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Vacationland: True Stories from Painful Beaches

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Goodreads Choice Award
Nominee for Best Humor (2017)
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.

272 pages, Hardcover

First published October 24, 2017

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About the author

John Hodgman

29 books1,086 followers
Before he went on television, JOHN HODGMAN was a humble writer, expert, and Former Professional Literary Agent living in New York City. In this capacity, he has served as the Humor Editor for the New York Times Magazine, Occasional Flight vs. Invisibility Consultant on “This American Life,” Advice Columnist for McSweeney’s, Comic Book Reviewer for the New York Times Book Review, and a Freelance Journalist specializing in Food, Non-Wine Alcohol, “Battlestar Galactica,” and most other subjects.

This was enough of a career for any human.

But then he wrote a book of COMPLETE WORLD KNOWLEDGE entitled THE AREAS OF MY EXPERTISE and was asked to appear on The Daily Show with Jon Stewart, where he continues to provide commentary as the show’s Resident Expert. Now, at 37, he has unexpectedly become a Famous Minor Television Personality, appearing as the “PC” in a series of television ads for Apple brand computers, and accepting guest roles as “the person wearing glasses” in a variety of films and TV shows, including “Battlestar Galactica,” a show he once wrote about as a journalist.

From time to time, he is asked to explain his professional life, and in particular, the effect of this dramatic and surprising change of fortune, and typically, he finds he cannot do it.

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Displaying 1 - 30 of 1,943 reviews
Profile Image for Jenny (Reading Envy).
3,876 reviews3,120 followers
December 13, 2017
This book is a bit uneven. John Hodgman reminds me of your single uncle (probably your dad's youngest brother) that you can't escape at Thanksgiving, who thinks of himself as a bit more interesting in his youth than he really was, but who has enough money to spend to have stuff to talk about.

So the stories vary.

The pot stories are pointless. The whole point seems to be, see, I also smoked the pot. Alongside a story near the end about getting drunk after a college appearance. Okay.....

I started out liking one story about Maine but it ended up being a white privilege narrative about only being able to afford one summer cottage.

I don't know, I left with a bad taste in my mouth. I think this is partially his brand of humor, the kind where you get why it's funny kind of but you wouldn't actually laugh at it. Or perhaps this isn't the humor for me.

Thanks to the publisher for providing access to this title through NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.
Profile Image for Hannah.
458 reviews5 followers
August 2, 2017
John Hodgman gave me an ARC of his new book the other day at the library, and I pretty much immediately devoured it. I found it both genuinely funny and funnily genuine, and like the humor of his podcast that I very much enjoy, I thought its great honesty gave it real punch. Hodgman's observations about my home state, Maine, are insightful and relatable, and his owning up to his own privileged existence throughout the volume mirrors his admission of his experience as someone "from away," and makes it precisely what it ought to be - truthful, humble, and a sincere and effective combination of hilarious and dispiriting. I really enjoy when people admit that being kind is a choice, and can be extremely difficult, and when they reveal their own private dreams, sorrows, and crazy unreasonable expectations for themselves and others. That's John Hodgman's real talent - showing his full humanity, and thereby breaking into yours.
Profile Image for Vivian.
2,848 reviews398 followers
September 13, 2019
Calling it quits, DNF @ 46%

Okay, to be honest, in no small part did I pluck this off a library shelf display due to the subtitle 'True Stories from Painful Beaches'. Clearly, my problem taking that literally. I was imagining all kinds of fun incidents revolving around sunburn, jellyfish, sea urchins, etc. To this point the closest thing to a beach is a stream bank and pot-induced cairn building--totally dude.

I guess one of the bigger problems I have is the consistent self-deprecating manchild antics. Hoarding bags of wet trash because you're afraid of going to the dump is disgusting, not funny. Ditto with the mouse droppings. I get that Hodgman's trying to express to readers that if you've only known city life that there's a whole other world you're unprepared for--you know, the kind of stories you hear about in the Darwin awards, but these are kinder, gentler, and stupider. All about how not to be a grown up. Hate to break it to you, but if you're of legal majority, then you ARE a grown up.

Anyway, came for the beaches. Found none. Left.
Profile Image for Allen Adams.
517 reviews32 followers
October 25, 2017

Sometimes, truth is stranger than fiction.

