Reading to maturity


Works Cited: An Alphabetical Odyssey of Mayhem and Misbehavior
Brandon R. Schrand
221 pages, softcover:

University of Nebraska Press, 2013. Brandon R. Schrand's second book, Works Cited: An Alphabetical Odyssey of Mayhem and Misbehavior, retraces the Idaho author's life through his obsessive love of literature. Each personal essay is paired with notes about a book that influenced that time in his life, with entries varying from passing references to detailed tributes. The first essay introduces us to a college-age Schrand as he's arrested in Arizona while driving through red-rock canyons, smoking pot with his fraternity brothers. Schrand ends up missing out on a class discussion of Ed Abbey's Desert Solitaire, although he has a copy of the book in the car. This beginning introduces four constants around which the memoir revolves: stunning Western landscapes, trouble with authority, a boy trying to become a man, and the books (not the classes) he fell in love with along the way.

Schrand first connects with the West -- and with his own family's story of settling in the region -- through Wallace Stegner's Big Rock Candy Mountain, Annie Proulx's Close Range, and William Kittredge's Hole in the Sky. He leaves a working-class life to attend Southern Utah University, and it takes him seven years to graduate; his conservative, wealthy classmates mock his long hair and his ignorance of grammar. Graduate school rejects him the first time around, but he takes refuge in books: "On some afternoons when charcoal thunderheads crowded the horizon, throwing the brushy hills into shadow, and when yellow-headed blackbirds pecked in the gravel parking lot, I would read." Even as he gets married and starts a family, it is reading that ultimately helps him find his way to maturity and, eventually, a career as a writer and professor.

The flow of Works Cited is occasionally disorienting; rather than being chronologically organized, it is assembled alphabetically, using the name of each book's author. Nevertheless, the structure functions as a creative way for Schrand to explore the emotional territory of his early adulthood. Works Cited is a riveting story about literature's potential to transform a life, as we watch an undisciplined teenager with vague ambitions slowly become a self-aware and loving father, husband and author.

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