... a hilarious and irreverently sincere collection of personal essays ... Throughout the book Hodgman is charmingly arrogant and self-deprecating ... Parts of the book he has used in his live stage appearances, and at times you get the sense that he’s delivering a monologue, and it works nicely on the page ... It is when Hodgman focuses on his children that he is at his most playful, and when thoughts of mortality creep in.
On these pages, Hodgman is as funny and as self-deprecating as ever, but also, deeply and hilariously, for real. Although he is a very fortunate man, the dotted line he draws between growing older and growing up will be familiar to any gloomily aging person — which is to say, anyone older than 17 ... Vacationland is an ambitious departure from Hodgman’s previous authorial endeavors. It’s funny, but it’s no joke. The book is a cleverly composed meditation on one privileged American’s life — and, glancingly, on America — at a crucial moment for both ... Reading [certain] passages, one can’t help but wince at Hodgman’s self-involvement. And yet, one can’t help but give him props for being so unabashedly, so ironically, and so entertainingly who he is.
Vacationland pauses at the strangeness of the ordinary, the bluntness of real-world circumstances. Hodgman is great at confronting the surrealism of adult life, and he is always finding his way back from his imagination to a stranger truth; reconciling his own fantasies with broader, more consistent realities — that means death, mostly ... Personal essay-style confrontations with privilege can, at their best, dig up new questions, propose new solutions — and at their worst, they simply fret. There are more new questions than fretting here, but the neurosis of comfortable people hardly changes whether they are in the beautiful city or on the beautiful coastline ... One discomfiting reality he emphasizes is that having money and security hardly gets rid of the fear of dying. For that, one might just need to plunge into Maine’s frigid waters.
...as Hodgman delivers what would otherwise be a sterile story, he peppers his narrative with deadpan asides, cocktails of self-deprecation and mock homespun wisdom ... Hodgman is the lens, and through him the reader gets an off-kilter peek at New England: its people, its geography, its legacy. That saves the book from myopia; when it verges on self-indulgence, which it routinely does, Hodgman pulls it back from the brink with a well-aimed jab, usually at his own expense. He acknowledges, without flinching, how shamefully white his environment is, and in doing so he offers some of Vacationland's most poignant moments — bursts of humility, insight, and empathy ... Sharp, silly, and sensitive, Vacationland is a literary selfie of a concerned citizen storyteller — one in which the oldest slice of the United States does a little inelegant photobombing.
Vacationland is a pointless little book. That’s a compliment. Pointless little books used to be more of a thing...These books had no urgent need to exist. They were neither topical nor essential. They were simply an opportunity to spend time with a good storyteller, a droll soul with the skills to turn even the flimsiest bits of real-life anecdotage into pleasurable reading material ... The real hook of Vacationland is that it’s the first book in which Hodgman is playing it relatively straight, writing not as the professorially pompous hoot-owl 'John Hodgman' character but as the actual fella with that name. Fortunately, Hodgman is a good enough writer to stand on his own talent and not on the old 'You’ll like my book because I’m on TV' trick ... late in the book he ties himself up in knots of guilt for taking on the subjects he has while Black Lives Matter protests are occurring and for logging days of leisure in 94-percent-white Maine, where 'if I closed my laptop, I could make it all vanish.' His once-over-lightly reflections on his privilege, while tonally consistent with the rest of Vacationland, just don’t come off, no matter how nobly intended.
The results are mixed in the way memoirs often are, even as it features his distinct voice and an unusual structure. It both falls victim to the genre’s trappings and maximizes on what can make it so uniquely powerful ... Hodgman, known for his dry humor, is typically restrained and offbeat here; his stories tend to be meditative and cutting, peppered with touches of absurdity. Yet you can feel the author hitting up against the walls of the conventions of memoir as he revisits insubstantial anecdotes that fail to convey the sense of displacement which threads the book ... Hodgman is not a great descriptive writer and so it’s often puzzling the extent to which the book relies on rote descriptions of his past ... The beauty of Vacationland comes through when Hodgman isn’t bogged down by his genre’s conventions ... It’s only when Hodgman gets away from the 'painful beaches' of Massachusetts and Maine, and into the choppy waters of his own mind, that Vacationland presents a world worth sinking into.
Vacationland...is full of true things: memories and thoughts and jokes and essays, all of which gradually cohere into a careful, bittersweet memoir. It’s just as funny as his previous books; it’s better than all of them … Self-reflection—and reflections on family, and death, and what it means to be a white man in 2017—are at the core of Vacationland, except funnier than I just made them sound. At first, Hodgman doesn’t even seem to like the places he’s ended up (‘the beaches of Maine are made out of jagged stones shaped like knives,’ and sure, there are also lakes, but ‘you do not want to swim in them either, because lakes are disgusting’), but he does know that we can learn from such places, and that we can teach ourselves while in them.
The book’s two halves correspond to the character of the territories they contain: the first is warmer and more chaotic, centering on memories of its author’s younger life, while the second is more desolate, even as Hodgman is careful to keep a home fire burning against the onset of the coming cold. In both, a current of naked honesty prevails; the writer obscures the names of many of his friends, neighbors, and family members, but lays his numerous anxieties bare for readers to relate to … When it achieves profundity, it does so by avoiding profundities; in many ways, this is a book about death, but it rarely tackles the subject head-on, instead sketching in the details of the beautiful, silly, time-wasting minutiae and pleasures we all use to run out our personal clocks.
Hodgman indulges in something I’ll call hipster privilege. Here’s what I mean: whenever he’s given the opportunity, Hodgman will make a self-deprecating joke about being white, or wealthy, or famous — or all three of those things … Your jokes about being in the wealthy upper class of a society don’t make you one of ‘the good ones.’ They just make you one of the ones who are willing to make jokes about it … Hodgman is self-deprecating throughout the book, and many of his jokes are successful. But it’s when the joke is at the expense of those who have less than him — when his self-deprecation disguises the fact that he’s punching down — that his attempts at comedy fail.
Hodgman’s comedy is more deadpan than laugh-out-loud funny, aimed at a too-hip-to-chuckle readership for whom this might be metacomedy, in which the very notion of trying to be humorous is the big joke. The author senses an affinity with 'Maine Humor,' which elicits 'a kind of low inner chuckling, so dry and so deep inside you that you may not realize it is happening' ... Very dry, with a twist.
Mild departures from the routine inspire neurotic palpitations in these dourly funny essays by humorist Hodgman, who pegs his shaggy-dog stories to several unnerving locales ... Hodgman’s sketches ramble a while and then peter out, but the twists of mordant, off-kilter comedy make for entertaining excursions.