I am really behind on my book reviews. Also, like, everything. I am behind on everything. But there is literally a blizzard going on outside so what better time to play catch up?!?
I recently finished my 12th book of the year! I found Vacationland: True Stories from Painful Beaches by John Hodgman when I took a Buzzfeed quiz that promised to identify which book I should read next. As soon as I saw the title I thought to myself “he must be writing about Maine.” See, I spent two summers working at a summer camp in coastal Maine back in my college years, and I knew from first-had experience how excruciating Maine beaches can be. Sharp, craggy rocks, water so cold that there’s a risk of developing hypothermia even in mid-July. Lo and behold, once I clicked into the Amazon site for the book, it was about Maine! Well, mostly.
John Hodgman is best known for his work on the Daily Show and in the classic Apple computer ads of the early 200’s when he played the nerdy, rigid character of the “PC” against Justin Long’s chilled out “Mac.” He’s a super-intelligent comedy writer who has written several books of funny fake facts, and Vacationland is his first venture into non-fiction writing.
Hodgman starts at the top; he grew up in Brookline, just a few miles from me. He was a quirky only child, and throughout the first few chapters of the book he describes his nerdy, metro-Boston childhood in such a way that I found myself convulsing with laughter during most of it. However, from the very start, Hodgman acknowledges that he was able to be that kind of odd-ball because of his privilege; he had wealthy, supportive parents who supported his passions, and he was, at the end of the day, a white, straight man. The fact that Hodgman acknowledges and checks his privilege throughout the book really, really stood out to me.
Later on, Hodgman and his wife inherit his parent’s home in Western Massachusetts. They’d been living in Brooklyn since college, and the care and keeping of a rural second home did not come naturally to them. I loved how Hodgman described the difference between “adulting” in New York City and “adulting” literally anywhere else. He and his wife had to learn about septic tanks and the anxiety-producing technicalities of town garbage dumps. They blocked their pipes within a year of inheriting the house throwing too much food down the disposal in a vignette that had be giggling alone on my couch as I read. As a former Brooklynite, I related so, so hard to the idea that the lifestyle in NYC does not fully prepare anyone for standalone home ownership.
Later in the book, Hodgman and his wife purchase a second vacation home in her favorite state, Maine. Hodgman does an awesome job describing the bizarre intricacies that make Maine what it is. He writes a lot about the differences between the locals and the wealthy summer vacationers, and uses this as a jumping off point to discuss some really weighty social justice issues.
There were moments of this book that were slow, admittedly. It took me almost a month to get through, which is a pretty long block of time for me to be working on a single book. But I enjoyed it overall, and the humor was just so clever. If you’ve ever spent any time in Northern New Englands, or if you’re just a fan of comedic writing, you’ll like this book.
Happy Reading, Friends!