Reading Books Together: A Podcast with Deborah Brothers & John Paul Jaramillo
Music “Viv” by Joel Styzens from Relax Your Ears
For June 2022, Deborah Brothers and John Paul Jaramillo feature the 2015 book by Los Angeles native and columnist Wendy C. Ortiz, Excavation–A Memoir. They discuss memory and the difficulty of writing about trauma.
–Deborah Brothers holds a Ph.D. in English Studies and reviews books for Choice and The Lion and the Unicorn and her essays, fiction, and scholarly work have appeared in several publications.
–John Paul Jaramillo holds an MFA in Creative Writing and is the author of three books: The House of Order, Little Mocos, and Carlos Montoya.
A quick nonfiction excerpt from a project I’m working on:
The dark haired boy, bare footed and tired takes the reins of the mare and throws his leg over with a kick. He’s been waiting for hours to ride. His lips widen and then he nearly lets himself giggle as the mount kicks and strides away from the Jefe and the fieldwork. The Jefe told the boy the horse needed rest and grain and so the boy bit at his lip and clipped onions until twilight. And after a day’s work the boy’s energy rivals the horse’s and the boy lurches with each powerful jump nearly uncontrollably for hundreds of yards. After weeks of side jobs it is the first time the boy has ventured out. When the boy finally thinks to check back, the old man wipes at his forehead and at the back of his neck. The old man’s face is small and worrisome. And the boy’s face glows for the horse and the yards paced ahead.
Drafting and revising semi-orphaned novel project but had some time to finish reading Orwell’s memoir/nonfiction/autobiographical novel about a young writer’s time in the ghettos of Paris and London. He works in restaurants and sleeps in homeless hostels. Pawns his clothes for food and also closely observes the down and out people he encounters. What strikes me most in Orwell’s work has to be his readability and the chapter movements. I’m also struck at his closely drawn character studies of those he encounters–the fat man in Paris and also Bozo in England are the stand outs. One thing that seems consistent throughout his writing is the strong sense of empathy and humanity. Here’s one of my favorite passages:
“Yet if one looks closely one sees that there is no essential difference between a beggar’s livelihood and that of numberless respectable people. Beggars do not work, it is said; but, then what is work? A navy works by swinging a pick. An accountant works by adding up figures. A beggar works by standing out-of-doors in all weathers and getting varicose veins, chronic bronchitis, etc. It is a trade like any other; quite useless, of course – but, then many reputable trades are quite useless. And as a social type a beggar compares well with scores of others. He is honest compared with the sellers of a Sunday newspaper proprietor, amiable compared with a hire-purchase tout – in short, a parasite, but a fairly harmless parasite. He seldom extracts more than a bare living from the community, and, what should justify him according to our ethical ideas, he pays for it over and over in suffering. I do not think there is anything about a beggar that sets him in a different class from other people, or gives most modern men the right to despise him.
“Then the question arises, Why are beggars despised? — for they are despised, universally. I believe it is for the simple reason that they fail to earn a decent living. In practice nobody cares whether work is useful or useless, productive or parasitic; the sole thing demanded is that is shall be profitable.”
Just received Orwell’s memoir in the mail and can’t wait to reread. Haven’t looked at it in years. I’m hoping to use excerpts in creative writing classes along with some of his fiction. I’m also hoping to use excerpts from Hemingway’s A Moveable Feast. Again my favorite fiction writers are also my favorite creative nonfiction writers.
Rereading Chuck Palahniuk’s Stranger Than Fiction True Stories for my Lit 150 class. My favorite fiction writers are my favorite creative non-fiction writers. I’m enjoying his essay “Brinksmanship”:
The waitress used to say, “What will you be doing when you’re old men?” I used to tell her, “I’ll worry about that when I get there.” If I get there. I’m writing this piece right on deadline. My brother-in-law used to call this behavior “brinksmanship,” the tendency to leave things until the last moment, to imbue them with more drama and stress and appear the hero by racing the clock. “Where I was born,” Georgia O’Keeffe used to say, “and where and how I have lived is unimportant.” She said, “It is what I have done with where I have been that should be of any interest.” I’m sorry if this seems all rushed and desperate. It is.