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Odd Jobs

Misspent Youth; Reading ‘Fup’

October 11, 2011 | by

Detail from 'Peasant Spreading Manure,' Jean-Fracois Millet, 1855, oil.

Most dust jackets list only literary accomplishments, but I’ve always been a fan of offbeat author bios. So I asked some of my favorite writers to describe their early jobs.

Nam Le: I ran through the usual money-makers of misspent youth: door-knocking in the outer ‘burbs, Christmas-carolling at the bottom of escalators, child-laboring in the family business, pyramid-selling to my parents, my friends, my parents’ friends, my friends’ parents. I did time in a call center, spent one year on my knees lacing up Doc Marten boots for feral teenagers, and another fending off feral twenty-somethings while editing the university student paper. Then I finished my law degree—and threw in my lot with the greatest ferals of all.

Colum McCann: I was a “wilderness educator” back in Texas in the mid-eighties, after taking an eighteen-month bicycle trip across America. This meant working with kids who were at risk, or juvenile delinquents. We lived out in the woods for three months at a stretch, built pine-pole shelters, treehouses, an outdoor latrine, a gravity-fed shower. It was a magnificent interruption in my life: out under the stars. At night I used to read these tough, streetwise kids to sleep—Catcher in the Rye, The Grapes of Wrath, and a fable called Fup by Jim Dodge. They loved Fup in particular, a fable about a duck, a sound-anagram for “Fucked Up.” I still hear from these kids—they’re all over the country now and generally they’re out of trouble, except for the fact that they might be reading Fup to their kids.

Chris Flynn is the books editor at The Big Issue and the fiction editor at Australian Book Review.



  1. HR | October 13, 2011 at 8:10 am

    Cry me a river, Ms. Le. You sound like you did minimal marginal work, and you complain about it and make it seem like torture? And your “family business” probably paid for your schooling and other shananigans.

    And Mr. McCann, an 18-month bicycle trip across the US is NOT a job — it’s a vacation. And the only people that get to do that have some financial backing, perhaps a trust fund or a job waiting for them at a college MFA program.

  2. CV | October 17, 2011 at 11:38 am

    Ha-ha. HR is without a doubt working in a job they see as very incompatible with their Life’s True Goal, otherwise where’s that bitterness come from? It’s true, neither of these examples are exactly on the cutting edge or very interesting (to be fair he never said the bicycle trip was a job) – but pouring ‘financial backing’, ‘trust fund’, ‘job’ (heaven forbid!) and an ‘MFA program’ (the horror, the horror) like a particularly viscous bile – displays some pretty telling and disturbing attitudes (I.E here’s someone that needs a vacation and hates his job because he should, he should, why doesn’t he get paid to write?)

  3. David | October 21, 2011 at 2:03 am

    Colum, I see that Heyday has a new edition of Fup available. I hope your kids are reading it to their kids – it’s a hoot!

  4. Nick | January 10, 2012 at 11:24 am

    Hahahahhhh! Totally agreed CV – you beat me to that comment! Talk about an embittered full-scale projection of one’s own issues! Apart from getting Mr. Le’s gender wrong, it seems HR has also missed the irony, not to mention the wry humour in his contribution. And without a grasp of either (or both) of those qualities, it’s going to be diffiult to find an opportunity to write professionally! Seems to me HR needs a comfortable couch, a dimly lit room, and a patient therapist with a big shovel! 🙂

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