Jessica Bruder, author of the winner of 2019's One Read book club in the Daniel Boone Regional Library system, shared her fascination with her book's subjects Tuesday evening.
Bruder spoke at Columbia College about her book "Nomadland: Surviving America in the 21st Century." In One Read's 18th year, Bruder's book received more than 4,000 checkouts since the winner was announced, DBRL Executive Director Margaret Conroy said.
"Ms. Bruder shines a light on the subculture of mobile workers. People who are houseless, but not homeless; those who do the hidden work, often the really hard manual labor that keeps our economy humming," Conroy said.
Bruder is from New York City where she has worked as an award-winning journalist and is currently an adjunct professor at Columbia University. She expressed her gratitude for her book's selection to One Read during her talk numerous times.
"(Being selected as the One Read book) is completely nuts to me. I never get to do stuff like this," Bruder said.
The non-fiction book tells the stories of nomads throughout the United States, usually of standard retirement age, who live and work out of their RVs as a means of survival. Bruder emphasized throughout her talk about the survival mindset these nomads held who would have never expected to find themselves in this lifestyle.
The origin for "Nomadland" came after reading a 2012 story by Mac McClelland in the magazine Mother Jones about an anonymous story of a "warehouse wage slave." She said in the article there was one line that mentioned another warehouse worker that was apart of the Amazon program CamperForce.
CamperForce is a program that was created to give those living in campers seasonal work opportunities. Bruder said she is fascinated by workers' rights and labor issues and how they play out in a digital environment.
She said as the article returned to its main subject, she was stuck on the concept of CamperForce and wanted to know more about the story. Through her obsession with the subject, she learned the participants of this program were primarily older Americans that were displaced from their homes during the "great recession" of 2008.
Her main interests as a writer has always been human stories and subcultures. She described humans as being "tribal" and that people are just looking for a sense of belonging.
She ultimately purchased 20-year-old camper she named "Van Halen." As she said the primary reason for this was to have easy restroom access, Bruder joked that she referred to herself as a "faux-mad" rather than a "nomad."
"When you're an immersion journalist I think it's really important to show respect for the people you're writing about and you want to get really close so you can do their stories justice, not so you can say, 'Hey, look at me, I'm a nomad.'"
Bruder read passages of Nomadland before the audience during her talk. The selections she read highlighted the difficult lifestyles the members of CamperForce lived while on the road all throughout the United States.
She said "the whole RV thing" has been mostly marketed to white people throughout history and that was what she witnessed while covering the story. However, she has seen a growing diversity within these RV communities as time has gone on.
Bruder hopes her work can help change cultures, policies and ideals moving forward. While she doesn't want responsibility for these potential impacts, Bruder said she wants to be a "pixel in the big picture of change."
During a question and answer session with the audience, Bruder said "Nomadland" will become a movie with Frances McDormand, David Strathairn and other actual members from CamperForce as cast members.
"(Members of CamperForce and I) got to have the weirdest, most surreal family reunion when we learned about the movie," Bruder said.
Bruder said that throughout the years of putting the book together, she had an overwhelming fear that nobody was going to "give a (darn)." She often heard that stories about older Americans are not stories of sex and violence and are not stories people will want to read.
"There are all sorts of ghosts on your shoulder when you're working on a story like this," Bruder said. "You do it because you care, you do it with all of your might and then at the end of the three years you stumble out of the cave and you're blinking in the sunlight and you don't know if somebody baked a cake or if you're going to be eaten by a bear."