HARDBARNED! One Man's Quest for Meaningful Work in the American South

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My first book—hopefully not my last—has finally entered the world, in paperback or for Kindle, you e-book-reading weirdo. So go ahead, purchase it right here, right now, like Van Hagar. C’mon, it’s everything. Here's the back-cover copy, so you know what you're getting into:

Overeducated and underemployed? In love with learning but stumped on how to translate it into a paycheck? Desperately striving to make your seemingly useless liberal arts education work for you in any sort of satisfying or meaningful way? Trying to simultaneously engage your interests, skillset and values and still pay the bills while pleading for another student loan deferment? I feel your pain and have stories to share, but if you're looking for inspirational uplift, self-help or a life coach, please look elsewhere.

HARDBARNED! One Man's Quest for Meaningful Work in the American South is a darkly comic, brutally honest and introspective memoir about working for a living--without being able to shake the feeling that there has got to be more to it than that.

Christopher J. Driver, unable to land a writing job after completing two undergraduate degrees, for three years worked a series of crappy jobs in construction, landscaping, retail, warehouses, hotels and restaurants between tours in a van with his DIY punk band. He then decided to go back to school, but a master's degree in English didn't open any doors either. Again failing completely in his attempts to find full-time employment as a professional writer, after a brief stint in computer sales, he drove a truck for the next three years--delivering and repossessing portable storage barns throughout several states in the rural, southern USA.

Constantly pleading with employers across a plethora of industries for a mere entry-level opportunity to prove himself as a writer, he plunged into the daily unknown--a multi-state, rural trucking adventure built on unpredictable encounters with a revolving cast of indelible characters, including drunken rednecks, scumbag salesmen, menacing highway patrol officers and at least seven lovely individuals--amid a perpetual tsunami of malfunctioning equipment, fire, mud, blood, shit, dogs, danger and existential ennui--the likes of which he had never imagined. (continued below the illustration)

The Weight of the Barn , illustration by  Tarri N. Driver

The Weight of the Barn, illustration by Tarri N. Driver

Inspired and anchored by his three-year, post-graduate tour-de-barns and featuring powerful illustrations by his lovely wife, the multi-talented artist Tarri Driver, HARDBARNED! reflects on a quarter-century of one man's desperate search for meaningful work in the American South. With an irresistibly self-deprecating narrative, HARDBARNED! offers a revealing look into the insane (and often entertaining) lengths that one person will go to earn an honest living while making use of his education. HARDBARNED! is now available for purchase in paperback or for Kindle.


 

REVIEWS, AWARDS & INTERVIEWS…

The following are excerpts from external reviews of my 2016 memoir, HARDBARNED! One Man's Quest for Meaningful Work in the American South. Click on the publication header to read the full review at each site. Awards and interviews are noted and linked to here as well.

 
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“A largely resonant, darkly comic remembrance that embodies the struggle between pursuing reliable employment and devoting oneself to one’s passions. [Driver’s] fraught, often-bumpy journey will strike a chord with many readers—especially college graduates who have labored under the impression that their degrees would, for want of a better phrase, pay off…”

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“Fascinating and funny…hilarious…interesting…powerful.”

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“A strong indication of an emerging talent is the ability to make work like barn-hauling interesting. Driver’s wit and grit are evident in this memoir, and it will be a pleasure to see what he’ll produce next.” (Quarter-Finalist, 9.25 of 10 stars)

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“[Driver’s] insights about the nature of work—the seduction of money and security vs. the tedium of marginal employment—are hard-won and will be illuminating for those who have wanted to ‘take this job and shove it.’”

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“Heartfelt…funny…poignant and self-deprecating…[Driver’s] innate talents at observation and introspection are important elements of the narrative…a positive and hilariously upbeat narrator…conversational and warm; his ear for dialogue provides much of the humor in the narrative arc…[his] discussion on the applicability of liberal arts degrees and the lack of job opportunities for graduates proves heartfelt…[with] relevant research and examples…a thoughtful and highly entertaining memoir. It pokes fun at the liberal arts and attitudes in the American South alongside its poignant observations about the harsher realities of finding soul-sustaining work.” (4 of 5 stars)

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"In turn reflective and irreverent, Driver masterfully evades bitterness throughout his endeavors to find employment, and finally grows his experience into a moving reflection…always with lightness of touch, [he] provides insight into the condition of a generation that had been promised access to dreams with a liberal education, but was left instead with a mountain of debt, dreams to undo, and endless reality checks, moving from job to job, all the while looking for meaning and purpose.

