Serving House: A Journal of Literary Arts
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SHJ Issue 9
Spring 2014

Pirates You Don’t Know And Other Adventures
in the Examined Life: Collected Essays

[Excerpt + More]

by John Griswold

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



Back in Issue 2 of Serving House Journal (Spring 2010), we were privileged to feature John Griswold’s novel, A Democracy of Ghosts. Here in Issue 9, we are proud to feature his work once again: a collection of essays, Pirates You Don’t Know And Other Adventures in the Examined Life.

Cover photo of Pirates You Don’t Know, by John Griswold

• Read an excerpt: “I Didn’t Know”

• Published by The University of Georgia Press (2014)

Also available from Amazon

“A gorgeous and profound look at life, death, transience, toil, class, and family.”

—From publisher’s description

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?

Photo of John Griswold

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.”

—Description from the publisher’s catalog


“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


“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


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 Funny Man and
editor of McSweeney’s Internet Tendency

“...we have been born here to witness and celebrate. We wonder at our purpose for living. Our purpose
is to perceive the fantastic. Why have a universe if there is no audience?” — Ray Bradbury