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Travels with Lizbeth: Three Years on the Road and on the Streets

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"When I began writing this account I was living under a shower curtain in a stand of bamboo in a public park. I did not undertake to write about homelessness, but wrote what I knew, as an artist paints a still life, not because he is especially fond of fruit, but because the subject is readily at hand." A beautifully written account of one man's experience of homelessness, "When I began writing this account I was living under a shower curtain in a stand of bamboo in a public park. I did not undertake to write about homelessness, but wrote what I knew, as an artist paints a still life, not because he is especially fond of fruit, but because the subject is readily at hand." A beautifully written account of one man's experience of homelessness, Travels with Lizbeth is a story of physical survival and the triumph of the artistic spirit in the face of enormous adversity. In his unique voice - dry, disciplined, poignant, comic - Eighner celebrates the companionship of his dog, Lizbeth, and recounts their ongoing struggle to survive on the streets of Austin, Texas, and hitchhiking along the highways to Southern California and back.


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"When I began writing this account I was living under a shower curtain in a stand of bamboo in a public park. I did not undertake to write about homelessness, but wrote what I knew, as an artist paints a still life, not because he is especially fond of fruit, but because the subject is readily at hand." A beautifully written account of one man's experience of homelessness, "When I began writing this account I was living under a shower curtain in a stand of bamboo in a public park. I did not undertake to write about homelessness, but wrote what I knew, as an artist paints a still life, not because he is especially fond of fruit, but because the subject is readily at hand." A beautifully written account of one man's experience of homelessness, Travels with Lizbeth is a story of physical survival and the triumph of the artistic spirit in the face of enormous adversity. In his unique voice - dry, disciplined, poignant, comic - Eighner celebrates the companionship of his dog, Lizbeth, and recounts their ongoing struggle to survive on the streets of Austin, Texas, and hitchhiking along the highways to Southern California and back.

30 review for Travels with Lizbeth: Three Years on the Road and on the Streets

  1. 4 out of 5

    Nancy

    Posted at Shelf Inflicted Travels With Lizbeth is a candid and thoughtful chronicle of Lars Eighner's three years of homelessness. The author writes very eloquently and with a sense of humor about his friendships, traveling companions, jobs, and hardships. He is a keen observer of people and places and the love he has for his dog, Lizbeth, is heartwarming. Eighner sheds light on the problems that still exist today within the U.S. medical and mental health care systems and debunks common myths abo Posted at Shelf Inflicted Travels With Lizbeth is a candid and thoughtful chronicle of Lars Eighner's three years of homelessness. The author writes very eloquently and with a sense of humor about his friendships, traveling companions, jobs, and hardships. He is a keen observer of people and places and the love he has for his dog, Lizbeth, is heartwarming. Eighner sheds light on the problems that still exist today within the U.S. medical and mental health care systems and debunks common myths about homeless people. He writes without self-pity, yet very humanely about a problem many people would rather forget existed. A wonderful book!

