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 and 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 he fell in love with along the way.
Schrand first connects with the West —and his own family’s story of settling in the region—through Wallace Stegner’s The 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.
This review originally appeared in High Country News.
Works Cited: An Alphabetical Odyssey of Mayhem and Misbehavior
By Brandon R. Schrand
University of Nebraska
221 pages, $16.95