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Riding Toward Everywhere


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About the Author

William T. Vollmann is the author of seven novels, three collections of stories, and a seven-volume critique of violence, Rising Up and Rising Down. He is also the author of Poor People, a worldwide examination of poverty through the eyes of the impoverished themselves; Riding Toward Everywhere, an examination of the train-hopping hobo lifestyle; and Imperial, a panoramic look at one of the poorest areas in America. He has won the PEN Center USA West Award for Fiction, a Shiva Naipaul Memorial Prize and a Whiting Writers' Award. His journalism and fiction have been published in The New Yorker, Esquire, Spin and Granta. Vollmann lives in Sacramento, California.


How many of us have mumbled or possibly even shouted, "I've got to get out of here"? These are the watchwords of train hoppers, spirited adventurers who escape "everywhere" by stealing rides on freight trains. Vollmann, winner of the 2005 National Book Award for fiction (Europe Central), is dedicated to firsthand experiences for his literary inspiration; in this unusual contemporary travel book, he shows how he and various hobo companions take to the rails to see the United States from empty railroad cars. Vollmann frequently references classic works by Jack Kerouac, Ernest Hemingway, and Jack London-authors who write more about the journey than the destination (he includes a list of sources). He also provides interviews with traveling companions and the many people he meets during his quests, which usually begin at "zero-dark-thirty." Accompanying black-and-white photographs reveal what life is like on present-day rails and show the friends, foes, and harsh graffiti of train hoppers. Recommended for larger public libraries.-Joyce Sparrow, MSLS, Juvenile Welfare Board Children's Svcs. Council, Pinellas Park, FL Copyright 2008 Reed Business Information.

In this sometimes heavy-handed though brief (especially for Vollmann) memoir of hopping trains and riding the rails, Vollmann, National Book Award winner for Europe Central, explores a personal and national obsession. "From a certain open boxcar in a freight train heading the wrong way," he writes, "I have enjoyed pouring rain, then birds and frogs, fresh yellow-green wetness of fields." Taking to the rails out West, Vollmann sometimes travels with buddies pursuing the same thrill, the same freedom people have long associated with railroads. Other times, he meets up with grizzled hobos and degenerates, reflecting on himself and his reasons for risking life and limb to see America from a speeding freight train. "Whatever beauty our railroad travels bestow upon us comes partly from the frequent lovely surprises of reality itself," he says, "often from the intersection of our fantasies with our potentialities." While he never really gets around to fully explaining his own reasons for doing so-he makes long, curlicue allusions to his restless soul and search for deeper meanings of things-Vollmann pieces together a kind of patchwork portrait of the lusts and longings of a nation torn by social inequity and riven with anger about the current state of affairs, especially but not limited to the war in Iraq and the ongoing sadness of American overseas misadventures. Through the self-indulgent mist, though, a sharper picture emerges. Vollmann captures an ongoing romantic vision of America-a nation always on the move, nervous and jittery, and never really satisfied with itself. (Jan.) Copyright 2007 Reed Business Information.

Adult/High School-Vollmann records his recent adventures freight-train hopping in the United States. He weaves together the sights, sounds, emotional rushes and terrors, and sentiments about friends and former lovers with observations on modern hoboes for whom the rail line is still home and classic American authors who conveyed the spirit of the road (Hemingway, London, and, of course, Kerouac). The vignettes are thematically arranged with a generous collection of candid black-and-white photos following the text, illustrating the people, crude signs discussed, and even the moods described in the storytelling. The portrait of outsider life is accessible, compelling, and a welcome surprise for teenage boys who can't succumb to a welling sense of wanderlust but who can enjoy it vicariously. Vollmann's presentation of canonical classics may inspire some to move from this to books typically assigned rather than chosen freely.-Francisca Goldsmith, Halifax Public Libraries, Nova Scotia Copyright 2008 Reed Business Information.

"A monster; monster talent, ambition, and accomplishment."--Los Angeles Times

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