Evicted

The most affecting aspect of this book was the extent to which the author made friends with the characters in his enthnography. In spite of obvious character flaws, the people in Evicted are human and display compassion in the midst of horrible circumstances.

From a political perspective, it’s clear that we are failing a great many people, and that wealth does not trickle down, and never has. Desmond artfully avoids injecting his opinion in the piece, but at the end of the work makes a solid argument about the usefulness of housing subsidies.

A warm and safe place to live ought to be a human right, and in a capitalist housing market, the only way to affect meaningful change appears to be subsidizing the expense of a decent place to live based on total family income.

Hillbilly Elegy

Originally picked this up as part of a book discussion at church. I’m still not totally sure how I feel about. On the face of it, the book is labeled as a memoir. But the subtitle includes the phrase “culture in crisis” which begins to make a political statement. As a political statement it’s not great. Vance seems overly apologetic about how much help he had springing himself out of a terrible childhood, while at the same time making arguments that sound an awful lot like Trump and his supporters that poverty is a state of mind and that those on the dole have only themselves to blame.

Ultimately, Vance credits the Marines with teaching him responsibility and personal agency (a great expression). If that is true, than what could better help folks stuck in a culture of poverty than a mandatory two year government service project? Projects could be community oriented, or military, but everyone would have to do it.

It also perhaps wasn’t fair to read Evicted, a professional enthnography about inner-city poverty, right after reading this book. Vance is writing a memoir, and seeks to make a few general statements about how he survived his childhood.

Perhaps we shouldn’t take it as much more than a glimpse into a life many us are privilaged never to see.