An elegy for a culture that’s killing itself

hillbilly.jpgI read J.D. Vance’s “Hillbilly Elegy: A Memoir of a Family and Culture in Crisis” about a month ago, and still don’t know what to think about it.

Looking at it one way, the book is an engrossing first-hand story about the life of the rural poor—particularly those in Appalachia—and how one man got out, into the Marines, Ohio State University and into Yale Law School. Now, though Vance’s website says he’s a principal at a leading Silicon Valley investment firm, he is better known as a talking head on cable news channels.

But “Elegy” is also a loving sepia-toned remembrance of a life that no one in America should be living and the people who live it.

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A remembrance of springs past

Despite a couple of cold spells, we really didn’t have much of a winter in Michigan again this year. As far as I’m concerned, winter needs snow and lots of it because otherwise, what’s the point? Without something white and clean to look at day after day, winter ends up being three depressing gray months of cold.

But then there is soup, of course. Home made. It’s how I get through.

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Surprise! A grump called Ron liked ‘A Man Called Ove’

ove.jpgOne day, following what must have been a prolonged harangue from me about the injustices of the world, my wife tossed a book at me and said: “You should read this, you’re in danger of becoming a grumpy old man.”

“A Man Called Ove,” is a book I’d heard about for years and had pegged it as a favorite of women’s book clubs. Her friend, not much of a reader, had loved it, as had many people I know whose tastes never stray off the bestseller lists

On the cover, above a cartoon-like drawing of the back of a man, presumably Ove, and a cat on the top of a hill, is a quote from a People magazine review: “You’ll laugh, you’ll cry, you’ll feel new sympathy for the curmudgeons in your life.”

“You’re the one who should read this: It’ll make you appreciate me more.” It was a remark that kind of hung in the air.

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A different poem for a different birthday boy

Last month, my second son’s 17th birthday inspired this poem and lots of people read it according to my analytics.

Today, my oldest son turns 19 and is nearing the end of his first year of college and taking baby steps toward being the man I see signs of him becoming. And it’s a good one.

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How many poets can dance on the head of a pin?

road.jpegThis is the time of year when students, vying to be their school’s commencement speaker, are furiously Googling “inspirational quotes for speeches.” Invariably, Robert Frost’s poem, “The Road Not Taken” will pop up. These speakers will use this beloved work to urge their fellow graduates to go forward on their own path, their argument boosted by the last three lines of the poem:

Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.

Turns out they won’t know what they’re talking about, because they have not understood the poem in the way Frost meant it.

“The Road Not Taken: Finding America in the Poem Everyone Loves and Almost Everyone Gets Wrong” by David Orr is an examination of the phenomenon that is “The Road Not Taken” that is  fascinating, exhaustive and exhausting all at the same time.

Continue reading “How many poets can dance on the head of a pin?”