  2. 5 out of 5

    William2

    Hemingway said in a letter that when prose is magical, as it can be in Travels With Lizbeth, that the reader is never sure how it's done. You can reread it all you want and you will never quite know how that particular sequence of words was able to transcend the sum of its parts. The work thus becomes inimitable. That's the case here.  So engaging are the travels of Lars Eighner and his dog, Lisbeth, that I developed an anxiety-ridden hyperawareness of the dangers they constantly ran, such as goo Hemingway said in a letter that when prose is magical, as it can be in Travels With Lizbeth, that the reader is never sure how it's done. You can reread it all you want and you will never quite know how that particular sequence of words was able to transcend the sum of its parts. The work thus becomes inimitable. That's the case here.  So engaging are the travels of Lars Eighner and his dog, Lisbeth, that I developed an anxiety-ridden hyperawareness of the dangers they constantly ran, such as good suspense writing will give you. Author Eighner is aware of it, too, but if anything he understates the risks. I was reminded of certain scenes in Cormac McCarthy's The Road, that post-apocalyptic dystopia. Yet the shopworn devices of suspense fiction are nowhere in evidence. What Eighner and pup went through was real. Then he will come up with some funny observation. For instance, about hitchhiking through Tucson, where he was harrassed by howling, gun-brandishing, drive-by rednecks, he writes:  I reflected on what our last ride had told me; Tucson--or so he said--was one of the few cities in America that was off limits to Soviet citizens. I supposed for that reason the Soviets had a number of missles aimed at Tucson. I took that as a reassuring thought. Arizona is a desolate wasteland, but it might be considerably improved by detonating a few H-bombs in and around Tucson. It is this interplay of pathos and humor, that and the beautifully spare prose--also, come to think of it, reminiscent of McCarthy, though without the biblical overtones--that enlivens the narrative. The prose is unadorned yet every page or two the reader is zinged by some bit of archaic vocabulary: eleemosynary, just one example, got a rise out of me. The story is alternately harrowing and tragic, heartrending and hilarious. The chapter "Dumpster Diving" has the thoroughness of an ethnographic study. The chapter describing Eighner's hospitalization for phlebitis reminded me of certain absurdist scenes from the film The Hospital written by Paddy Chayefsky. The crazies he runs into boggle the mind. Fortunately, before this period of homelessness Eighner had a long-time job in a mental health facility. So he is often able to recognize the symptoms and thus the diseases of his unfortunate fellows.The tales of these crazies he give us unadorned, letting the bonker's irrationalism stand for itself. One psychotic chap, Tim, off his medication, stalks Eighner from Austin to LA and back again. Casually Eighner begins to consider how he might kill the man and efficiently dispose of his body. Keep in mind that the author went through this ordeal of homelessness mostly in Austin, Texas, where the river of compassion seems little more than a dry stream bed. His indictment of that state's social service system is absolutely damning. To wit: It would have been greatly to my advantage if I could have admitted to being an alcoholic or a drug addict. The social workers have no way of assisting someone who is sane and sober. My interview with the social worker made it clear that only three explanations of homelessness could be considered: drug addiction, alcoholism, and psychiatric disorder. [Eighner was none of these.] The more successful I was in ruling out one of these explanations,, the more certain the others would become. Professional people like to believe this. They like to believe that no misfortune could cause them to lose their own privileged places. They like to believe that homelessness is the fault of the homeless--that homeless people have special flaws not common to the human condition, or at least that the homeless have flaws that professional people are immune to. One of the best things about the story is Lisbeth. An ordinary dog by most measures, she is a love, a protector and companion, a warm bed fellow. When she is seized by a dogcatcher for allegedly biting someone--she didn't--and is put on death row at the Austin pound, well, that was quite the heart-wrenching sequence for this reader. What a tale. It's very emotionally involving. Extraordinarily well written. Insightful and very human. Please read it.

  3. 5 out of 5

    Jessaka

    Adventurous, heartwarming and heartbreaking. If you wish to understand homelessness, this is one of the books you should read, or if you just like a good adventure, you would find this an interesting read, too, if you can even call it an adventure. Maybe it is just a book on survival, but it is also a dog story, and who doesn’t like a good dog story with a happy ending? It reminded me somewhat of “On the Road” by Jack Kerouac, but Lars doesn’t steal, do drugs, or drink alcohol, but some of his fri Adventurous, heartwarming and heartbreaking. If you wish to understand homelessness, this is one of the books you should read, or if you just like a good adventure, you would find this an interesting read, too, if you can even call it an adventure. Maybe it is just a book on survival, but it is also a dog story, and who doesn’t like a good dog story with a happy ending? It reminded me somewhat of “On the Road” by Jack Kerouac, but Lars doesn’t steal, do drugs, or drink alcohol, but some of his friends who are not homeless do. As a result he stays out of jail and goes hungry when he can’t find food. He learns to dumpster drive and spends a chapter describing how to do it without getting food poisoning. He even takes extra cans of food to the shelters. I have seen homeless people where I live, share that they have with others. It is very touching and giving. Lars is not just homeless on the streets, he also hitchhikes to California and then back to Austin a couple of times, just to look for work. On the way, he often found often himself sleeping along side of the road because no one had stopped to give him a ride. The one story that I couldn’t forget was when he was walking into the forest and camped along side of the road, along with his dog. He almost decided to sleep on a cement slab near the bridge that night, but instead slept under a tree. But I won’t say what would have happened if he had slept on the slab. I don’t wish to ruin that story. Then Lars found it impossible to get help from the government, because he needed proof of who he was, etc. Try keeping an I.D. when you get robbed, as he did a few times. Then at the time he was trying to get food stamps, you needed a kitchen before they would give them to you. Maybe he should have brought them a kitchen skin from some dumpster. Our government can be so Dickensian--low wages, no jobs, and making it hard for those who ask for help, especially those on the streets. Speaking of which, Lars expels many of the myths that surround homelessness. Not every one is a drug addict, an alcoholic, mentally ill, or lazy. It isn’t easy finding a job once you have become homeless. For examples, you don’t have a phone, perhaps not a car, or a place to bathe. What else stood out to me in this book is how the homeless are often treated cruelly by others who are faring much better, and how quickly a homeless person can get robbed of what little they own. I remember when I was volunteering to help the homeless, a homeless man talked about wishing he had a lock for his bike because his last one had been stolen. My husband and I bought him a chain and a lock, but the next time we saw him he was without a bike, a chain and a lock. We gave up trying to help him in this way. It was also nice to see that people were really trying to help Lars. Some who wouldn’t give him a ride, at least left food for him and/or his dog. Speaking of his loyal dog Lizbeth, and by loyal I mean that she stayed with him through thick and thin, as dogs often do, I often felt bad for her, too, as she didn’t always appear to be enjoying the trip. But Lars really loved her and took the best care of her, and sometimes it was heartbreaking because of this, but it all worked out by the end of the story. Note: While the author of this book was discreet about his sex life in most of this book, the last few chapters were somewhat explicit. I usually don't read books when they have erotica in them, but this book was such a great read with a lot of information in it that pertains to homelessness.