Not in the case of John Hodgman, though. His latest book – “Vacationland: True Stories of Painful Beaches” – is a massive departure from his previous three books, a bestselling trio constructed entirely out of fake facts and imaginary trivia.

See, the stories in this book are true … and hilarious.

“Vacationland” is divided more or less evenly between Hodgman’s earlier days spent in western Massachusetts and his more recent experiences with his family on the coast of Maine. But regardless of which summer house he’s remembering at any given moment, his unique comedic voice rings out with a clever clarity that is very much unlike anything else you’re likely to read.

These stories – over a dozen in all – serve as a sort of primer on all things Hodgman. Taken together, one could argue that they illustrate not only who he is, but how he came to be that person. It’s a memoir of sorts, but a selective one; the end result is a portrait of a man who has never been entirely sure what it means to be an adult, but is muddling through nonetheless.

The book’s first half explores Hodgman’s relationship with his family’s home in western Massachusetts. These stories feature plenty of glimpses at the deliberately esoteric weirdo teen desperate to grow up that Hodgman was, but also digs into his young adulthood as his life’s path began its unexpected shift.

Whether it’s the self-inflicted existential crisis of “Dump Jail” – where he constructs elaborate tales to tell the guys at the dump if they ever ask - or the substance-enhanced idyll of cairn building in “Rocks on Top of Other Rocks,” Hodgman captures a sense of the very real absurdity that often accompanies being an adult. Maybe he explores the notion of his first “real” job and his first REAL job (“Mongering”); maybe he confronts the need to remain hip as he ages (“Daddy Pitchfork”).

Or maybe he’s relating the story where he meets Black Francis, lead singer of The Pixies and one of his personal musical idols, at the county fair and invites him and his family back to his house and shares cans of Diet Moxie with him – all while also contextualizing adulthood by way of broken septic systems and poop-filled silverware drawers (“Nerve Food”).

As for the second half, that’s when we learn more about the time Hodgman and his family have spent summering on the coast of Maine. This Hodgman has already achieved a fair degree of success, though he still has some questions with regards to this whole adulthood business.

For instance, there’s the story of how he and his wife accidentally bought a boat (“You Are Normal People”). “A Little Beyond the Safe Limits of Travel” is in many ways a follow-up to that story; it also captures the inherent spirit of Mainers beautifully. In “A Kingdom Property,” the stark differences between people and their attitudes are rendered with a clarity that is both funny and a little sad.

Hodgman also takes some shots at Maine humor in the piece titled … “Maine Humor”; the famed Perry’s Nut House makes an extended appearance as he breaks down the notion of Maine humor and denigrates the value of fudge.

And on and on and on. Every one of the stories in “Vacationland” charms with its honesty; even when relating true tale, Hodgman’s wit is unsurpassed. Anyone who has lived in these places will be struck by moments of recognition.

But it’s more than that. We’ve all questioned our choices as we stagger through adulthood; everyone has stretches where they feel as if they have no idea what they’re doing. Growing up – and growing older – is scary. Hodgman captures that feeling with exquisite precision. There’s weirdness at every turn, no matter where we are or who we’re with. John Hodgman understands that.

Look, these stories are funny. They’re REALLY funny. Frankly, you probably don’t need me to tell you that. What you might not expect, however, is what kind of heft they have. Even in the funniest moments, there are real feelings and real ideas being expressed. Hodgman finds ways to elicit a sense of pathos without ever losing that light of laughter. He shares hard truths as willingly as the easy ones. And he never once seems to forget just how lucky he is. It’s remarkable to read, an open window into a complex comedic psyche.

This book might not be everything that is John Hodgman, but everything it is is definitely real.

“Vacationland” is smart and snarky and occasionally raw. Hodgman’s narrative gifts are undeniable, and when combined with this kind of genuine feeling and truth, the end result is flat-out exceptional. It’s a beautiful balance of humor and heart – a book that’ll make you laugh, that’ll make you think … and that’ll ultimately make you glad you spent some time with John Hodgman.
Profile Image for Matt Quann.
653 reviews388 followers
May 24, 2018
I found it nearly impossible not to compare John Hodgman's essays with those of David Sedaris. Hodgman seems inspired, in part, by Sedaris' wry observations and dry humour, even if he is never able to reach the heights of Sedaris. The two authors are quite dissimilar in personality and writing, but the style of the book itself is what Hodgman seems to have used as a framework to build his own collection of essays.

