Second Tuesday Book Club will meet in-person from 7 to 8:15 p.m. on Tuesday, March 8, in the program room at Schimelpfenig Library, for our discussion of Jessica Bruder’s nonfiction title, Nomadland: Surviving America in the Twenty-First Century. We will observe careful social distancing, with face coverings recommended. Please email Cathe Spencer at firstname.lastname@example.org if you have questions or comments. See you at Schimelpfenig Library soon!
Nomadland: Surviving America in the Twenty-First Century by Jessica Bruder
From the North Dakota beet fields to California’s Natural Forest campgrounds to Amazon’s Texas CamperForce program, employers have discovered a new low-cost labor pool: transient older Americans. With Social Security coming up short, these invisible casualties of the Great Recession have taken to the road by the tens of thousands, forming a growing community of migrant laborers dubbed “workampers.” In a secondhand vehicle christened “Van Halen,” Bruder hits the road to tell an eye-opening tale of the American economy’s dark undercurrents.
Nomadland was named to the New York Times Book Review Editors’ Choice list and won the Barnes and Noble Discover Award, both in 2017.
In 2020, Nomadland became a feature film written, produced, and directed by Chloé Zhao. Starring Frances McDormand and David Strathairn, it won Academy Awards for Best Picture, Best Director, and Best Actress in 2021.
Connie Fletcher’s review in Booklist praises Jessica Bruder for her “visceral and haunting reporting.” She goes on to add, “What photographer Jacob Riis did for the tenement poor in How the Other Half Lives (1890) and what novelist Upton Sinclair did for stockyard workers in The Jungle (1906), journalist Bruder now does for a segment of today’s older Americans forced to eke out a living as migrant workers. … In the best immersive-journalism tradition, Bruder records her misadventures driving and living in a van and working in a beet field and at Amazon. Tying together the book is the story of Linda May, a woman in her sixties who takes on crushing jobs with optimistic aplomb.”
Writing in the Washington Post, Timothy Smith calls Nomadland “devastating and revelatory … Bruder writes in an evenhanded, impartial tone, avoiding polemicism. Her subjects are self-sufficient, proud people. Many in their sixties and beyond, they should be entering Shakespeare’s sixth age of man, ‘into the lean and slippered pantaloon/ With spectacles on nose and pouch/ On side.’ Instead they are sans homes, sans money, sans security, sans everything, except their dignity and self-reliance.”
Janet Saidi of The Christian Science Monitor comments, “Jessica Bruder is pursuing a moving target: the new class of Americans who have traded in real estate for ‘wheel estate,’ having lost their mortgages, their savings, and their dreams in the Great Recession or individual disasters, to become ‘workampers’ … Bruder tackles her task with heaps of reportorial detail and narrative flair [and] also manages to tap into the spiritual, the metaphorical, and the hopeful. Bruder not only writes what she sees, but she eloquently makes some sense of it.”
“When I first reported on the nomads in a 2014 Harper’s Magazine story, I spent two weeks living out of a tent in the Sonoran Desert. For the book, I wanted to go much deeper – and that meant I had to travel with these people, camp where they camped, and spend time with them outside of formal interviews — to really feel the story from the inside.”
Jessica Bruder is a journalist who writes about social issues and subcultures. To expand her original article into Nomadland, she spent months living in a camper van, documenting itinerant Americans who gave up traditional housing and hit the road full time, enabling them to travel from job to job and carve out a place in a precarious economy. The project spanned three years and more than 15,000 miles of driving — from coast to coast and from Mexico to the Canadian border.
She is a graduate of Amherst College, and has an M. S. from the Columbia University Journalism School, where she now teaches. She has been a contributing writer and photographer for the New York Times for more than a decade. She currently lives in Brooklyn, New York.