  4. 4 out of 5

    Ken

    I found this book thanks to a big New York Times feature on the best memoirs of the past 50 years. About a homeless guy and his dog, Lizbeth, it said. Sounds like nothing I've read before, I figured (having never read Steinbeck's Travels with Charley). So, yeah. If you ever wondered what it's like to be homeless, this will help. Ditto to be poor. Ditto to be an ace at dumpster-diving. Lars, Lars, Lars. He had an obvious disdain for "yuppies," making this sort of dated goods, but you get the idea. I found this book thanks to a big New York Times feature on the best memoirs of the past 50 years. About a homeless guy and his dog, Lizbeth, it said. Sounds like nothing I've read before, I figured (having never read Steinbeck's Travels with Charley). So, yeah. If you ever wondered what it's like to be homeless, this will help. Ditto to be poor. Ditto to be an ace at dumpster-diving. Lars, Lars, Lars. He had an obvious disdain for "yuppies," making this sort of dated goods, but you get the idea. The same "type" people are out and about now, just carrying a different name. One conclusion I can make: Guys with dogs, while still not wildly successful at it, are more likely to succeed at hitchhiking than guys without. Woof! Another star for the canine crew! All the hitchhiking in this book (Texas to Cali and back) will both increase and decrease your faith in the human race. Lots of jerks. Lots of scary people. And a few kind souls---even if they just hand Lars and Lizbeth leftover McDonald's or some money instead of a lift. So much sameness makes the chapters good and average. Various adventures with various characters are met with varied success by the author. Included in the book is the much-anthologized (or so it says in the afterword) chapter on dumpster diving. A veritable how-to! (I didn't take notes.) Glad I read it. Glad I finished it. That's the m.o. of 3-star books.

  5. 5 out of 5

    Nic

    A gripping piece of nonfiction. It's interesting (but not unsatisfying) that Eighner never alludes to how he became homeless. I surmise he walked away from a position working in a mental health facility and a social services position working with PWAs. They are high burnout careers, so that's not too shocking, but he seems to associate with a real counterculture contingent (ex-cons, ex-hippies, hardcore alcoholics) without wholly being part of any group. He's a true independent spirit. I really A gripping piece of nonfiction. It's interesting (but not unsatisfying) that Eighner never alludes to how he became homeless. I surmise he walked away from a position working in a mental health facility and a social services position working with PWAs. They are high burnout careers, so that's not too shocking, but he seems to associate with a real counterculture contingent (ex-cons, ex-hippies, hardcore alcoholics) without wholly being part of any group. He's a true independent spirit. I really appreciate the suspense inherent in a tale of on-the-streets survival and find his straightforward narrative voice refreshing. Eighnter walks a successful tightrope between making the reader aware of the politics of being homeless without ever becoming judgmental or preachy. His scenes are vivid, his voice literate, straight-forward and unsentimental. I used to teach his essay "On Dumpster Diving" in Freshman English. It's a treat to now read the whole adventure. By the chapter "Lizbeth on Death Row," I was surprized to discover how much I cared about the two protagonists. Reading this narrative is a deceptively deep experience and one that engenders empathy for people living out of the norm. I highly recommend it.

  6. 4 out of 5

    Ushan

    Lars Eighner has "an education in ethnic studies" but did not finish college; in the late 1980s, in his late 30s, he worked at "a state lunatic asylum" in Austin and supplemented his income by writing erotic short stories for gay magazines. He did not have a family but did have a dog he loved as his own child. After a conflict with the hospital management, he resigned under the threat of firing; one year later he was evicted from his apartment, and became homeless. He could not get unemployment Lars Eighner has "an education in ethnic studies" but did not finish college; in the late 1980s, in his late 30s, he worked at "a state lunatic asylum" in Austin and supplemented his income by writing erotic short stories for gay magazines. He did not have a family but did have a dog he loved as his own child. After a conflict with the hospital management, he resigned under the threat of firing; one year later he was evicted from his apartment, and became homeless. He could not get unemployment insurance because he quit his job on his own; he could not get food stamps because he did not have a kitchen to cook in (what a bizarre requirement!). Eighner remained homeless for about three years, sleeping in public parks, fishing in Dumpsters (finding so much food there that he donated surplus cans to a food bank for AIDS patients), and swimming in a public swimming pool instead of showering. He sometimes had sex with other men for money, though this did not seem to be a major source of his income. In search of a job, he hitchhiked to a friend in Hollywood, writing a script for an adult film, and back, running into various characters, from Good Samaritan Christian fundamentalists to winos and thieves. If Eighner had been alcoholic, addicted to drugs or mentally ill, there would have been institutions ready to help him, but he was neither nor was he willing to lie that he was. Admitted to a public hospital with phlebitis, he had to fight a "Dr. Stalin" who wanted to involuntarily commit him to a psychiatric hospital. At the end of the book, Eighner and his dog settled in an abandoned bar, where he wrote the book on a computer he fished out of a Dumpster.