Unfortunately, the stories collected in Vacationland are supremely off-balance. Listening to Hodgman's narration made me feel for the poor dude: he sounds anxious as hell! This sometimes plays to his favour, namely when relating an anecdote in which he misread a social situation, but also became an irritant the more it wore on. Hodgman all too often spends time explaining his social views and espousing his wokeness to the detriment of the stories. It would have been much more effective if Hodgman had shown restraint in explaining his white privilege instead of spoon feeding the audience his realizations.

Also, some stories seem to go off on tangents from which they never recover. Hodgman will be telling some interesting story only for it to go off the rails with something that is mildly related. It takes a lot of steam out of the good storytelling and infuses it with superfluous narrative. The book is also structured with beginning, middle, and end headings, but they only follow a loose trajectory of Hodgman's life.

All the same, this is an easy, enjoyable listen for the most part. Hodgman may stumble and fall on occasion, but this is by no means a bad book. Comparing him to Sedaris is exceedingly unfair: though this is not Hodgman's first book, it is his first bit of long-form nonfiction. He also sounds like a great guy! Hodgman seems like the guy you'd want to share a beer with while you grill some steaks, and he'd regale you with stories about his adoration for his family. I'll be interested to see if he hones his craft in a future collection.
Profile Image for Kathleen.
1,389 reviews115 followers
September 9, 2018
Hodgman is much more comfortable telling stories that abound with bald-faced lies. So, it is with an act of courage that he has decided to share truthful stories about himself. He recounts aspects of his life growing up in rural western Massachusetts, inheriting his family’s home, and then, eventually moving to Maine. He is feeling the steady creep of growing older (i.e., his musical tastes are becoming ‘dated’ despite actively making playlists of trendy artists featured on NPR). His reflections on people and places mirror the work of Bill Bryson; while his neurotic personal quirkiness hint at the dry wit of David Sedaris. Enjoy.
Profile Image for Julie.
253 reviews29 followers
September 2, 2017

Writer, humorist, podcaster, PC guy, and Daily Show contributor John Hodgman is back, and he's telling (almost) the whole truth. In this collection of funny and reflective essays, Hodgman explores the existential symbolism of his patchy beard, how to navigate the social and natural wilds of Maine, and how even the weirdest dads have some "cool" cred. It's funny, and it's wrought--life is short, and Hodgman's book never lets you forget his (and your) impending demise.

I was predisposed to love this book... I'm a fan of Hodgman's, and the comedic memoir is one of my favorite genres. But I came away from Vacationland feeling that it was just "okay."

There are moments of wit, brilliance, and emotionality, surrounded by other moments that left me wondering "so what?" Hodgman's trademark humor is undermined here by a tendency to follow a joke with a self-congratulatory doubling-down that seems to say, "see what I did there?"

Vacationland has the barebones of a great comedic memoir, but could use something more. Though I found myself saving several passages that were deftly articulate, funny, and relatable, the essays as a whole lack oomph.

I received an ARC of this book in August 2017. It will be published on October 24, 2017.
Profile Image for Kathy.
197 reviews6 followers
September 7, 2017
Plainly put, John Hodgman's Vacationland is great. It positively exudes Hodgman-yness. Yes, I had to check the cover repeatedly to make sure it hadn't grown an alarming goatee/mustache combination! Straight Talk: If you are a John Hodgman fan you will like this book; If you aren't, you wont. I am and I did and I regret nothing!

FULL DISCLOSURE: I received an ARC of this book from Viking/Netgalley in exchange for an honest (though possibly biased) review.
Profile Image for Peter Derk.
Author 25 books353 followers
April 10, 2019
A good, but uneven collection of stories. Three very memorable ones involving becoming grown-ups, picking on other people, and a time when Hodgman took one for the team and hung out with some folks he might not have wanted to, but he did it for their sake. That makes it sound much less sweet and self-deprecating than it was. It was quite sweet and self-deprecating.

