From the College of Humanities and Social Sciences
On the Bookshelf
Brandon Shrand

Brandon R. Shrand

Writing Failure to Be Better

By Jacob Jensen

Writing is an epistemological undertaking to give order to chaos for author Brandon R. Schrand. For him, literature helps us further understand what we know, what we don’t, and try to access it. Schrand,’03, aims to make sense of his own world with his new book Works Cited: An Alphabetical Odyssey of Mayhem and Misbehavior. The book, published in March, follows a curious structure—a memoir written in the format of a works cited page.

The idea for using the works cited format originated while Schrand was teaching a graduate nonfiction class about experimental forms for essays at the University of Idaho, where he is an assistant professor. Schrand was intrigued by the notion of writing an entire essay following the format of a works cited page and wrote one titled “Works Cited,” which was featured in The Missouri Review in 2008.

After performing a reading of the piece at the Hemingway Festival in Sun Valley, Idaho, Joshua Ferris, author of the national bestseller Then Came We to the End, suggested “Works Cited” had great potential as a book. Schrand considered the idea and sat in his library flipping through books, looking for “triggers of memory,” he said.

As he leafed through pages of books he read growing up he found notes, plane tickets, and even the phone number of a girl he had placed between the pages; each item tied to a memory. Schrand selected works for his memoir that were important contributors to his journey from boyhood to manhood, including Ernest Hemingway’s Old Man and the Sea, David Foster Wallace’s A Supposedly Fun Thing I’ll Never Do Again, and S. E. Hinton’s The Outsiders. Schrand doesn’t limit Works Cited to the happier moments of his life. He includes many not-so-flattering moments and details some personal failures.

“I choose to write honestly about the vulnerabilities of the human condition by first implicating myself. I think it is important that we make ourselves uncomfortable,” he said. “If you’re unwilling to make yourself uncomfortable, whether that means traveling to a foreign country, trying a new kind of cuisine, or reading engaging literature, or watching artful film, then you really aren’t living, not in any meaningful sense anyway. The so-called taboos in my book—sex, drugs, alcohol, promiscuity—are just as central to the human condition as anything deemed ‘normal.’”

Schrand hopes readers will find some part of themselves within Works Cited.

“I write candidly about what it means to fail as a human, father, lover, husband, writer, student, whatever, and what it means to get back up and do better, and to be better,” he said. “That, I think, is a universal experience.”