Listen to the folks talking about not being tied down and mortgage free on the proliferating tiny house shows, and you’ll figure out that with their aspirational RVs, they are talking to the folks that populate Nomadland. Journalist Jessica Bruder gets know the folks who live out of their trailers and campers (and sometimes cars), centering the story on Linda May, a grandmother who’d rather be on the road than a burden to her financially struggling kids. These folks work at Amazon fulfillment centers, take seasonal work, both good (campground monitor) and bad (sugar beet picker), and learn how to stretch their social security dollars razor thin. Like all interesting subcultures, they connect both online and in gatherings. Most notably, they define themselves by who they are not, making it clear they are houseless but not homeless. Nomadland is a fascinating sociological look at a burgeoning subculture, and captures an economic crisis in the making, the hollowing out of the middle class.— Daniel Goldin
From the beet fields of North Dakota to the wilderness campgrounds of California to an Amazon warehouse in Texas, people who once might have kicked back to enjoy their sunset years are hard at work. Underwater on mortgages or finding that Social Security comes up short, they're hitting the road in astonishing numbers, forming a new community of nomads: RV and van-dwelling migrant laborers, or "workampers." Building on her groundbreaking Harper's cover story, "The End of Retirement," which brought attention to these formerly settled members of the middle class, Jessica Bruder follows one such RVer, Linda, between physically taxing seasonal jobs and reunions of her new van-dweller family, or "vanily." Bruder tells a compelling, eye-opening tale of both the economy's dark underbelly and the extraordinary resilience, creativity, and hope of these hardworking, quintessential Americans?many of them single women?who have traded rootedness for the dream of a better life.