His essay about his two vacation homes didn't quite land. It started pretty funny, talking about what a problem/non-problem it is to have two vacation homes. Then it kind of turns into an essay about his wokeness. Which...I just couldn't get there. I don't have an issue with someone having two (admittedly modest, sometimes mouse-infested) vacation homes. And I think it's perfectly possible for someone of means to also care about the lives of others. But I think he sells the experience of having a vacation home as approaching a typically white experience, which is, well, insane. Or is that just me? I missed the last White People Meeting, so maybe this is where we discussed the best sleepy coastal towns in which to buy property?

I didn't disagree with him on anything he said, but somehow he opened a loop with that essay, and he didn't quite manage to close it. I felt that way about a few of the pieces. They kind of happened, and then they were just over.

I DID, however, start to think that Maine might be the spot for me. Hodgman characterizes Mainerds (I don't think that's what they're called, and neither does Google spellcheck, as evidenced by the red squiggle, but it's too late now!) as being both standoffish and very willing to help someone out. Just so long as they don't have to talk about it or hang out. His theory is that the people of Maine primarily want to be left alone and not impose on anyone else as they themselves do not want to be imposed on. To the extent that Man A needed some lumber, so he asked his neighbor, Man B, to sell him some. Man B told him to fuck off. Man B then later drove a truckload of lumber to Man A's place, dropped it off, swore at him some more, and didn't even want payment as that would drag out the interaction needed to complete this transaction.

Based on that story, I admired and respected Man B in a way that I've admired very few humans.
Profile Image for Deacon Tom F.
1,865 reviews146 followers
October 22, 2020
What a huge disappointment! I am not really a fan of self centered comedy. Hodgman used the word "I" at least once in every sentence.

I was sick of the uncalled for political jabs. Also this reminded me of a bunch of college fraternity guys getting together and telling well stretched lies about the good old days.

Such a disappointment...maybe he is better live but this comedy did not translate to a book.

I don’t recommend.
Profile Image for Tony.
1,428 reviews72 followers
January 23, 2018
If you know who John Hodgman is and generally enjoy his dry sense of wit, then this book is for you -- congratulations. It's a loose and shaggy collection of reflections thematically connected through vacation homes in Massachusetts and Maine. If that sounds like an amazing feat of NPRish navel-gazing white privilege thematic stunt-work, well, Hodgman is certainly hep to that. His self-deprecation extends and stretches throughout the book in numerous asterixes noting the absurdity of his milieu and himself as an unambiguous beneficiary of class and racial history. In any event, the book meanders amusingly along and had much the same effect on me as a decent personal reflection on the radio or a podcast does -- I enjoyed it at the time, but it left absolutely nothing behind behind a generally warm appreciation. I'm certain that in six months times I will remember literally nothing about this book beyond that vague sense of enjoyment.
Profile Image for Portia.
150 reviews
October 1, 2017
What. A. Delight.  I have been watching John Hodgman in various things for years but didn't really know anything about him so this was so much fun to read.  The essays varied in topic and I really got a rounded view of who John Hodgman is.  My roommates ended up reading most of the book with me because I kept having to share the best passages with them (which were the majority of the book).  It is so well written and I can't explain how much fun I had reading this.

I did take points off, though, for his very wrong views of fudge.
Profile Image for Gaelen.
384 reviews11 followers
November 25, 2017
I listened to this as an audiobook, which I highly recommend, because Hodgman's delivery adds a lot. It's the first book he's written that's an actual memoir, and it's terrific. It's not just funny, but it's insightful, charming, and self-aware. I think that even people who aren't already fans would enjoy it.
Profile Image for Emily.
66 reviews8 followers
December 17, 2017
Honestly, I never really liked John Hodgman. Until this book. I listened to the audiobook, and he made me laugh out loud through the entire thing. Well, not the part about his mom who died, that made me cry, but the entire rest of the book was so entertaining and self-aware and hilarious. Great essays and insight and necessary reading if you love the East Coast.
Profile Image for Troy.
90 reviews
January 6, 2018
As a weird dad myself, I am the prime market for Vacationland but I can honestly say that this book connected with me deeply and in unexpected ways. It is a brilliantly disguised meditation on aging, on privilege, and on identity.
Profile Image for Pop Bop.
2,474 reviews103 followers
July 22, 2017
He's Such A Tease

Like Calvin Trillin, (who may be a bit more urbane and "citified" compared to Hodgman's more rueful suburban everyman persona), John Hodgman often feels like he's ever so gently teasing the reader, even as he amuses.

