Misspent Youth; Reading ‘Fup’


Odd Jobs

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.