Today, I’m recommending Nomadland: Surviving America in the Twenty-First Century by award-winning journalist Jessica Bruder. This compelling, eye-opening tale describes the author’s experience immersing herself into the “workamper” community, a contemporary nomadic population largely made up of transient older Americans living on the road.
Discovering that their social security has come up short, finding themselves underwater on mortgages, and buckling under growing financial pressures, these invisible casualties of the Great Recession have taken to the road by the tens of thousands in late-model RVs, travel trailers, and vans, forming a growing community of migratory laborers who call themselves “workampers.”
In a secondhand vehicle she christens “Van Halen,” Bruder hits the road to get to know her subjects more intimately. On frequently traveled routes between seasonal jobs, Jessica Bruder meets people from all walks of life: a former professor, a McDonald’s vice president, a minister, a college administrator, and a motorcycle cop, among many others―including her uncontrollable protagonist, a onetime cocktail waitress, Home Depot clerk, and general contractor named Linda May.
Accompanying Linda May and “workampers” from campground toilet cleaning to warehouse product scanning to desert reunions, then moving on to the dangerous work of beet harvesting, Bruder works alongside these Americans who often end up earning just enough money to make it that next mile.
Nomadland is a thought-provoking, eye-opening account of the dark underbelly of the American economy in the aftermath of the Great Recession. While detailing the hardships that this growing community endures, Bruder also celebrates the exceptional resilience and creativity of these Americans who have given up ordinary rootedness in order to survive.
Check out Nomadland and other engaging and relevant works of nonfiction like it at the Sioux City Public Library.
Support for Check It Out comes from Avery Brothers.