In this collection Hodgman declares that he's pretty much burned out and used up, such that these pieces are sadly all that he has left. Maybe it's time for a retrospective and a little bit of a summing up. There's that tease, and a slyly false self-deprecating air that lets the reader in on the joke and feels oh so inviting. Even when Hodgman is being a bit pointed or edgy, and even when he's dismissing or mocking something or someone you might hold dear, he's still, well, friendly.

None of these articles gets up on a high horse or goes in for a kill. This is much more thoughtful and gentle stuff, (often with Hodgman the butt of the humor), but that doesn't mean it doesn't resonate and it doesn't mean it doesn't make a point. Even when he's just being a husband or a father or an only child Hodgman can pluck a nerve or point out a few sticky truths.

You will get semi-autobiographical essays about middle age, fatherhood, growing up an only child, and, famously, the "painful beaches" of Maine. Apparently, some of this material is drawn from his comedy tour, "Vacationland". (BTW, Hodgman has said that his original title for the book was - "John Hodgman Tells Absolutely, Maybe Awfully True Stories as He Sprints Toward Death in Emotionally and Literally Cold Places." So, I guess that works as a summary of this book too.)

But all of that aside, this is very, very funny and witty writing by someone who knows what he is doing and is in complete command of his craft. As you read, and savor, you are amused and also impressed. That is an admirable combination, and this is a wonderful find.

(Please note that I received a free ecopy of this book without a review requirement, or any influence regarding review content should I choose to post a review. Apart from that I have no connection at all to either the author or the publisher of this book.)
Profile Image for John Tankersley.
59 reviews6 followers
November 8, 2017
As we age, we become more sentimental. As he ages, so goes John Hodgman's writings. A memoir of a man struggling to keep his privilege in check from a man who grew up as the beneficiary of an unequal society. It was a real pleasure to hear his own internal monologue on raising his kids, struggling with his privilege, and being entertaining while he does it. This book seems like a less articulate dominant group response to BETWEEN THE WORLD AND ME--but from a very different perspective.

I hope John Hodgman writes more books in this vein. I enjoyed him here even more than I have in his other books. Well done. A very good read.
Profile Image for Cristina.
198 reviews32 followers
August 14, 2017
Former deranged millionaire John Hodgman has run out of fun false facts and has decided to instead to get very, very real. In a collection of essays that span his migratory patterns across New England, he has pieced together a deeply personal memoir from reflections on his life. We visit western Massachusetts to learn deference to The Dumpmen and the rock-stacking river witches: we travel to the cruel beaches of Maine to contemplate privilege, aging, and the craftsmanship of boats. As a follower of his podcast, audiobooks and Netflix special -- this is the first time I've physically read something of his. If I can even call it reading, this memoir is so true to Hodgman's voice, I literally heard it in my head. A fun brand of deadpan humor that is both self-deprecating and sincere.

At one point, in reference to therapy, he says,
"Just having permission to talk about yourself, to let your dumb thoughts out of your head so you can see them as they hang there in silence, is an illuminating gift."

and I feel that it resonates the tone of the book as a whole. If writing up a memoir is what it takes to process one's existential dread from the relentless passage of time and the unruly nature of facial hair, then onward march, man. You're helping the rest of us feel less alone. Now if you'll excuse me, I have an entire drawer of mouse poop to continue to ignore.

Note: This quote is from an Advance Reader Copy and may not be final.
Profile Image for Conor Ahern.
660 reviews193 followers
October 1, 2018
I really love John Hodgman. I was walking along Court Street this weekend, on a perfect autumn day, listening to this book and thinking about the time I drunkenly slept in his friend Jonathan Colton's bed, thinking that I wish I knew this man, but being happy enough that I get to appreciate his wit and wisdom from afar.
Profile Image for Michelle.
491 reviews521 followers
May 3, 2021
I don't typically read white, male authors but the exception to read John Hodgman's Vacationland was a good one! I enjoyed the humor and wit of this book and the self-awareness that Hodgman possesses.

