Works Cited: an Alphabetical Odyssey of Mayhem and Misbehavior
Brandon R. Schrand
Lincoln, Nebraska: University of Nebraska Press, 2013.
242 pages, $16.95
In Nick Hornby’s first novel, High Fidelity, the narrator, Rob, describes how he has reorganized his massive record collection “autobiographically,” – that is not by way of a sensible, librarian friendly, alphabetical or dewey decimal scheme, but based on the order in which he purchased them. He hopes through this process to write the story of his life, not with words, but with his record collection. Works Cited: an Alphabetical Odyssey of Mayhem and Misbehavior, the newest book by University of Idaho creative writing professor Brandon R. Schrand, is Schrand’s similar attempt to tell his own life story through his book collection – but arranged alphabetically instead of chronologically.
Schrand begins each chapter of Works Cited by naming the author and title of an important book from his personal library followed by an essay explaining the significance of that book in his own life’s story. The first chapter, for example, is titled “Abbey, Edward. Desert Solitaire” and tells how Schrand blew off his college classes one week (including a class in which he was assigned to read Desert Solitaire) and went on a road trip to Arizona with his fraternity brothers where they were all arrested for possession of marijuana.
A later chapter, “Thompson, Hunter S. Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas” tells the story of Schrand’s botched attempt as an undergraduate to invite Hunter S. Thompson to speak at a Southern Utah University convocation by using letterhead and envelopes he pilfered from the university. Naturally, this episode is an example of some of the mayhem in this book. Schrand writes “First, I failed to consider postal logistics. If the letter had bounced back as undeliverable, which it did, it would go not to me but to the university. Second, I signed my name to the letter” (199). This chapter, of course, ends with a scene in the office of the Dean of Students.
Another chapter titled “Hornby, Nick. High Fidelity” focuses on his particularly bad breakup with a girl named Mary and the consolation and therapy all young men can gain from reading Hornby’s great novel with its themes of record collecting and poor romantic decision making. Schrand begins the chapter by saying “This is the book you read when you are a man and your love life goes south” (87).
Throughout the twenty-six alphabetically arranged chapters of Works Cited, Schrand takes the reader on a tour of the books that have been there for him on his journey from his childhood in Soda Springs to his college years in Utah and to his adulthood as a father and professor in north central Idaho. But “adulthood” might be overstating or overestimating Schrand’s level of maturity. Not because Brandon is not an adult, but, rather, because this book is about the process of becoming an adult by someone who recognizes that his journey isn’t over yet. This is not a book by a wise sage looking back on a long life full of mistakes, triumphs, regrets and successes. Rather, this is a book by an author who realizes that even though he’s come a long way, he still has a long way to go.
Considering the emphasis that the state of Idaho is placing on getting its high school students to move on to college, I would particularly recommend this book to libraries interested in developing their Young Adult collections. This book is a fairly typical story of the pitfalls that will be encountered by any underprepared Idaho high school student attempting to leave the comfortable familiarity of small town Idaho as they move into the world of higher education.
Schrand’s first book, The Enders Hotel, was an honorable mention for the 2008 Idaho book award and I can’t wait to see what he writes next.
George Williams is the Access Services Manager at Latah County Library District.