You’ve Got to Read This
A conversation with Jancee Dunn, author of July’s Life Lessons essay.
Real Simple: How do you think your parents’ newspaper habit came about? Did they do that before they retired?
Jancee Dunn: My parents have always liked to clip newspapers. They’ve always been big on taping notable articles to the kitchen cabinets for display. Then when they retired, two things happened: They had more time on their hands to clip, and they began to get a little forgetful. They were haunted by the fact that they might not remember to pass on the advice they had read about the best way to organize your garage, so they started clipping and sending in earnest.
RS: How did your parents react to the essay?
JD: They do the same thing every time: roll their eyes and complain that I make fun of them. Then I’ll find out that they sent it around to all of their friends.
RS: Have you continued your own clip ’n’ send tradition?
JD: Well, you really do become your parents, don’t you? Yes, it started happening a few years ago. God help me, I sometimes write the same things on top, like ‘Who knew?’ My specialty is turning out to be strange phenomena, like an unidentifiable animal that looks like a sea monster that some fisherman found on the beach.
RS: You had some interesting thoughts on how your parents sought to protect you in certain ways through the clipping and sending of articles. Now that you’ve had a baby of your own, do you understand their motivation more or have a different perspective on it?
JD: I absolutely do. It’s amazing how the protective instinct kicks right in. With this new baby, I am already getting my comeuppance, because now I completely understand why my folks act the way they do. Not that I’m getting soft on my parents. If I do, my writing career is over!
RS: You have a varied career, ranging from celebrity interviews to these sorts of personal essays. Is your writing process different depending on what type of piece you’re writing?
JD: I find personal essays to be easiest―they just flow―and the most fun to write. That is when I’m at my absolute happiest and feel like I have the greatest job ever. When I do a reported piece, I’m very deliberate and always over-research, but I actually love that process, too. Not long ago, I did a piece on moss for the New York Times, and I spent a few weeks immersed in the world of moss. That may not be everyone’s idea of a good time, but for me it’s the pinnacle of fun.
RS: What are you reading now?
JD: That new collection of Cheever stories [John Cheever: Collected Stories and Other Writings], Keith Gessen’s All the Sad Young Literary Men, and The Little Stranger, by Sarah Waters. Because I had a baby recently, I can only manage a few pages at a time, but I’m determined to keep my mind from deteriorating completely.
RS: Any future plans?
JD: I have to start thinking of a fourth book. Any ideas?
To buy Jancee Dunn’s new book, Why Is My Mother Getting a Tattoo?, in which a version of this essay appears, click here.