As someone who is from New England, I deeply appreciated the stories in this book about living in New England. So many spot on, and hilarious, insights.
Profile Image for Matt McGlynn.
28 reviews5 followers
April 5, 2022
I honestly really enjoyed this book. I thought I would dislike it because I thought it would be top-tier hipster blowhard junk but man, I thought it was really nice and well written.

The section about the pea pod was very sweet and heartwarming, the stuff about his mom emotional and honest.

Real treat this one.
Profile Image for Kevidently.
269 reviews23 followers
February 7, 2020
I don't know how well you know my book purchasing and reading habits. You're certainly not expected to know them. You came here for a light summation of a John Hodgman book and you're getting what seems to be similar to the preamble you find on recipe blogs, where before you can learn how to make that tarragon chicken dish in three easy steps, you must slog through an interminable story about how the blogger's big brother left her at the candy store by accident when she was four and now the only way she can place balm on the suppurating sores of her trauma is by using a little extra balsamic on this quick and easy Tuesday-night recipe.

Very quickly: when I travel to a new place that is not the place I call home, I invariably buy a book written by a local author about that place. I was in Maine with my Dad and my stepmom and my husband and some family friends, and we wandered into a bookstore and I saw Vacationland. Oh! I said. It's the I'm a PC guy. He's supposed to be funny! I bought the book and returned home and put it in my to-read pile and it's been a year and a half.

In the meantime, I happened to read Hodgman's Medallion Status, a second book of essays that serves as sort of a sequel to Vacationland. I've done it backwards before with humorists' books of essays. I read Slone Crosley's Look Alive Out There years before her big breakthrough book, I Was Told There'd Be Cake. The difference is that Crosley's books seem to exist in a bubble; sure, they make more and better sense if you read them in order - you get a writer's progression, which I value highly. But Look Alive wasn't a sequel, per se.

In Hodgman's Medallion Status, he references specific and very intricate details that follow up on chance asides and hints in Vacationland. That whole story about revisiting his alma mater's secret society, years after he remembers none of it because of an alcoholic fall down some stairs and the concurrent blackout? Vacationland has its origin story. I can only imagine how much more I would have liked that whole tale if I'd read this and thought, "Oh, there must be more to it. I hope I find out someday."

A lot of Vacationland is origin stories. How Hodgman came to own two vacation homes, even though, despite his self-shamed white privilege, he's not really all that wealthy or connected. The whole mystery of the famous author who once lived and died in his town emerges first here, and Hodgman's discussion about how the locals never discuss it so delightfully reaffirms my concept of Mainers I was giddy throughout. And he talks about his mother, who died of lung cancer, and how, achingly, you can want a person to be alive and still be positively transformed by their passing.

It's fantastic writing. Hodgman allows himself discoveries and doesn't undercut the wonder of them. He's self-deprecating, but not in a way that feels false or showy. He talks about Stephen King a lot, and with some reverence, so I'm all about that. (He also references Bruce Springsteen as a singer he doesn't like - boo - but whom he acknowledges is great - fine.) Most of all, Hodgman finds himself in the midst of impossible situations, occasionally of his own design, and he has the talent and gumption to make us laugh at them. It's a skill a lot of people think they're good at and aren't. The reason people think they're good at it is because of folks like John Hodgman, who make it seem so damn easy.

Profile Image for Hilary "Fox".
2,069 reviews60 followers
January 30, 2018
My friend Carolyn introduced me last year to the Judge John Hodman podcast and I instantly fell in love. Hodgman's humor is wry, dry, and laden with a heavy dose of realist perspective and self-knowledge that few people seem to have. Hodgman is fine with people being selfish, they simply need to acknowledge the fact that they are. Own up to what you are, and the world will respect you for it. Be generous. Be mindful of the work you leave for others. Be true to yourself.

Vacationland is a series of essays with common threads woven through them. To tell the jokes is to ruin the sometimes 50+ pages of set-up. The stories twist and twine, there are callbacks throughout, and the tapestry that is woven is ultimately a complex one. One laced in humor, yes, but one also that is very aware of its own mortality, what will be left behind after it's gone, and how much good having an open mind can get you in the world.