  7. 5 out of 5

    Sean

    I remember when this book came out. Picked up a used copy somewhere along the line but never read it. Was curious to see how things have changed in the last 20 years. Not so much. We still hate homeless people. We still think it's their own moral failing. Of course, when we go back to our comfy homes we don't see someone like Lars working. Someone was just telling me about a camp that was just cleared. When one of those living there came back and saw it he asked where he was supposed to go. You I remember when this book came out. Picked up a used copy somewhere along the line but never read it. Was curious to see how things have changed in the last 20 years. Not so much. We still hate homeless people. We still think it's their own moral failing. Of course, when we go back to our comfy homes we don't see someone like Lars working. Someone was just telling me about a camp that was just cleared. When one of those living there came back and saw it he asked where he was supposed to go. You can imagine where she told him to go. Surprised Lard didn't spend much time in the public library. Maybe it was because of his view of government workers. But not much has changed, if you don't have a permanent address, we still hate you.

  8. 4 out of 5

    Joan

    I wanted to like this book. I feel bad saying a memoir is boring, but... A review says Eighner's style is "simple," which it is. Far too simple to hold my interest, personally. I'm no prude, nor am I at all homophobic, but I would have liked fewer descriptions of his sex life. Who he slept with while he was homeless is probably the last thing I wanted to know about. Perhaps the reason I was made uncomfortable by sex mentions was because I couldn't stop thinking about previous things he had said ab I wanted to like this book. I feel bad saying a memoir is boring, but... A review says Eighner's style is "simple," which it is. Far too simple to hold my interest, personally. I'm no prude, nor am I at all homophobic, but I would have liked fewer descriptions of his sex life. Who he slept with while he was homeless is probably the last thing I wanted to know about. Perhaps the reason I was made uncomfortable by sex mentions was because I couldn't stop thinking about previous things he had said about his hygiene. The afterword gave no explanation of what his life is like now, although he gives updates on every other person that was mentioned in the book. Apparently when he was writing the memoir he wanted to respect the privacy of the people mentioned, but when he later wrote the afterword he had no trouble revealing their full, real names and other personal details. Perhaps this is nitpicky (and some would say pretentious. After all, this was written by a man who didn't exactly have a good life at the time he wrote this), but another thing that irritated me to no end was his insistence in referring to the mentally ill as "crazy" or "insane." I found his language concerning the mentally ill to be surprisingly hurtful considering he claims to have worked with them in the past. The book does contain one good chapter, however. "On Dumpster Diving" has apparently been anthologized often, and it's easy to see why. My recommendation? Read "On Dumpster Diving," and skip the rest.

  9. 4 out of 5

    Barbara Carter

    This book held my interest, always wanting to know what was coming next. At times it felt as if I was travelling on the road with him and Lizbeth (his dog). It’s a great book for understanding more about homelessness. “On dumpster diving” a section on the how-to of living from a dumpster. He first became homeless after leaving a job he held for almost 10 years. The question I had asked myself was why did he not have a fear of homelessness, not seen it coming, and doing anything possible to have en This book held my interest, always wanting to know what was coming next. At times it felt as if I was travelling on the road with him and Lizbeth (his dog). It’s a great book for understanding more about homelessness. “On dumpster diving” a section on the how-to of living from a dumpster. He first became homeless after leaving a job he held for almost 10 years. The question I had asked myself was why did he not have a fear of homelessness, not seen it coming, and doing anything possible to have enough money to not become homeless. And maybe that is hindsight is called 20/20. Maybe he would have considered taking jobs that he wasn’t overqualified for, or felt they were beneath him he wouldn’t have slipped into homelessness. He also decided that he would not beg or steal to survive. Once you slip into homelessness getting out of the situation is not so simple. There are many rules about receiving food stamps and meeting certain requirements to receive other kind of help, and because he would not give up his dog Lisbeth it made finding a home pretty much impossible. There were times he could have also received help if he was an alcoholic, a drug addict, or had a mental illness. So, it shows the many cracks in the system to fall through. His dog was his companion he mainly travelled alone and did not hang out with groups of other men. This book has some description gay sex scenes. When I first picked this book up at a used book store, I had no idea that it was on the New York Times, or featured on another site as one of the fifty best memoirs in the past fifty years. At times I almost felt that by being homeless it also provided him the material for writing some interesting stories and wondered if he’d allowed himself to become homeless in the first place just for the experience and writing material. Don’t know, just a thought.

