John Paul Brammer got his start the way a lot of us freelancer writers do: we need to make a living, and we can write. So we do what we can to pay the bills until we figure out what it is we really want to do.
And then sometimes, the thing you do while you think you’re waiting for your big break becomes it. For Brammer, that was writing an advice column for Grindr. It became so popular that it lead to ¡Hola Papi! How to Come Out in a Walmart Parking Lot and Other Life Lessons.
I recognize a small subset of the beats of this story when it comes to his career: becoming a freelance writer, trying to figure out how to find good clients and stable work and sometimes slogging through assignments you’re just doing for the money (I didn’t write recaps of gay porn but I did write things that I’m relieved do not live in the internet). But everything else was a look into a world I don’t know. I’m not a gay Mexican-American man from rural Oklahoma. I didn’t have any of the same experiences he did as a kid then young man an adult. But that’s exactly why I listened to it. I wanted to know.
The book’s format is what Brammer did for Grindr: answering questions, but the answers are more like personal essays about Brammer’s life than advice to a a reader’s quandary. It mostly works, but maybe not as much in an audio format as it does in print. Brammer will be deep into an essay, sharing an experience that changed his life, and then re-address the letter writer, as if to remind us that the letter writing format is a conceit. It pulled me out of the story he was trying to tell. Perhaps a professional audiobook narrator could have made it worked, but Brammer read it himself. He’s not a performer, and the audiobook might have been better if a pro had done it. I get the temptation — I really do — and thought about reading my own book. But two friends who are also heavy audiobook listeners told me not to (and they were right).
Another thing I missed by listening to this is that Brammer is an extremely talented illustrator. You can see some of his work here. I’m a big fan of the audiobooks in general, but it isn’t the best possible medium to intake a book every time. If Brammer writes another book (and I hope he does!) I’ll read it in print next time.