Unlike most humor books, this is one with vast substance, and one that I am glad I got to read at this point in my life. A lot of the book resonated with me and comforted me. Buying a new home is scary, moving is scary, growing old and growing up is scary - but it's something we all do, and if we're humble about it and honest with ourselves ultimately we'll all come out all right in the end.
Profile Image for Katie.
444 reviews278 followers
July 18, 2020
This is a really charming, fun, and easy read - I've been having trouble focusing on books these last few months, but I plowed through Vacationland in about two days. It probably helps that I share a good few of John Hodgman's particular neuroses, but I'd imagine his light and breezy tone would make this a really pleasant read for anyone. Hodgman has a good bit of self-awareness, particularly regarding his own privilege, and strikes a nice balance of conscientiousness without self-flagellation.
Profile Image for Mehrsa.
2,234 reviews3,649 followers
December 15, 2017
This was surprisingly delightful, hilarious, and touching. I don't love Hodgman on TV, but memoir totally suits him. He is self-reflective, self-derogatory, and also aware of events outside his own circumstances. There were some hilarious stories in here too that I keep thinking about and laughing to myself about.
Profile Image for Jerrie.
990 reviews130 followers
February 15, 2018
The writing is OK, but the stories are warm and charming and sometimes funny. He also does a great job of reading this himself. 3.5⭐️
Profile Image for Sydney Kilgore.
43 reviews
August 9, 2022
It was fine. John Hodgman is a good writer, even funny sometimes, but I found his brand of “privilege comedy” (as it is called by John Roderick, aka Bean Dad) to be grating. He goes on and on about his first-world problems and the ways he’s squandered his privilege, followed ALWAYS by a note about how he’s self-aware that his experiences are of a very charmed lifestyle. But those *truly* self-aware of their privilege would know how annoying it is to be constantly humble-bragging about owning 2 vacation houses, no matter how many disclaimers and self-deprecating jokes you succeed it with.
I was excited at first when I realized most of the book was about his time in western Massachusetts (where I go to school) and coastal Maine (which is basically like NH, but with water). But I think these settings are too familiar and close to my heart for me to really care about Hodgman’s takes on the area. Not that he doesn’t feel a genuine connection to them, because he clearly does! He’s a Boston suburbanite turned New Yorker, and even acknowledges how he is an outsider in the towns he spends vacations in. However, throughout the book, I couldn’t shake the snags of condescension in his tone. I get it, this book is for his other nerdy white city writer friends, and they might marvel along with Hodgman over having to take trash to the dump instead of having it collected. But most of these commonalities of rural New England were just too obvious to me, making me feel more like the butt of the joke than being ‘in’ on it, like I might feel if a native rural New Englander had made the same joke instead.
Still some genuinely funny and heartfelt stories though! And a really nice cover!
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371 reviews33 followers
July 25, 2021
Started this right at the end of my time at sea, during a period where I felt like I was smoking 6 cigarettes per hand at the same time all day like a pan pipe from nervous tension due to a strange ugliness that had recently arisen on board, an ugliness I can't put my finger on really but may have been something to do with restricted shore leave and a sudden emergence of a caste system between different kinds of jobs on the boat. I finished the book right as I got to the island I'm on right now. I am experiencing the first vacation I've ever taken by myself and my first vacation ever that feels like a vacation, and it happened by mistake, an administrative mix-up. I should do this on purpose at some point.

Anyway, because I'm having such a marvelous time, I couldn't help but adore this book, which is wry and light and all about loving the home that you ended up in. It's so tender and generous about the particular place and people it's explicating (rural Maine and its terrifying natives). I'm in love with people who do the thing where they put down roots in new soil and accept the new place on its own terms. ("There's your goddamned wood": comedy gold. Makes me want to move to Maine and marry someone with the animus of Jimmy Steele.)

I also like how John Hodgman hates lakes. Lakes are stupid and dirty and unite the worst aspects of rivers and the worst aspects of oceans. Huge, tepid bathtubs full of frogs and other creepy amphibious life we evolved legs in order to walk away from.
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