Being True to Your Idiot Heartby Jacqueline Bull March 28, 2018
Davy Rothbart and I are both Michigan to California transplants. In fact, our hometowns (Ann Arbor and Brighton) are only 30 minutes apart and I actually lived in his hometown for a spell. I might lose some Michigan credibility by comparing the two, as the suburban area of Brighton is a far cry from the sophisticated (or uppity depending on who you ask) college town of Ann Arbor.
I mention this because when we speak over the phone for the interview, he is back in his hometown in Michigan, talking to me in between moments with the doctor at the hospital with his dad. I’m actually conducting the interview from my downtown apartment, trying to stymy a cold before family from Michigan is due to visit me in California. And I’m caught in this moment with him where the lines between the Midwest and the West Coast are all blurred and overlapping and I get a little swept away.
Davy Rothbart is the creator of Found Magazine, author of the essay collection “My Heart Is An Idiot,” a contributor of “This American Life” and a documentarian. He is one of the authors being featured in the San Diego Jewish BookFest and is planning on doing a “rowdy energetic reading.”
The show will feature snippets from many different pieces of his career. They come from a wide array of mediums, but all center around nonfiction. Davy offers up an explanation, “Truth is far far stranger than fiction. The stuff you can find once you start looking for stuff on the ground or the real stories that you hear from real people those are the kinds of things that captivate me.”
The ethos of authenticity, honesty and a certain amount of rawness or uncensored quality that he enjoys in the found items for the magazine are also present in his writing and the writing of others he reads and is inspired by.
“I tend to like storytellers that don’t necessarily inflate their prose, just tell the stories in a spoken voice, so it feels just like a friend who is sharing great stories with you,” he said.
His appreciation of honesty looks more like a commitment when you consider the first essay of “My Heart.” The piece is called “The Bigger and the Deafer” and it tells about Davy growing up with a deaf mother and how he and his brother take advantage of her deafness by feigning bogus calls to their house phone, getting extra snacks at the grocery store, but also to create fictional parents for their friends as alibis for sneaking out. Predictably, the reader is quite appalled by his child self and Davy, the adult writer, doesn’t attempt to frame the story in a way that gives excuses tries to make his young self seem justified.
“I guess I try to be really honest about my mistakes,” he said. “’My Heart is An Idiot’ and a lot of my other writing is just a person – it’s me – trying to tell honest stories about my own life and not sugar coating any of it. And I think they are relatable in that way. I appreciate writers who are completely honest about their experiences – no matter how strange, weird, off putting, or wild they might be – so I just tried to do the same with these stories. Some of the essays are about crazy characters and sometimes I’m the crazy one doing crazy stuff and I think that is okay … I try not to make myself the hero of any story. I think over the course of the book, my persona becomes slightly more forgivable.”
The reading will be April 19 at Green Flash Brewing Co. Visit sdcjc.org for tickets or to be directed to some of his work.