  10. 5 out of 5

    Andy

    This was, especially for me, five years new to Austin an interesting read showing the changes of the area in just the past 10-30 years or so. Mr Eighner has an extensive vocabulary, with an imaginative grasp of the circumstances around us.

  11. 5 out of 5

    Lisa

    3.5 stars

  12. 5 out of 5

    Stephen

    “A homeless life has no storyline. It is a pointless circular rambling about the stage that can be brought t happy conclusion only by a dues ex machina,” writes Lars Eighner. Heartfelt story about three years on the road and streets with the author and his dog Lizbeth. They were both homeless at the time. “Sometimes, especially when the rains had come and gone through the night many times and I had packed our gear up and led Lizbeth to some slight shelter and the rain had stopped and we had return “A homeless life has no storyline. It is a pointless circular rambling about the stage that can be brought t happy conclusion only by a dues ex machina,” writes Lars Eighner. Heartfelt story about three years on the road and streets with the author and his dog Lizbeth. They were both homeless at the time. “Sometimes, especially when the rains had come and gone through the night many times and I had packed our gear up and led Lizbeth to some slight shelter and the rain had stopped and we had returned to our bedroll only to be woke by renewed rains, sometimes I would think, my mind still fogged by sleep, ‘The hell with this. I am going home,’ as if I were some backyard camper, as f I had only to admit that my expedition was not so much fun as I thought it would be, as if I could give it up, pack my gear, and go inside to my own warm bed. I did not have many nightmares, but this was the cruelest dream.”

  13. 4 out of 5

    Victoria

    In Travels With Lizbeth, Lars Eighner chronicles his several years as a homeless man with his dog, Lizbeth, in the southwestern states (Austin, Texas and Los Angeles, California, and the hitchhiking adventures between the two). I found it to be an insightful and, at times, surprising look at the condition of being homeless. It is easy to make assumptions about the whole of the homeless condition and those who live it, but Eighner in many ways defies these assumptions. An educated writer who does In Travels With Lizbeth, Lars Eighner chronicles his several years as a homeless man with his dog, Lizbeth, in the southwestern states (Austin, Texas and Los Angeles, California, and the hitchhiking adventures between the two). I found it to be an insightful and, at times, surprising look at the condition of being homeless. It is easy to make assumptions about the whole of the homeless condition and those who live it, but Eighner in many ways defies these assumptions. An educated writer who does not use drugs and rarely drinks, Eighner does not fit the stereotype of the Typical Homeless Man - and neither does, he reports, most of the rest of the homeless population. From overarching insight to personal anecdote, this book both made me laugh and at times brought me to tears. It is a poignant story of a situation that so few of us ever come to understand.

  14. 5 out of 5

    J.D. Romann

    One of the few books I've kept on my shelf, for two decades now, despite two cross-country moves. So pleased to see a 20th anniversary re-release of this moving memoir that stuck with me all these years, metaphorically and literally. One of the few books I've kept on my shelf, for two decades now, despite two cross-country moves. So pleased to see a 20th anniversary re-release of this moving memoir that stuck with me all these years, metaphorically and literally.

  15. 4 out of 5

    Sylvia Johnson

    I learned about this book in a NY Times article on the 50 best memoirs. It is an older book that takes place during the AIDs crisis but it is still relevant with its experience of homelessness which is even worse today. The writing is mainly very good but can be uneven.

  16. 4 out of 5

    Cyanemi

    I did not like this book. I thought the author was extremely irresponsible sexually and also with his dog. Dogs should never be homeless.

  17. 4 out of 5

    Richard Martin

    A book I've been pressing people for years. Read it over if you've read it once. A book I've been pressing people for years. Read it over if you've read it once.

  18. 5 out of 5

    Rachel

    "On Dumpster Diving" was one of my favorite essays to teach out of the freshman comp reader when I taught at NAU. I had just moved from Austin to Flagstaff, so I felt more connected to it because of that- even if it was circumscribed to the refuse of a city 15 years older than the one I had left. And it contained practical advice for a graduate assistant living in a town that was known for its "poverty with a view." There was a robust community of freecyclers holding anarchist potlucks- so it wa "On Dumpster Diving" was one of my favorite essays to teach out of the freshman comp reader when I taught at NAU. I had just moved from Austin to Flagstaff, so I felt more connected to it because of that- even if it was circumscribed to the refuse of a city 15 years older than the one I had left. And it contained practical advice for a graduate assistant living in a town that was known for its "poverty with a view." There was a robust community of freecyclers holding anarchist potlucks- so it was wise to know what to look out for at those dinner parties. Reading about road trips right now- no matter how fraught- is appealing to me. Most of the book details his day-to-day struggles finding shelter in Austin or Los Angeles. It's a grind hampered by extraordinarily dysfunctional people, who- nevertheless- sometimes manage to pull through at critical moments, and rather than criticize his social network, he rightfully criticizes the systems supposedly designed to help poor people that left him without any resources. (The chapter on his phlebitis and time in the public hospital was especially alarming.) But the highlights for me were his times on the road- just the ability to do something so haphazardly and remain relatively unscathed- and still find the ability to write well amidst the chaos- at least sometimes. It's an incredible story.

