Wednesday, May 18, 2016

Booknote: The Hobo Handbook

Josh Mack, The Hobo Handbook: a Field Guide to Living by your Own Rules. Avon, MA: Adams Media, 2011. ISBN: 978-1-4405-1227-8.

Genre: nonfiction
Subgenre: travel, reference, hobos
Format: trade paperback
Source: Berea branch of the Madison County (KY) Public Library

Think you can just take off, live on the road, and make your own rules? This may be the book to help you decide if you can put the effort to live on the road with some hard work, ingenuity, and grit. Being a hobo on the open road today is a far cry from the romanticized image of writers like Jack Kerouac. So before you hit the rails or rads, you may want to read this book first.

The book starts by giving you a Hobo Aptitude Test to help you gauge your potential and assess  your resilience or lack thereof. After the test, you get an introduction. This is followed by seven chapters covering various important topics for a hobo such as how to start, how to get going, and getting out of a jam. The book also features three appendices with tips for the modern hobo, a hobo cookbook, and essential MacGyver skills. The book wraps up with a set of notes and a list of additional resources that features some books for further reading.

I saw this at the library, and I picked it up out of curiosity. While I do find the idea of a wandering life appealing, being a hobo is not something I want to do. So I learned a few things reading this book. Josh Mack brings the mystique and the gritty realities of bring a hobo and what it takes to be a hobo into the 21st century. Mack goes over hobo history, defines basic terms, and outlines and explains thing you really need to know if you decide to attempt making a go at it. If something is right out dangerous or illegal, he will tell you and warn you as well.

What I found interesting was the history and the trivia. Being a hobo, whether by necessity or because of having a wandering spirit, has a good tradition in the United States, and Mack captures this. In between chapters, he also includes segments on some famous hobos such as James Michener, Merle Haggard, and Jack Dempsey. However, in modern times, you don't have to jump the rails to be a hobo. In fact, many hobos now couch surf, take buses, and even carry their electronic devices. For many today, being a hobo is not an economic necessity, although there are still some who do it out of necessity. Either way, the author gives plenty of information and advice so you can use your wits and ingenuity to make a go at it.

The rest of the book is pretty much a handbook.You could see it as the "Boy Scout Handbook" for hobos. The author talks about life on the road, how to pack, skills you need, and as much as possible, staying ahead of dangers like gangs or the law. As a handbook, it can be more a book to consult as needed if you go on the road. For curious folks like me, it's a good look at a life I've read about but have no intention of experiencing. Since it is a handbook, it can be a bit dry reading at times; some parts may be more interesting than others. Overall, it was a good read, and I liked it.

3 out of 5 stars.

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Additional reading notes:

Today's hobo blends traditional hobo skills with more modern methods.

What the book is:

"This guide offers a crash course for taking your life on the road and funding it as you go. You'll learn how to set up camp, find a job, catch some food, find yourself some transport, and when the time comes, how to sleep in a ditch" (xxi). 

And by the way, what exactly is a hobo, and no, they are not tramps or bums:

 "hobo: A migratory worker; originated from hoe boys, the name given to the men taking work in the fields while riding the rails as they were often associated with a tool of the trade. Hobos distinguished themselves from tramps, who traveled but didn't work, and bums, who did neither" (4).

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This book qualifies for the following 2016 Reading Challenges:

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