DAVY ROTHBART'S MY HEART IS AN IDIOT, a collection of romantic foibles and piecemeal human-interest stories, is unquestionably about its narrator. Rothbart’s gift for first-person storytelling is ever present; known best as editor of Found Magazine (a popular scrapbook of detritus) he has also contributed to “This American Life,” GQ, and Maxim, the latter for which he wrote a stunningly empathetic portrayal of hip-hop hillbilly Kid Rock.
At Found, lost dispatches are celebrated anew — scrappy love letters, pubescent poetry, bad prom photos — a hash of forgotten ephemera repurposed and resurrected for public consumption. Rothbart sees them as signposts, coaxing us toward a buried appreciation of life around us, and doing battle with the phantom of anonymity.
But the deeply personal stories in My Heart Is An Idiot don’t tug at the heartstrings so much as knowingly yank at them. Like a wartime reporter, Rothbart is embedded in the narrative; through his lens, we’re privy to love’s fatal contradiction: toxic and throbbing, the heart that aims to save can savage you.
Shona Sanzgiri: Do you have a sense of how all the pieces in the book work together?
Davy Rothbart: There are some themes that run through the book. One that I've been thinking about a lot on this tour has been the importance of connecting with strangers, and the rewards of doing so. Like the story about the hitchhiker — I felt so lucky to be able to help him achieve his lifelong dream. I mean, it was easy on my part. But we hit it off.
Though especially with Found Magazine, they way those notes and letters give you a glimpse into the lives of strangers — you've never met these people; it's just a fragment of a story. You have to try and imagine what the rest of their story is.
But the story of the book is the story of the people I've met and their real lives. It's like Found come to life. We added a new part to our show this year. We figured if we're going to 79 cities this fall, it'd be cool to meet 79 strangers. We've been pulling a volunteer from the audience — they don't even know what they're volunteering for. Once they come up on stage, I explain how rewarding I've found it to take a chance and be open to people and connect with someone you don't know. I'll take questions from the audience and use those questions to talk to that person about their life. It's been really fun.
That's a theme in the book: being open to adventure, letting people into your life, and actively engaging with people whose path you cross.
SS: One review of the book suggested that as the reader is happily plunging into Davy's life, it very much feels as though you're reaching back. Does that kind of intimacy prove discomfiting, given how much you reveal?
DR: Not really, but I am a little embarrassed about some of the stuff that happens in the book. It's not that I have zero boundaries or zero shame. But this book was on my laptop for five years, so I think a part of me forgot anyone would read it. If anything that’s a good thing, it makes me more comfortable with being honest. Sometimes someone says they've read this book and they'll shoot me a look. I feel sheepish, like, “Oh, so you know that I peed in bo...read more