The Funny Side of Vollmann

There seems to be a misperception among certain literary types — one I have been attempting to rectify for quite some time — that William T. Vollmann, in writing about the underworld and heavy topics, lacks a sense of humor. To quell these charges, here’s the disclaimer page from Vollmann’s forthcoming trainhopping book, Riding Toward Everywhere, which threatens to veer my attention from all the other books I have to read right now:


I have never been caught riding on a freight train. So let’s say I have never committed misdemeanor trespass. The stories in this book are all hearsay, and the photographs are really drawings done in steel-gray crayon. None of the individuals depicted are any more real than I. Moreover, train hopping may harm or kill you. Finally, please consider yourself warned that the activities described in this book are criminally American.


This book was written at a time of extreme national politics. These circumstances shaped my thoughts about riding trains in specific ways described below. Accordingly, I have left all references to the current administration in the present tense. As the Russians would say, he who has ears will hear.


  1. Looks terrific.

    Any news on the release of Vollmann’s next novel?

    You had mentioned to me once via email a big one was coming (not a Dream).

  2. The train hopping essay comes out Jan. 08.

    I hear his study on Noh Theater was sold; not sure to whom.

    The major work that will blow everyone’s mind is IMPERIAL, wheneve rit gets published.

    Fall 2008 will see the publication of UNDERSTANDING WILLIAM T. VOLLMANN (Univ. of South Carolina Press). I know this because I wrote it. 😉

  3. RIDING TOWARD EVERYWHERE is a fascinating book — as much a memoir of Vollmann’s psyche these days as anything. I had expected more reportage on hoboes — and there’s some of that — but it’s a very personal book, a story of hopping trains to escape from oneself.

    (I think read that Ecco bought the Noh book — same folks who put out POOR PEOPLE and RIDING.)

  4. One hundred pages in, Riding Toward Everywhere has more than met my grand expectations for the book. As Ed indicates, it is often deeply funny, and it is funny in ways we haven’t seen from Vollmann thus far. It is also wonderfully personal; once again Vollmann offers himself up completely to his readers.

    I don’t have anything new to add to these comments, as I am now still devouring the book. I just wanted to add to the well-deserved praise.

  5. Hi–Yes, Ecco has the Noh book–i help Bill in the studio here in Sac sometimes. He is doing the finals on Imperial, and believe it or not, also working on two other projects. He has been spending more time making art lately though…

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