The Virtual Memories Show

The Virtual Memories Show is a weekly interview podcast about books and life, not necessarily in that order. Your host, Gil Roth, interviews guests about their careers and the books that have helped shape their lives, and tries to engage in witty banter for which you’d think 45 years of dilettantism would have prepared him better.

Every Tuesday, you can expect a fascinating conversation with a fascinating person. So far, that includes three Pulitzer Prize winners, two MacArthur Foundation “Genius” Fellows, an Emmy winner, an Oscar nominee, an Oscar winner, a National Book Award nominee, a Marine, a boxer, an MBE, and a bunch of cartoonists.

In fact, there’ve been so many cartooning-related episodes, I made a page for them over here!

And here’s an alphabetical list of guests, which may be easier than sorting through the chronological list below.


There are plenty of ways you can follow The Virtual Memories Show!

Plus, sign up for the weekly e-mail at the bottom of this page!

The Host

If you’d like to learn more about Gil, click on the arrow for options


You can help keep the fine art of conversation alive by supporting The Virtual Memories Show!

Tell your friends about this podcast, promote it on social media (we’re @vmspod on Twitter), and provide regular financial support via Patreon or Paypal. And see who’s supporting the show!

Our Patreon page has lots of information on our fundraising goals and awards for patrons, including a monthly, patron-only podcast: Fear of a Square Planet! Go to and make a recurring donation to The Virtual Memories Show. If you’d prefer not to use Patreon, you can also visit and make either a one-time or recurring donation.

Supporters of the show will get access to exclusive content, including that monthly podcast, the lists of books we talk about during episodes, invites to special live events, and more. Patreon supporters will get access to a patron-only blog on that site, while non-Patreon supporters will get subscriber access to

Help make this show sustainable and demonstrate your support for good, smart, fun conversation about books and life — not necessarily in that order.


The Virtual Memories Show is informed by a lifetime’s worth of reading. The quotes below are the closest it comes to having a mission statement.

“The inferno of the living is not something that will be; if there is one, it is what is already here, the inferno where we live every day, that we form by being together. There are two ways to escape suffering it. The first is easy for many: accept the inferno and become such a part of it that you can no longer see it. The second is risky and demands constant vigilance and apprehension: seek and learn to recognize who and what, in the midst of inferno, are not inferno, then make them endure, give them space.”
–Italo Calvino, Invisible Cities

“The only truth is face to face.”
–Frank O’Hara, Ode: Salute to the French Negro Poets


Check out the praise The Virtual Memories Show has received from guests and listeners over the years.

“Well done.”
Clive James

“Erudite and down-to-earth.”
Kathe Koja

“It’s wonderful. Where has it been all my life?”
Christopher Bollen, author of Orient and Editor At Large for Interview

“Great talk, great books. Just listened to my first,
and it would appear Gil has the stuff.”
–Ron Rice, publishing, marketing & sales professional

“One of the best lit talk shows going.”
Dmitry Samarov, artist, former cab-driver, and author of
Where To?: A Hack Memoir

“You’re doing something amazingly valuable with your interviews.”
Paul Gravett, The Man at the Crossroads

“Sexist and patronizing.”
–anonymous guest

“More like sexy and patriotic!”
–another anonymous guest

“If I’ve had a better interview, I don’t remember it.”
Bruce Jay Friedman, author, playwright, screenwriter

“One of the world’s great conversationalists.”
—D.G. Myers, A Commonplace Blog and
The Elephants Teach: Creative Writing Since 1880

“Your skills rival that of any NPR interviewer.”
Ron Slate, poet, author of
The Incentive of the Maggot and The Great Wave

“A great, omnivorous interviewer
on one of the most entertaining podcasts going.”
Peter Trachtenberg, author of Another Insane Devotion

“This is what NPR should be.”
–Fred Kiesche, The Lensman’s Children blog

“Thoughtful, smart.”
The Word Girl

“Gil Roth is one of the best interviewers out there.”
Lisa Borders, author of The Fifty-First State

UPCOMING GUESTS (alphabetically)

There’s a H-U-G-E list of guests who’ve committed to join me for a Virtual Memories Show conversation. Check out the writers, artists, cartoonists, critics, and otherwise fascinating people who are on the roster!