Driver’s memoir pieces have a distinctive and recognizable voice, and exhibit the writer’s strong command of style; they are meticulously precise and descriptive, providing us with detailed landscapes and characters…The reader acquires delivery lingo…while also learning that many customers cannot clearly explain where they live—in what seems like a metaphor for the confusing waters of employment and life purpose Driver himself is attempting to navigate.

Driver’s “three-year course in anger management” pays off with this collection, sparking reflections such as whether outdoor physical labor or office most feeds the human soul…you will never look at storage barns the same way, and you will be moved by the mentorship provided by Mitch, who supplies Chris with the Barn job. You will also learn how sometimes the word “Barn” is all you need to say, but most of all, you will laugh."

(A “Best Reviewed” Book, 4.2 of 5 stars)

Check out Indie Reader's interview with Christopher J. Driver about his book, HARDBARNED!, here.

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“Reads like nothing I have read in a long while; brutally honest, an unadulterated X-ray of the crude realities that confront contemporary American workers...as entertaining as it is critical of the social realities of his time, a book that brilliantly captures the pain and the frustrations of a wide section of America’s working class...deft and balanced, infused with a rare sense of humor and satire. I enjoyed the crisp prose and the excellent descriptions, but it was the author’s unique and compelling narrative voice that kept me turning from one fascinating page to the next." (5 of 5 stars)

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“[Driver] manages to capture much of the frustration and existential despair that aspiring writers and artists encounter while struggling to earn their keep in a world that is generally indifferent to their labors. [His] search for a writing job takes place, unfortunately, during some of the worst moments in the American economy (right in that 2008-era sweet spot), and his feelings of futility and frustration will resonate with many of those who have found themselves in similar positions (and majors).

One of the most pleasant surprises about HARDBARNED! is Driver’s prose. Driver’s voice is familiar but articulate, and his writing flows easily and well. Through it, he traces both his three years hauling barns, as well as the formative moments of his earlier life, which flesh out the reader’s understanding—and perhaps his own—of just how he ended up hauling barns in the deep South.

The book, overall, is engaging, entertaining, and enlightening to read. He offers a glimpse into a world—barn-hauling—most people have never encountered, which turns out to be both more complicated and more harrowing than most would imagine. Readers will delight in Driver’s friendly and articulate writing and will feel genuine kinship for him in his attempts to get both himself and his truck out of a succession of ruts.” (4 of 5 stars)

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WRITER’S DIGEST SELF-PUBLISHED BOOK AWARDS

"Humor is as evident as angst in these pages…many of Driver’s anecdotes include weird (and funny) details…Tarri N. Driver deserves kudos for her companionship during repos and her charming illustrations. The cover art grabs attention, and the back blurb is well done, bound to attract a wide-ranging audience.” (27 of 30 points)

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“An amusing and insightful memoir...asks important questions about work, life, happiness, and the American Dream that will be useful to anyone trying to navigate the working life...between the humorous encounters, whirlwind romances and long nights in lonely towns, there is deep musing and philosophical examinations of what it means to do something meaningful–both for yourself and society on the whole...

What makes Driver such an interesting and sympathetic narrator is he is someone who can clearly kick it with cowboys and mingle with executives; he’s a chameleon, a wanderer, and a bard all rolled into one...bursting with life and sincere experience...Driver certainly has the capacity to inspire introspection." (4 of 5 stars)

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HARDBARNED! is a 2017 National Association of Book Entrepreneurs Pinnacle Achievement Award Winner for Best Autobiography.

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HARDBARNED! is a 2017 Wishing Shelf Book Awards Finalist in the "Books for Adults: Nonfiction" category.

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HARDBARNED! is a 2018 "Notable Indie," one of the year's "Top Notables" in the Shelf Unbound Best Indie Book Awards competition.

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Independent Author Network Book of The Year Awards

HARDBARNED! is a 2018 Independent Author Network Book of The Year Awards finalist for memoir/autobiography/biography.