Pirates You Don't Know, and Other Adventures in the Examined Life
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Pirates You Don't Know, and Other Adventures in the Examined Life

Collected Essays

Title Details

Pages: 224

Trim size: 6.000in x 9.000in



Pub Date: 03/15/2014

ISBN: 9-780-8203-4678-6

List Price: $22.95


Pub Date: 03/15/2014

ISBN: 9-780-8203-4703-5

List Price: $20.95

Pirates You Don't Know, and Other Adventures in the Examined Life

Collected Essays

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  • Description
  • Reviews

For nearly ten years John Griswold has been publishing his essays in Inside Higher Ed, McSweeney’s Internet Tendency, Brevity, Ninth Letter, and Adjunct Advocate, many under the pen name Oronte Churm. Churm’s topics have ranged widely, exploring themes such as the writing life and the utility of creative-writing classes, race issues in a university town, and the beautiful, protective crocodiles that lie patiently waiting in the minds of fathers.

Though Griswold recently entered the tenure stream, much of his experience, at a Big Ten university, has been as an adjunct lecturer—that tenuous and uncertain position so many now occupy in higher education. In Pirates You Don’t Know, Griswold writes poignantly and hilariously about the contingent nature of this life, tying it to his birth in the last American enclave in Saigon during the Vietnam War, his upbringing in a coal town in southern Illinois, and his experience as an army deep-sea diver and frogman. He investigates class in America through four generations of his family and portrays the continuing joys and challenges of fatherhood while making a living, becoming literate, and staying open to the world. But Griswold’s central concerns apply to everyone: What does it mean to be educated? What does it mean to think, feel, create, and be whole? What is the point of this particular journey?

Pirates You Don’t Know
is Griswold’s vital attempt at making sense of his life as a writer and now professor. The answers for him are both comic and profound: “Picture Long John Silver at the end of the movie, his dory filled with stolen gold, rowing and sinking; rowing, sinking, and gloating.”

I generally feel indifference for books about writing by writers or anybody. But this one I unabashedly love, embrace, scribble in, underline, copy, quote out loud to my wife. I say without reservation, John Griswold is one of the best essayists inhabiting this land.

—Bob Shacochis, author of The Woman Who Lost Her Soul

In this beautiful book about striving and surviving, every essay displays a well-stocked brain grappling with life’s thorny problems.

—Debra Monroe, author of On the Outskirts of Normal

In examining his life as teacher, father, husband, son, Griswold causes us to consider our own lives and how we spend them. These essays are wise, hilarious, and necessary.

—John Warner, author of the novel The Funny Man and editor of McSweeney’s Internet Tendency

Be it for a few terms or a lifetime of semesters, Griswold's
surprising, darkly comic stories of work, family life, and struggle will
ring painfully familiar to anyone who's taken a few laps in the adjunct
hamster wheel.

—Aaron Gilbreath, author of This Is: Essays on Jazz

Probing, impassioned and occasionally tongue-in-cheek, this decade-spanning collection from a Louisiana writer gathers essays that appeared in McSweeney's Internet Tendency, Inside Higher Ed, and other notable publications.

—Chris Waddington, The Times-Picayune

This is an incredibly humanistic and moving collection of essays. It explores so many topics with both a mix of joy and melancholy. John Griswold's compassion, his astute sense of observation, his keen ability to see the depths, shines through in every piece.


“What is immediately evident in Griswold’s work is a unique blending of high art and folksy comfort. His writing is as witty and insightful as anything David Sedaris creates, but it’s often presented through a hall-of-mirrors structure that suggests a deep passion for Borges. . . . [T]he book bubbles with heart and humor. . . . Griswold writes with stunning power. . . . It’s an emotional punch that resonates all the stronger when he shifts from his tender sadness to another hilarious teaching yarn in a few pages. That dexterity of emotion keeps readers pushing on.”

—Patrick Wensink, American Book Review

About the Author/Editor

JOHN GRISWOLD is a staff writer at the Common Reader, a publication of Washington University in St. Louis. He is the author of A Democracy of Ghosts; Herrin: The Brief History of an Infamous American City; and Pirates You Don’t Know (Georgia). He has also written extensively (as Oronte Churm) at Inside Higher Ed and McSweeney’s Internet Tendency. He lives in the St. Louis metro area.