Published by Simon and Schuster on 3/18/2014
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David Giffels knows what it’s like to be left behind. His hometown of Akron, Ohio is a place people and businesses are perpetually leaving, while he holds fast in his determination to stay. That determination to do things the hard way on purpose, he believes, is characteristic of the Rust Belt region as a whole. In his collection of essays, Giffels examines those characteristics through sports, music, memories and culture to create a vibrant portrait of the American Midwest from someone determined to see it thrive.
“I have spent my whole life watching people leave. This is a defining characteristic of the generation of postindustrial Midwesterners who have stayed in their hometowns. At every stage of opportunity, at every life crossroads, friends and family members and enemies and old lovers and vaguely familiar barflies depart. Piles of demographic and sociological data chronicle this, the term brain drain serving as a sort of catamaran counterpart to Rust Belt.”
As someone who relocated from Detroit to Virginia just two years after graduating from college, I can echo the truth in Giffels’ statements. I watched moving vans pack up before I left and continue to see my high school classmates spread across the country through Facebook statuses and updates. With so many people insistent on leaving, why did Giffels stay?
Tradition. Resourcefulness. The ability to take a second rate tennis shoe peddled by a second rate basketball player and turn it into one of the most recognizable brands in America. Because there will always be the good shovel for a record snow fall. Bookstores filled with a love for reading, regardless of circumstance. Determination.
“And so we come to understand this bipolar choice we are offered: we could embrace the impossible hope, or impossible hopelessness. But each of us had to choose. You can’t stand in a frozen zero-sum concrete ring and be in the middle. Through all this we have become known as a place that always loses. But that’s not how I see it. I’m from a place that always almost wins.”
Much like Shotgun Lovesongs, reading this shot me with a huge dose of nostalgia and a bit of homesickness. I want to wrap this book up and ship it to all of my friends in Michigan, with a big hug and a thank you. But David Giffels writes with such universal humor and optimism that the essays in The Hard Way on Purpose will appeal to readers far broader than the Midwest. Anyone who has ever loved a place deep down to its roots will soon find themselves lost in Giffels love letter to the Rust Belt.