  19. 5 out of 5

    David Glenn Dixon

    “For Christmas I gave myself an oil lamp,” says Lars Eighner, with satisfaction and no small degree of pride. This after a woman gives him $20, having seen him rooting in a dumpster in the dead of an uncharacteristically cold Austin winter. This anachronistic detail is of a piece with the restrained and slightly antique language Eighner ironically deploys in his account of a three-year stretch of a peculiarly principled homelessness. Among his rules: No stealing, no begging, no abandoning his do “For Christmas I gave myself an oil lamp,” says Lars Eighner, with satisfaction and no small degree of pride. This after a woman gives him $20, having seen him rooting in a dumpster in the dead of an uncharacteristically cold Austin winter. This anachronistic detail is of a piece with the restrained and slightly antique language Eighner ironically deploys in his account of a three-year stretch of a peculiarly principled homelessness. Among his rules: No stealing, no begging, no abandoning his dog, Lizbeth, or doing anything that would endanger her. In the usual boy and his dog story, it's the animal who is represented as the more faithful party. Lizbeth is a friendly and constant companion, and sometimes, in circumstances of potential peril, she makes herself useful, rising to the challenge of presenting a menacing facade that runs contrary to her affable nature. But it is Lars who goes to superhuman lengths to ensure her health and happiness, forgoing food while hauling around pounds of hers, refusing any manner of help that would strand her or send her to the pound, and abstaining from any behavior that could attract the authorities, which would likely result in her being "put to death." Eighner does not think of this grim and at times even likely possibility as her being "put to sleep." He considers it murder. And yet Lizbeth is not some winsome cutie, not one of the fur babies people talk about today. Here, there is love but without pretense. The part of the book most folks are likely to recognize is the standalone chapter On Dumpster Diving, which has been anthologized and assigned to the point that it's easier to find study guides and term papers about it than a copy of the book itself. While it's true that readers aren't likely to forget that bit, this time out I found myself paying more attention to things I didn't remember from when I read it a couple of decades ago: the language, the tone, the scope, the flow, the pacing of incidents, the unpredictable reappearances of unreliable characters. Back then I was reading mainly art catalogs and music journalism and although I tried a number of memoirs, few resonated strongly. My mind was fixed on other things. But the three stars I gave to Lizbeth then have turned into five stars now. Setting is never a mere backdrop when you're describing life on the streets. (But it isn't "almost a character in its own right," all you lazy hacks.) The way characters confront and adapt to their surroundings or lack thereof is the very heart of the matter. Eighner is a master at conveying how setting amplifies and distorts and wizens the character of various people, himself included, twisting around qualities which might otherwise have been judged innate. His thoughts on the multidimensional chicken-and-egg problem of poverty and alcoholism and homelessness and madness says a lot about his skill for observation and analysis, the canny attention to detail, the penetrating insight, the counterintuitive summing up. He's also great at bureaucracy and all its unaccountable failures. In brief, clear, yet absurdist paragraphs, he makes mystifying sense of the paradoxical decision trees that govern public assistance, policing, medicine, and law. These comical mindfucks pass by at dizzying speed. Just as he's loath to dwell on his suffering in the histrionic way one might expect, he doesn't lavish too much time on some of his fiercest foes. He sticks the knife in, gives it a good twist or two, and seeing the monster for the juggernaut it is, moves on. It turns out, for example, that food stamps in Texas are basically forbidden to be given to those who most need them, but fraudulent access to them is eagerly provided to citizen and public servant alike. Similar passages disclose, if somewhat elliptically, how Eighner ended up on the streets despite being skilled, albeit without credential, in trades as varied as journalism, psychiatric and AIDS–related healthcare, and the scripting of gay porn. Eighner withholds a lot from the reader and some of the darkest parts of his biography receive only a flicker of light. Where even a writer as icy as Joan Didion rightly plays up the agony of migraine headaches, how they can make you run a red light as the rest of your world dissolves into pain, Eighner even more coolly—in a single mention yet—suggests that they may have derailed his entire education and working life. And that datum is over and gone, vanishing so quickly you can't be sure you registered it properly. At times throughout the book you pause at length, scratching your head and wondering how someone so talented and able can be cast beyond the pale of civilization and thrown back on the few resources he can carry. Then you remember the cheerfully callous approach to illness and misfortune during the Reagan/Bush era and you note that decades later the #1 cause of homelessness is healthcare. And you welcome yourself back to America. // There are a couple of reasons to pick up this particular edition. However much I regret getting rid of my original hardcover, the new afterword includes vital info about literary style and inspiration, mainly Swift, as well as the real identities of various people whose privacy Eighner found reason to respect back in '93. Also, Danny Campbell's reading is spot-on. Eighner has confessed that he's never been able to effectively read his own work aloud. He doesn't think that way. He writes for the page. But his sentences are never so complex that the audio format would leave them tangled in knots. Campbell well understands Eighner's distinctive tone, applying just the right attitude to bring it to the ear in all its wit. // A little further down the rabbit hole: More Eighner writings, including a short essay about Lizbeth: https://larseighner.com/works/index.html 1993 Fresh Air interview: https://freshairarchive.org/segments/... J.R. Ackerley's My Dog Tulip, another memoir of the travels of a gay man and his dog, only without homelessness and with a far greater focus on bodily functions https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/9...