(and, boy, do I have a great list of guests I’m still trying to line up…)


Alphabetical list over here

#156Sturgeon’s Law, how he feels about being The King of the Erotic Thriller, and how he managed to make a killing off the 50 Shades of Grey phenomenon. (11/19/13) – mp3

virginia_postrel#45 – Virginia Postrel: Glamour Profession – Virginia Postrel talks about her new book, The Power of Glamour: Longing and the Art of Visual Persuasion! We discuss the uses and abuses of glamour, the nerd fixation on space travel, the first known symbol of glamour, and how Barack Obama’s first election campaign was heaven-sent for Ms. Postrel’s book! (11/12/13) – mp3

F1#44 – Hooman Majd: The Land of the Big Sulk – Hooman Majd, author of The Ministry of Guidance Invites You to Not Stay: An American Family in Iran, talks about Iran and his family’s year-long stay there in 2011, the conflict of nationalism and religion, the nuclear issue, the possibility of becoming a modern state without liberal democracy, why Israel and Iran should be BFFs, whether there’s a word in Farsi for ‘sprezzatura’, and more! (11/5/13) – mp3

FredRoger_200x200#43 – Roger Langridge: The Show Must Go On – Roger Langridge, cartoonist/creator of Fred the Clown, talks about how he found that niche, his work on (and love of) The Muppets, Popeye, and Dr. Who, the responsibility of helping attract the next generation of comics readers, his lifetime love of vaudeville, his upbringing in New Zealand, how he accidentally became a pioneer in webcomics, why he decided not to work for Marvel or DC, and the one character from one of those companies that he’d love to work on. It’s a delightful conversation with one of the nicest guys in comics! (10/29/13) – mp3

blackstone#42 – Charles Blackstone: Wine, Women and Novel-Writing – Charles Blackstone, managing editor of Bookslut, talks about his new novel, Vintage Attraction, as well as what he’s learned about book publicity, how the story dictates the form, what bottle of wine I should pick if I were to fall of the wagon, the similarities between deconstruction and molecular gastronomy, how to master the party-throwing art of taking a guest’s coat while handing them a beverage, and more. (10/22/13) – mp3

PeterBagge#41 – Peter Bagge: The Least Insane of Cartoonists – Peter Bagge, cartoonist/creator of Hate! joins us to talk about his new book, Woman Rebel: The Margaret Sanger Story. We have a great conversation about why he chose to write about the founder of Planned Parenthood, how he made the shift from fiction to nonfiction comics, who his favorite “pre-feminist feminists” are, why he stuck with comic books over paperback books for too long, what the strangest sketchbook request he ever received is, and why R. Crumb considered him the least insane of cartoonists. (10/15/13) – mp3

DrewFriedman#40 – Drew Friedman: The Guy Who Drew the Liver SpotsDrew Friedman, the Vermeer of the Borscht Belt, the great painter, cartoonist,  and chronicler of modern fame (and infamy), invited me out to 2nd Ave. Deli in NYC to record a conversation about art, show biz, R. Crumb, Joe Franklin, the Friars Club, Howard Stern, Abe Vigoda, the gallery show commemorating his books on Old Jewish Comedians, and more! It’s a fun conversation with someone who watched even more TV and read even more comic books as a kid than I did! (10/8/13) – mp3

phillip_lopate#39 – Phillip Lopate: Slipping the Noose of the Topical – Phillip Lopate, the finest personal essayist of our time, joins us to talk about finding his voice, the difference between memoir and essay, teaching students to use the self to fetch the world, why blogs remind him of Sei Shonagon’s pillow books, what’s too personal for a personal essay, how he balances writing fiction, creative nonfiction and essays, how readers read and misread his work, his methods for fusing the personal and the critical, whether he considered going Hollywood, why and how he assembled The Art of the Personal Essay anthology, who his favorite New York Met is, and more! (9/24/13) – mp3

ThaneRosenbaumBW#38 – Thane Rosenbaum: Great Vengeance and Furious Anger – In part 2 of our 9/11 special, author and law professor Thane Rosenbaum joins the Virtual Memories Show to talk about his new book, Payback: The Case for Revenge. We discuss how the human mind is hard-wired for vengeance, how the American legal system has let down its victims, how Aeschylus devised the perfect (metaphorical) system for justice, how to get revenge after suicide attacks, and why Thane is easier on Germany than on Poland, when it comes to holding a grudge about their treatment of Jews. Bonus: I talk about the time I had to decide whether to have two guys killed! (9/10/13) – mp3

Hyman-flesh-_-metal#37 – Jonathan Hyman: American Graffiti – Jonathan Hyman is the first guest of our two-part 9/11 special! Jonathan began photographing 9/11 murals, tattoos and other memorials immediately after the attacks and continued the project for 10 years, amassing a collection of 20,000 photos, as well as field notes and interviews. We talked about his new book, his decade-long project, mementos mori as American folk art, non-New Yorkers’ reticence to let him photograph them, his own 9/11 experience, and his struggle to keep this work from defining him as a person. (9/3/13) – mp3

