Category: Books

Hillbilly legacy: Is the cellphone to blame for turning Kentucky from blue to red?

Hillbilly Elegy book jacketIn “Hillbilly Elegy,” according to a new book review in The New York Times, author J.D. Vance offers “a compassionate, discerning sociological analysis of the white underclass that has helped drive the politics of rebellion, particularly the ascent of Donald J. Trump. Combining thoughtful inquiry with firsthand experience, Vance has inadvertently provided a civilized reference guide for an uncivilized election, and he’s done so in a vocabulary intelligible to both Democrats and Republicans.”

Vance, 31, now a Silicon Valley investor, knows hillbilly Kentucky. He was reared 136 miles northeast of Louisville, in Middletown, Ohio, a now-decaying steel town filled with Kentucky transplants, including his own family from Breathitt County.

“Economic insecurity, he’s convinced, accounts for only a small part of his community’s problems; the much larger issue is hillbilly culture itself,” the Times says. “Though proud of it in many ways, he’s also convinced that it ‘increasingly encourages social decay instead of counteracting it.’”

The review continues: “His frustration with the non-working white poor is especially acute. He recalls being a cashier at a Middletown grocery store and watching resentfully as his neighbors, who had creatively gamed the welfare system, jabbered on their cellphones as they were going through the checkout line. He could not afford a cellphone.”

J.D. Vance

Vance writes: “Political scientists have spent millions of words trying to explain how Appalachia and the South went from staunchly Democratic to staunchly Republican in less than a generation.” He suspects those cellphones have a lot to do with it. “I could never understand why our lives felt like a struggle while those living off of government largess enjoyed trinkets that I only dreamed about.”

Hillbilly Elegy: A Memoir of a Family and Culture in Crisis; 264 pages. Harper. $27.99.

A UPS aircraft mechanic, her ‘Dark Brown Lies’ book, and a very expensive advertisement on the CJ’s front page today

Many Courier-Journal readers were no doubt left totally confused this morning when they saw an advertisement on the front page — one of the most expensive you can buy — for a three-year-old book written by a former UPS aircraft mechanic.

CJ June 26 detail

Debbie Simpson’s “Dark Brown Lies” doesn’t show up in the CJ’s database, which means a lot of readers were learning about it for the first time. The book, which she self-published through a company she apparently incorporated in Arkansas in 2013, is about her 19-year-career at Louisville’s biggest private employer — one that ended very badly.

Debbie Simpson

“This true story,” she writes on her website, “is about a female aircraft maintenance technician that worked for one of the most powerful companies in America and the consequences she faced for standing up and speaking out against harassment within the workplace. The consequences were: employee entries, warning letter(s), retaliation, intimidation, suspension, the constant real threat of termination and termination.”

What exactly happened isn’t detailed. But her beef with UPS, which employs 22,000 people at its hub here, may stem at least partly from a whistleblower case she lost in 2008 before the U.S. Labor Department.

Simpson’s advertisement this morning is only indirectly about her book. Instead, she’s drawing attention to another legal case where a pilot, Douglas Greene, has sued the Frost Brown Todd law firm in federal court in Louisville and two of its attorneys. Simpson says she’s dealt with one of the attorneys, Tony Coleman, in her own legal fight against UPS.

IrrepressibleWe’re adding this to our reading list, and not only because it’s a terrific way to observe gay pride month: Emily Bingham’s biography “Irrepressible: The Jazz Age Life of Henrietta Bingham,” which resurrects the life and legend of her ancestor, a woman who was too hot to handle not only in her own times, but for a half-century after, The New York Times said in a “Books of Style” feature shortly before the book was published last year.

“In Bingham’s telling,” the Times says, “Henrietta, who was born in 1901 and died in 1968, ‘caught the wave’ of a rare moment of tolerance for homosexuality and ‘unconventional desires’ in the 1920s.”

Carmichael’s Bookstore, here we come!

Great GatsbyF. Scott Fitzgerald’s best-known novel chronicles the star-crossed romance between Louisville debutante Daisy Fay Buchanan and a local soldier, the future tycoon Jay Gatsby. In this passage, her friend Jordan Baker is recalling their Louisville childhood among the well-to-do gentry, living in mansions ringing verdant Cherokee Park in 1917.

Daisy Fay was just 18, two years older than me, and by far the most popular of all the young girls in Louisville. She dressed in white, and had a little white roadster, and all day long the telephone rang in her house and excited young officers from Camp Taylor demanded the privilege of monopolizing her that night.

She had a début after the Armistice, and in February she was presumably engaged to a man from New Orleans. In June, she married Tom Buchanan of Chicago, with more pomp and circumstance than Louisville ever knew before. He came down with a hundred people in four private cars, and hired a whole floor of the Seelbach Hotel, and the day before the wedding he gave her a string of pearls valued at $350,000.*

* $4.2 million in 2016 dollars.

Related: Of the five film adaptations, Boulevard likes Baz Luhrmann’s boisterous 2013 version best.

Great GatsbyF. Scott Fitzgerald’s best-known novel chronicles the star-crossed romance between Louisville debutante Daisy Fay Buchanan and a local soldier, the future tycoon Jay Gatsby. It’s 1922, and Gatsby is now wealthy. Having found Daisy again, he fantasizes she will leave her husband Tom Buchanan. Daisy’s cousin Nick Carraway, the book’s narrator, is visiting Gatsby after a party at his Long Island mansion.

He wanted nothing less of Daisy than that she should go to Tom and say: “I never loved you.” After she had obliterated four years with that sentence they could decide upon the more practical measures to be taken. One of them was that, after she was free, they were to go back to Louisville and be married from her house — just as if it were five years ago.

He began to walk up and down a desolate path of fruit rinds and discarded favors and crushed flowers. “I wouldn’t ask too much of her,” I ventured. “You can’t repeat the past.”

“Can’t repeat the past?” he cried incredulously. “Why of course you can!”

Great GatsbyF. Scott Fitzgerald’s best-known novel chronicles the star-crossed romance between Louisville debutante Daisy Fay Buchanan and a local soldier, the future tycoon Jay Gatsby. In this passage set in summer 1922, Gatsby; Daisy, and her husband Tom Buchanan are in a suite at New York’s Plaza Hotel. Daisy’s childhood friend Jordan Baker is also there, and a wedding is taking place in the ballroom below.

“Imagine marrying anybody in this heat!” cried Jordan dismally.

“Still — I was married in the middle of June,” Daisy remembered, “Louisville in June! Somebody fainted. Who was it fainted, Tom?”

“A man named Biloxi. ‘Blocks’ Biloxi, and he made boxes — that’s a fact — and he was from Biloxi, Mississippi.”

“They carried him into my house,” appended Jordan, “because we lived just two doors from the church. And he stayed three weeks, until Daddy told him he had to get out. The day after he left Daddy died.” After a moment she added as if she might have sounded irreverent, “There wasn’t any connection.”