  20. 4 out of 5

    Lyn

    This rating is about a 3.7. I read this book several years after it had been reissued with an updating chapter in 2013. Although the three years of homelessness that is written about occurred over 25 years ago, in a way most of the events are timeless and can be related to today. As the author makes clear, this is not a study of homelessness or a view of it in general, but is an accounting about his experiences and perspectives. The book gives one much to ponder. The writing to me was somewhat st This rating is about a 3.7. I read this book several years after it had been reissued with an updating chapter in 2013. Although the three years of homelessness that is written about occurred over 25 years ago, in a way most of the events are timeless and can be related to today. As the author makes clear, this is not a study of homelessness or a view of it in general, but is an accounting about his experiences and perspectives. The book gives one much to ponder. The writing to me was somewhat strange in that: 1) It was basically well and clearly written, and easy to follow and relate. 2) However, every few pages he would pop in a long, complicated vocabulary word that many readers would not know, in a sentence where a somewhat simpler word would have done better. This was repeatedly jarring and became irritating, but this was a minor irritation.

  21. 5 out of 5

    Joseph Stewart

    This book ticks so many boxes I ran out of metaphorical ink! Heartfelt personal memoirs are one of my favourite genres and I've always had a soft spot for road trip/tramping books like Down & Out In Paris & London, Dharma Bums and The Grapes of Wrath so I'm surprised it took me so long to discover this gem. Lars Eighner has crafted a poignant non-romatized account of life as a homeless man (and dog). Travelling from Austin, Texas to L.A. and back and forth with his trusty dog Lisbeth at his side This book ticks so many boxes I ran out of metaphorical ink! Heartfelt personal memoirs are one of my favourite genres and I've always had a soft spot for road trip/tramping books like Down & Out In Paris & London, Dharma Bums and The Grapes of Wrath so I'm surprised it took me so long to discover this gem. Lars Eighner has crafted a poignant non-romatized account of life as a homeless man (and dog). Travelling from Austin, Texas to L.A. and back and forth with his trusty dog Lisbeth at his side he chronicles his down and out life in the late 1980's, early 1990's. He's gritty with the reality of his position but never asks the reader for pity and there's definitely a lot of dark humour to keep things interesting as well. He's also a gay man and reading about his experiences with the backdrop of the AIDS epidemic (still quite new at the time) gives the book that much more resonance.

  22. 4 out of 5

    Ronni Shulman

    Very few books about homelessness are written from the perspective of the homeless. This is not a social treatise on homelessness per se, but rather a first person account of one man’s experience on the road with his dog in Texas, Arizona and California. He is educated and bright, and not mentally ill or drug or alcohol addicted, so he defies the stereotypes of the homeless. We read a detailed account of his experiences finding food, shelter and rides from one place to another. Like “Nickel & Di Very few books about homelessness are written from the perspective of the homeless. This is not a social treatise on homelessness per se, but rather a first person account of one man’s experience on the road with his dog in Texas, Arizona and California. He is educated and bright, and not mentally ill or drug or alcohol addicted, so he defies the stereotypes of the homeless. We read a detailed account of his experiences finding food, shelter and rides from one place to another. Like “Nickel & Dimed,” Barbara Ehrenrich’s account of her stint as a member of the working poor, this book is a must-read; giving a face to homelessness that may change some entrenched prejudices toward one of today’s most pressing social issues.

