Wednesday, July 10, 2013

July's Book: The Hobo Handbook

The Hobo Handbook by Josh Mack
Non-Fiction (2011 - 200 pp.)

The Hobo Handbook is one of the most practical books I've ever read. Although I doubt I'll become an 1890s-style riding the rails with no fixed address hobo at any time, the book is remarkably modern. A life of Craigslist odd-jobs, VIA/Amtrak rides and couch surfing feels a lot more doable than the frequently mentioned train-hopping. Camping is also discussed at length. While I knew about a few of the subjects Josh Mack mentions (like the importance of purifying water), tips on how to cook a fish over a campfire are useful even for the relatively light packer who isn't a hobo. Sections like the one on signage hobos use to communicate feel quainter but add to the historical background Mack uses to flesh out the reasoning behind the hobo way of life.

The main premise of all this travel is the romantic notion of living life without being under the control of landlords, cable companies, you name it. Mack concedes this control may not seem so bad after a while on the road. I've never been one to rail against corporations, and indeed, Mack discusses the importance of maintaining a bank account. The hobo experience is one that truly has to be done for love, as it isn't profitable and doesn't succeed in removing you from society. The money you save not having to pay rent and bills (although you'll probably maintain a smartphone anyway) is more than offset from the money you aren't getting working a traditional job. The hobo lifestyle started as a way for the unemployed and unattached to travel the United States while finding work wherever it came. Perhaps that resonates with the open-minded yet increasingly jobless youth of today?

My favourite parts are the ones that depart from the book's very loose story entirely. The opening Hobo Aptitude Test and the three appendices vindicate The Hobo Handbook's purported field guide status. I have a penchant for books like this, having read so many novels in my 25 years I need frequent changes of pace. The lack of traditional literary forms is what makes The Hobo Handbook so much fun. Seeing as Mack has done much of what he writes, I was worried this might be an account of his travels. The end product here is far more interesting.

The only qualm I have with this book is the sometimes lax copy-editing. Seemingly every chapter has one or two typos. It's not enough to interrupt the flow of the book, just enough to make an author/journalist/humanities graduate like me a tiny bit annoyed. Otherwise, the language is accessible enough for an airport read yet engaging enough for a more in-depth look.

Ease of Reading: 8
Educational Content: 8