What it’s about: The opioid crisis in America, how it started, and why it is only going to get worse.
What made me pick it up: I was having yet another bitch session with a friend about not-even-Appalachia-adjacent author J.D. Vance and how his only solution for the opioid crisis is an offhand “it’s the addict’s own fault” and they should “pull themselves up by the bootstraps”. Then my friend said if I want to read an actual good book about actual Appalachia, I should pick up Dopesick.
My favorite parts: This book is nothing but heartbreaking from start to finish. I cried a LOT. After everything that has been done to Appalachia by Big Coal to then have them taken advantage of by Big Pharma was too much. The reporting here is excellent. The unlayering of the onion is well done by the author and I couldn’t put it down. But what she’s describing is horrific and worsening and its epicenter is just a couple hours from where I live in my beloved adopted state. As someone who was employed in a public library for years as this epidemic built, and saw the adoption of library staff-administered Narcan treatment, I know something needs to change. I have humanities degrees. I should not be the front line against this drug problem. And addicts should not need me to be. What confounded me most was the stubborn adherence to abstinence-only addiction treatment that science says fails with this type of addiction. Other countries know it fails is why there are methadone clinics everywhere else but rarely here. The author doesn’t have a lot of suggestions for battling the drug’s presence, but does have recommendations to be made about treatment. And we should listen. If we do, maybe we can lose fewer lives. This book will leave you feeling grateful for all the recovering addicts you still have in your life and heartbroken for all those lives missing due to heroin. Because we all know at least one.
What it’s about: Think Winter’s Bone meets a politician’s pre-campaign book release and that’s pretty much what you’ve got.
What made me pick it up: Let me start by saying that I’m not from Appalachia, but I grew up in a much more economically stable (read: college town) community nearby. Growing up I was acutely aware that there was a sharp economic and cultural divide between families associated with the university and those from working-class backgrounds that had been around for generations. That is to say that I am not from the community Vance is discussing, but I have lived most of my life in close proximity to another part of Appalachia and have been consistently disappointed with the way it is represented and talked down to by people who want to ‘save’ it. When I saw the rave reviews for Hillbilly Elegy I was excited to read a voice from within Appalachia speaking about it.
My favorite things: Okaaaay. I did not love this book. I probably should have read reviews a bit more closely, but I wasn’t prepared for this book to be quite so politically charged as it is. Maybe I read it this way because I am inclined to disagree with nearly all of his conclusions, but it seems to me that Vance has incredibly little compassion for the members of a community he professes to love. Vance spends the first chunk of the book singing the praises of his hillbilly Mamaw and Papaw and then subtly, and perhaps not intentionally, turns toward a much more critical discussion of the challenges faced by these communities. What I am struggling with the most is that this book is being read and celebrated as universally true for people from Appalachian communities when it is definitely not. Vance’s Appalachia is comprised of people who would rather talk about working hard than actually work hard, suffer addiction due to poor choices, and are – apparently – all white.
Abby recommends: Look, everybody seems to be reading this book right now and many are taking it as a universal truth for Appalachian life and poverty. So, definitely read this, but then read bell hooks’ poetry in Appalachian Elegy.