  23. 4 out of 5

    M

    It's a Travels with Charley turned upside down. Writer of short stories and screenplays, Austin, Texas, resident, the gay man Lars Eighner, finds himself suddenly homeless. Unable to apply for food stamps (no address), for job placement assistance (he's a freelancer and sober) or emergency housing (there's the dog, Lizbeth), Eighner begins hitchhiking to Los Angeles, where he has been promised a place to live and a job writing for an adult-movie producer. He travels to California, back to Texas, It's a Travels with Charley turned upside down. Writer of short stories and screenplays, Austin, Texas, resident, the gay man Lars Eighner, finds himself suddenly homeless. Unable to apply for food stamps (no address), for job placement assistance (he's a freelancer and sober) or emergency housing (there's the dog, Lizbeth), Eighner begins hitchhiking to Los Angeles, where he has been promised a place to live and a job writing for an adult-movie producer. He travels to California, back to Texas, back to California, and back to Texas again over the next three years, meeting unforgettable characters and writing, writing, writing. He never abandons his most trusted companion, Lizbeth. Includes the Pushcart Prize-winning essay, "Dumpster Diving."

  24. 5 out of 5

    David

    Among the many pleasures of reading books is the ability to experience lives and worlds the reader probably will never experience for real. This book is presents one such world - that of the homeless person. Eighner, living on the edge financially, loses his job and ends up with no means of support. He and his dog, Lizbeth, live homeless for several years and survive. While some of the chapters are a bit too detailed and some of Eighner’s choices may be questionable, he tells those of us lucky e Among the many pleasures of reading books is the ability to experience lives and worlds the reader probably will never experience for real. This book is presents one such world - that of the homeless person. Eighner, living on the edge financially, loses his job and ends up with no means of support. He and his dog, Lizbeth, live homeless for several years and survive. While some of the chapters are a bit too detailed and some of Eighner’s choices may be questionable, he tells those of us lucky enough to be far from homeless what the life is like. His chapter on Dumpster Diving is exceptional. And his love for Lizbeth is something every dog owner can identify with.

  25. 4 out of 5

    Starrygordon

    This is one of the great American autobiographies. 'Who touches this book touches a man,' as Walt Whitman said. One also touches a country, as I can say after having lived out some of the scenes and levels of being described in the book. It is the truth for once, the truth of a time and place which will soon be scraped clean and sold again and again. And will come back. Especially the glass staircase.... This is one of the great American autobiographies. 'Who touches this book touches a man,' as Walt Whitman said. One also touches a country, as I can say after having lived out some of the scenes and levels of being described in the book. It is the truth for once, the truth of a time and place which will soon be scraped clean and sold again and again. And will come back. Especially the glass staircase....

  26. 4 out of 5

    Gerty

    This was such an interesting book. The author does such an incredible job of portraying homelessness and how it could happen to almost anyone. His writing is so well done, he maintains an almost third party outlook even though he is directly involved in the situation. But his love for Lizbeth shines throughout. Most importantly though, I found his musings on mental illness and the social service system in this country spot on. It’s amazing to see how little has changed since 1994.

  27. 4 out of 5

    Cakester

    I read this book years after reading his wonderful essay, "On Dumpster Diving". Eighner's prose sometimes seems a little distant from the events in the book, as if he was telling them but couldn't remember how he felt. In the author's note he discusses his stoicness. In any case this wasn't like any book I had read before and I mostly enjoyed it. I definitely was grateful for the roof over my head and wondered how it would be to live in a grove of bamboo. I read this book years after reading his wonderful essay, "On Dumpster Diving". Eighner's prose sometimes seems a little distant from the events in the book, as if he was telling them but couldn't remember how he felt. In the author's note he discusses his stoicness. In any case this wasn't like any book I had read before and I mostly enjoyed it. I definitely was grateful for the roof over my head and wondered how it would be to live in a grove of bamboo.

  28. 5 out of 5

    Cyd

    A very compelling book--hard to put down. He never whines, but simply relates his experience of absolute poverty and the struggle to keep himself and his dog alive. I laughed many times, but I also got angry and frustrated along with him at the ridiculous illogic of the alleged "social welfare" system. He has a pleasing style and a depth of writerly determination. A very compelling book--hard to put down. He never whines, but simply relates his experience of absolute poverty and the struggle to keep himself and his dog alive. I laughed many times, but I also got angry and frustrated along with him at the ridiculous illogic of the alleged "social welfare" system. He has a pleasing style and a depth of writerly determination.

  29. 5 out of 5

    Marianne

    Compelling Although somewhat disheartened at their weekly travails, I was also impressed with his fortitude. Perhaps occasionally his loyalties were misplaced and more than once made some bone headed assumptions which cost the loss of their belongings but all in all a interesting man and a fine writer.

  30. 5 out of 5

    dgmarcus2009

    Well worth the read, most unique Provided a new perspective on understanding homelessness and helped eliminate stereotypes one has of individuals who very unfortunately are in the circumstance

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