November 26, 2018

Book Review: Vactionland by John Hodgman

Vacationland: True Stories from Painful Beaches

by John Hodgman

Genres: Nonfiction, Memoir, Humor
Publisher: Viking
Length: 272 pages
Published: October 24, 2017
Purchase Links: Amazon, Barnes & Noble

My Goodreads Rating: 3.5 out of 5 stars

Official Book Summary:

"Although his career as a bestselling author and on The Daily Show With Jon Stewart was founded on fake news and invented facts, in 2016 that routine didn't seem as funny to John Hodgman anymore. Everyone is doing it now.

Disarmed of falsehood, he was left only with the awful truth: John Hodgman is an older white male monster with bad facial hair, wandering like a privileged Sasquatch through three wildernesses: the hills of Western Massachusetts where he spent much of his youth; the painful beaches of Maine that want to kill him (and some day will); and the metaphoric haunted forest of middle age that connects them.

Vacationland collects these real life wanderings, and through them you learn of the horror of freshwater clams, the evolutionary purpose of the mustache, and which animals to keep as pets and which to kill with traps and poison. There is also some advice on how to react when the people of coastal Maine try to sacrifice you to their strange god.

Though wildly, Hodgmaniacally funny as usual, it is also a poignant and sincere account of one human facing his forties, those years when men in particular must stop pretending to be the children of bright potential they were and settle into the failing bodies of the wiser, weird dads that they are."


"There are transitions in life whether we want them or not."


"This country is founded on some very noble ideals but also some very big lies. One is that everyone has a fair chance at success. Another is that rich people have to be smart and hardworking or else they wouldn't be rich. Another is that if you're not rich, don't worry about it, because rich people aren't really happy. I am the white male living proof that all of that is garbage. The vast degree to which my mental health improved once I had the smallest measure of economic security immediately unmasked this shameful fiction to me. Money cannot buy happiness, but it buys the conditions for happiness: time, occasional freedom from constantly worry, a moment of breath to plan for the future, and the ability to be generous."

My Book Review:

I had no idea who John Hodgman was when I began listening to the audiobook of this memoir--the cover looked appealing, the book had high reviews, and a copy was immediately available, so I started it. As I listened, I looked him up and the only thing I recognized him from was the old Apple vs. PC commercials where he played the PC guy.

At first I did not know if I was really interested in Hodgman's storytelling. As the memoir progressed, however, he was increasingly candid about his life as an upper-middle-class, privileged white man going through a mid-life crisis. As he opened up and delved deeper, I was more invested in seeing him wade through his privilege, his guilt about his lucky circumstances, and his own mortality. I respected his honesty and and found parts to be humorous, though I was not at all impressed by his tales of drug use nor his obsession with local celebrity and name-dropping.

The memoir is most likable when Hodgman speaks about everyday experiences that most audiences can relate to even if they come from different backgrounds.

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