices. While Vance does point out that there are ways the Government could do more to help, as well as social-economics having a role in the issues, he expertly gets down to the root of the issue through his own personal experience and antidotes.
Ultimately, the buck doesn't stop at the government or public education, instead you should trace it to the choices and failures on the people themselves. Can you really blame the government for your drug problems? Or your unplanned pregnancies? The answer is absolutely not. While the author isn't so bold as to suggest that he has a solid solution to a whole culture's hardships and struggles, he does suggest that it needs to start with better choices made by the people themselves.
Hillbilly Elegy is a well written, well informed memoir and a must read. I'd highly recommend it!
I give it an 8/10.
I am a fan of The Andy Griffith Show and all things Mayberry, so I couldn't pass up Daniel de Visé's Andy & Don: The Making of a Friendship and a Classic American T.V. Show when I stumbled upon it on Amazon. I was a bit leery at first, worried that this would read more like a tell-all than a balanced look at two professionals' careers and personal lives. I am here to say that there's no fear to be had. This is a well written, properly researched book written with the utmost respect for its subjects.
Andy & Don was written by Daniel de Visé, who was Don Knotts' brother-in-law, having married Don's third wife, Francey's sister. This is a man who knew Don Knotts personally and therefore worked hard to ensure that this book was done with the utmost respect. According to the Acknowledgments section, Visé spent a great deal of time and energy researching his subjects, as well as speaking to well over 50 of Andy & Don's family, friends, and those that they worked closely with. While the book covers Knotts' 81 and Andy's 86 years of life, it is a fast-paced and an enjoyable read.
Visé discussed both Don and Andy's backgrounds, strengths, and friendships, as well as their flaws, mistakes, and darker sides with grace and dignity, showing his audience that both men were as human as the rest of us. He called attention to conflicting stories and theories, such as the origins of "The Pickle Story" and who persuaded Don to take his Nervous Man to Steve Allen, and presented each theory clearly, not taking one side or the other.
The center point, and indeed the highlight, of this book is the deep, enduring friendship between Don Knotts and Andy Griffith. The author mapped this decades long friendship beautifully. Along the way, Visé shares behind-the-scenes stories and information from those involved with The Andy Griffith Show, along with the men's other projects. It was interesting to read how certain gags and bits from the show, such as the "memorizing of the lawman's code" or the "sitting on the porch" bits, were developed. The master comedic minds of Don Knotts and Andy Griffith shines bright.
I wasn't familiar with Don's overall body of work or the fact that he really was the more successful of the two. I always just naturally thought Andy was, due to his lead role on The Andy Griffith Show, as well as his higher profile (to me) overall. I walked away from this book with a new found respect for Don and his comedic talents, and for that, I thank Visé.
Overall, this is an excellently done book. Well written, thoroughly researched, respectful, and enjoyable.
I give it an 8/10.
Liz Austin. Bibliophile. Writer. Book hoarder. I would rather be reading....