Vacationland: True Stories from Painful Beaches

This humorous memoir (272 pages) was published in October of 2017 by Penguin. The book takes you to modern Maine. David read Vacationland and loved it; it wouldn't be on our site if he didn't recommend it.

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True Stories from Painful Beaches

John Hodgman

John Hodgman has had a strange and unlikely career. He started as a literary agent, became an author, and eventually found himself on TV as a contributor to The Daily Show with Jon Stewart — not the path you might expect for a middle-aged dude with a powerful nerd vibe.

But his brain is as sharp as his mustache is floppy. In this collection of essays, he gets real about the issues of going through a midlife crisis — but because it’s Hodgman, it’s painfully funny.

He wrestles with being a good parent and with the death of his mother. He shares stories from his childhood because he wants to talk about his life now more meaningfully. And about halfway through the book, he moves to Maine with his family. ‘Maine is a beautiful place,’ he writes, ‘that I paradoxically want to hoard to myself and share with everyone I meet.’

He and his wife buy a house. They win a rowboat in an auction. They meet their neighbors, whom he initially finds creepy — ‘like waking an ancient pack of vampires.’ There are great stories about how the locals protect the home of a famous dead author. He delves into the world of freshwater clams and the notion that the waters of Maine are ‘made of hate and want to kill you.’

Like pine logs crackling in a fireplace, his sense of humor is dry, inviting, warm, and prone to flares. Reading this book is like hanging out with a friend who’s navigating a rough patch, but makes you laugh all the same.

Because the waters of Maine are made of hate and want to kill you. The ocean in Maine is traumatically cold. If you make the mistake of going into it, every cell in your body will begin shouting the first half of the word “hypothermia” into your brain; the second half will simply be frozen tears. And the beaches of Maine offer no relief as you launch yourself back onto shore, because the beaches of Maine are made out of jagged stones shaped like knives. Wherever the shoreline is merely slopes of smooth, unpunishing granite, Maine compensates by encrusting it with sharp barnacles and sea snails. No matter how careful you are, you cannot avoid crushing some of them under your feet. You become death when you walk on a beach in Maine, and every step is a sea snail genocide. — John Hodgman

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