Dear Jay, I have just finished reading the incredible 'By Grace and Thumb'. Your honest, thought provoking words have left me completely inspired and uplifted. As so often with books, I feel this one fell into my lap at just the right time in my life - thank you. I yearn to live a life of music without the distraction of 'work for money'. I have also long dreamed of hitching my way overseas, with just my wits and a djembe drum to get me by. Reading your book has definitely accelerated my progress toward achieving these dreams.
3 Feb 2011 | Thanks again, Kent (Australia)
This is an amazing book - offers a true insight into the real America. Motorcycles & Gumballs was my favourite chapter - full of insight, life and fun!! This is the first time I have taken in a real image of what America is truly like through the eyes of a simple, honest man -- and the author wasn't afraid to hide the ugly bits. ;-) I'll definitely read this book again! xx Lisa
29 Dec 2010 | Lisa Perry
‘By Grace and Thumb’ by Jay Bishoff, is a book that can’t be neatly pigeon-holed. It is, amongst other things; a travel yarn, an adventure story, a light hearted spiritual discourse, an instruction manual, a memoir, a political commentary and an insightful portrait of America. However, the novel in no way shows signs of suffering from multiple personality disorder, Jay cleverly integrates the myriad aspects of his adventure into a coherent whole with apparent ease. In fact ‘ease’ is a word that springs to mind repeatedly when I reflect on ‘By Grace and Thumb’, (and for an enjoyable and interesting book to be easy and relaxing for the reader, it usually takes great effort on the part of the author). The style is easy, natural and unpretentious, and it becomes apparent that these three words apply fittingly to the author himself as one reads the book; this is a book that has a very natural flow and a skillful tempo that helps the reader associate with the adventure and vicariously join right in with it. The book is friendly and funny (it thankfully avoids being ‘cute’), even when tackling the serious political issues which inevitably crop up in a venture occurring throughout America in the age of “terror”.
This true story follows Jay as he hitches from the East Coast of the USA to the West Coast and up into Canada, dodging overzealous cops along the way, there is also an exhilarating few days spent in Mexico. ‘By Grace and Thumb’ is not restricted to America; it has a scattering of anecdotes from around the globe, including a wonderfully surprising family episode in Australia.
There are plenty of interesting revelations and insights throughout the book and it is scattered with sections of excellent advice on the sadly declining art of hitchhiking It’s easy to imagine readers getting inspired to hit the road armed with some of Jay’s inspiration and excellent hitching wisdom. Advice includes sections on appearance, honesty, locations and even the sexuality of hitchhiking. Jay’s advice on thumbing ethically and honestly really struck a chord with me; as deceptive, unethical hitchers are a major part of the decline of the once great cultural pastime.
I doubt that a reader would need hitchhiking experience to enjoy this book, but if you are a hitchhiker (past or present) ‘By Grace and Thumb’ is evocative and will bring that hitching “feeling” to you as you read, possibly causing the reader to stay awake much longer than intended to keep enjoying the sensation.
The reader meets many varied characters on the journey, from the delightful African-American entrepreneur, Charles, who takes Jay to Mexico on a 'bone statue run', to the chillingly, creepy Hugh and Cynthia, who make a far less welcome proposal. There is a cast of very real people including (amongst those less so); broken hearted super-consumers, unhinged philosophers, a small army of “Ween” fans, an ex-homeless genius, a frightening but gentle “Quasimodo” and a motorbike designer to the stars. Jay skillfully and insightfully handles each of them.
As a snapshot of America in troubled times, there is an abundance of illustrative conversations and anecdotes that do well in sketching the thinking and the vibe of the times. There seems to be huge stretches of country that are peopled by conservative, fearful folk who happily leave hitchhikers marooned and, as Jay finds, it was unusual to score a ride with a Bush voter.
To sum up, for me, starting this book was like starting out on a hitchhiking adventure, I had no idea what to expect. What I received was abundant enjoyment, a measure of enlightenment and plenty of good advice (thankfully, none of which was condescending). Stylistically, “By Grace and Thumb” is not flashy or virtuosic and this is a good thing, just as Jay is more attuned to the more down-to-earth acts at the Walnut Valley Bluegrass Festival, he stays true to himself with unpretentious language and form in his book. I got the strong impression that this book was written with a tangible sense of generosity, and along with ease; generosity is another word that I strongly associate with ‘By Grace and Thumb’.
07 Jan 2011 | Fat Andy
When i met you on my last day in Oz i was pretty thrilled. I finally met someone who wasn't like the goon-drinking-hangover-
battling backpackers I had seen so much of in Australia. After reading your book, I decided I wouldn't travel in New Zealand like I had in Australia. I wanted to go for the real deal this time.
In Australia I had travelled around in a hired camper van and by bus. I met loads of people and had heaps of fun, but I didnt feel I was actually travelling the way I wanted to. Reading your book while hitchhiking in New Zealand was a great way to pick up useful tips about hitching, learning through a veteran hitcher's shared experiences. After hitching a week in New Zealand, I realised I had really missed out by not hitchhiking in Australia. I met way more interesting people in two days by thumb than i would've met if I stayed in a hostel for two weeks. Your book has raised hitchhiking to another level, almost making it a religion. I think your book is a great way to re-teach the world about the awesome hitchhiking phenomenon, so people will lose their fears about hitching and hitchhikers, and enjoy reconnecting with their fellow man.
18 Jan 2011 | Rob (Holland)
As a day-to-day hitchhiker, I found this book inspiring, realistic and extremely helpful. As a human being, I found it compassionate, humble and touching, right down to the true definition and understanding of love. I have traveled the United States five times but never from such an angle of raw, open road experience. You can almost taste the dense heat of the asphalt as Jay Bishoff takes you on an adventurous journey across one of the biggest continents in the world with only a backpack, guitar and his trusty thumb to help him along the way. Through a diverse array of characters, Jay has shown that trust is not yet lost in a world ruled by paranoia. Hitchhiking has been severely diminished across the planet, but Jay’s honest book proves it still has a pulse. This book also reminds us it is never too late to live the dream.
22 Jan 2011 | James Trethaway (Australian-American hip-hop artist)
Hi Jay, I loved reading your book. It gave me an insight into the American psyche and dispelled some of my stereotypes - not all Americans are right wing bible-bashing nutters, after all! Took me back to my days on the road in Europe and the Middle East. Congratulations on writing a great book, and thanks for taking me along for the ride.
28 Feb 2011 | Cheers, David Licence (Australia)