Brandon R. Schrand’s second book, Works Cited: an Alphabetical Odyssey of Mayhem and Misbehavior, depicts the author’s life through an obsessive love of literature. He parallels each personal essay with a book that influenced that particular time in his life, and the entries vary as to whether it is a passing reference to a book or a detailed homage. The first entry in Works Cited, Ed Abbey’s Desert Solitaire, describes Schrand’s being arrested in Arizona while he was out driving through red rock canyons and smoking weed with his fraternity brothers, also missing a class discussion of Desert Solitaire though he has a copy of it with him in the car. It is a beginning that shows us four constants the memoir revolves around: stunning Western landscape, trouble with authority, a boy trying to become a man, and the books (not classes) he fell in love with along the way.
Schrand comes to connect with the West and with his own family’s story of settling the region through Stegner’s Big Rock Candy Mountain, Proulx’s Close Range, and Kittredge’s Hole in the Sky. He leaves a working-class life, and it takes him seven years to graduate from Southern Utah University; his conservative, wealthy classmates laugh at his long hair and his ignorance of grammar. Graduate school rejects him the first time around, but he takes refuge in reading even as he gets married and starts a family. It is reading that ultimately helps him find his way to maturity and makes him the writer and professor he becomes: ”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.”
The flow of Works Cited is occasionally disorienting as it is organized alphabetically by the name of the author of the book in discussion and not chronologically. Nevertheless, the structure is a creative and unprecedented way for Schrand to cover the emotional territory of his early adulthood and show the relationship between his own life and literature. Works Cited is a riveting story about the possibility of books to transform a horny, drunken, aimless teenager into a self-aware and loving father, husband, and writer.
Originally appeared in High Country News