This year’s Go Big Read selection is “Hillbilly Elegy: a Memoir of a Family and Culture in Crisis” by J. D. Vance. Chosen by University of Wisconsin-Madison Chancellor Rebecca Blank, the book is the ninth Go Big Read title since the program was initiated by Chancellor Biddy Martin in 2009. The program encourages community discussion of timely topics both on campus and in the wider community. Reedsburg area residents will have the opportunity to discuss the book at 6 p.m. Nov. 16 in the Reedsburg Public Library’s Community Room. UW-Madison students will facilitate the discussion.
“Hillbilly Elegy” chronicles the author’s growing up in Appalachia, first in Kentucky, and later in Middletown, Ohio. He examines his “hillbilly” roots and traumatic childhood with a drug addicted mother and a “revolving door of father figures.” Eventually, Vance moves in permanently with his grandparents who have migrated to the rust belt of Ohio in search of a better life. With the encouragement of his grandmother, “Mamaw,” Vance is able to join the Marines, become a Yale Law School graduate, and break the cycle of poverty and hopelessness.
Kylee Stoor, community engagement librarian at Madison Public Library, said, “’Hillbilly Elegy’ is a great book for discussion because it covers a lot of issues that people are already talking about. It provides an entry into conversations about difficult topics like the effects of childhood trauma, poverty, drug abuse, social class and even politics, while also providing some more hopeful things to discuss, like the importance of family relationships and education.”
According to a review in “Publishers Weekly,” “Vance observes that hillbillies like himself are helped not by government policy but by community that empowers them and extended family who encourages them to take control of their own destinies.” Critics have commented that the book may portray an overly simplistic view of poverty and upward mobility. Stoor adds that Vance “doesn’t shy away from taking strong positions on certain topics, which can be polarizing, but can also lead to great conversations.”
This year, UW student facilitators are visiting 28 communities in the area. The students are part of UW-Madison’s School of Library and Information Studies program and have participated in mock discussions and other training prior to their community visits. Registration is not necessary to participate in the discussion. Books and discussion questions are available at the library.
For more information, call 768-READ (7323).