David_Rothenberg_1clive#36 – David Rothenberg/Clive Bennet: Arts and Sciences and Bugs – Philosopher, musicologist and clarinetist David Rothenberg talks about his latest book and CD, Bug Music: How Insects Gave Us Rhythm and Noise. Then pharma CEO Clive Bennett reveals himself through the contents of his Kindle and explains the fork-in-the-road moment that may have defined his life. (8/20/13) – mp3

graces#35 – Theodora Goss/Valya Dudycz Lupescu/Nancy Hightower: Readercon – Monsters, Memories and Mythmaking – Part two of our Readercon special features conversations with a trio of writers: Theodora Goss, author of The Thorn and the Blossom: A Two-Sided Love Story, Valya Dudycz Lupescu, author of The Silence of Trees, and Nancy Hightower, author of the forthcoming Elementari Rising! We talk monsters, memories, nutty professors, and authors we’re afraid of freaking out around. (8/6/13) – mp3

crowley-john ScottMay2013MarylandUkeJam#34 – John Crowley/Scott Edelman: Readercon – Fairies and Zombies – It’s the first of a two-part podcast recorded at Readercon 24! This time, John Crowley talks about his great novel Little, Big, how writing it opened the doors for his subsequent books, and how the fantasy genre has changed over the course of his career. Then longtime writer, editor and con-goer Scott Edelman talks about his zombie-fiction, his tenure at Marvel in the ’70’s, his 40-plus years of attending science fiction, comics and fantasy cons, and the pros and cons of writing workshops. (7/23/13) – mp3

gatesannscreen#33 – David Gates/Ann Rivera: The Wonders of the Audible World – David Gates, the author of Jernigan, Preston Falls, The Wonders of the Invisible World and an upcoming collection of stories talks about his writing career, owning his niche (once accurately described as “smart but self-destructive white American middle-class men in crisis”), teaching fiction, leaving the east coast for Montana, building a country/rock band of writers and critics, how he feels about the end of Newsweek, and the anxiety that drove him into writing his first novel. It’s a fun, rambling conversation with one of my favorite living writers. Then, our very first guest Ann Rivera rejoins us to talk about her recent reads and how she escaped the postmodern condition! (7/9/13) – mp3

ivanbykurtlauermichaelkupperman#32 – Michael Kupperman/Ivan Brunetti: Mike and Ivan’s Comics Cabaret – It’s a comics double-episode! Eisner Award-winner Michael Kupperman of Tales Designed To Thrizzle joins us to talk about his Mark Twain fetish, why he decided to make a 20-page comic starring Quincy, and how the UCB taught him how to perform his comics. Then Cartoonist Ivan Brunetti talks about his new book, Aesthetics: A Memoir, what he learned from drawing Nancy strips, how he found himself teaching cartooning, and how he set the (low) bar for self-loathing comics in the ’90s. (6/25/13) mp3

brann-evaScreen Shot 2013-06-09 at 9.11.00 PM#31 – Eva Brann/Ian Kelley: Highest Learning – It’s a Great Books Double Feature! First, Eva Brann discusses her fifty-plus years teaching the Great Books curriculum at St. John’s College, how it’s changed (and how it hasn’t), her role as a female tutor at a time when virtually the entire faculty, student body, and curriculum was male, and more! Then we have a conversation with St. John’s alumnus and Virtual Memories pal Ian Kelley about his experiences in the program and how they informed his life ever since. (6/11/13) – mp3

lori#30 – Lori Carson: Little Suicides, Little Fish – Singer-songwriter, member of the Golden Palominos, and debut novelist Lori Carson talks about her new book, The Original 1982, the blurring of fact and fiction, the differences between songwriting and prose-writing (and album vs. book launches), the transformation of the  music industry, her favorite authors and the books that sustained her through her first novel, and more! It’s a great conversation with one of my favorite musical artists. (5/28/13) mp3

wallis#29 – Wallis Wilde-Menozzi: Eternity is Music that Plays – Poet, novelist, memoirist and all-around wonderful writer Wallis Wilde-Menozzi talks with about her two new books, The Other Side of the Tiber: Reflections on Time in Italy and Toscanelli’s Ray! It’s a great conversation about the nature of art, the joy of poetry, the American experience in Italy over a span of 40 years, and more. (5/14/13) – mp3

jestercaricature#28 – Jesse Sheidlower: Putting the “Pro” in Profanity – Jesse Sheidlower, editor-at-large for the Oxford English Dictionary and author/editor of The F-Word, talks about the shifting idea of “offensive” language, how one becomes a lexicographer, the OED’s digital challenge, the history of Jesse’s Word, and more! Bonus: you get to listen to me hesitate and trip over myself while trying not to make poor word choices! (4/30/13) – mp3

katchor#27 – Ben Katchor: Visible Cities – Ben Katchor is the guest for the first LIVE recording (as in, in front of an audience of 50 people) of The Virtual Memories Show! Our conversation (and Q&A with the audience) covers Ben’s new collection of comics, Hand-Drying in America, his creative process, his relationship with technology, his non-nostalgic laments for lost urban totems, and more! This episode was recorded in conjunction with the New York Comics & Picture-stories Symposium. (4/16/13) – mp3

edhermancecraiggidney#26 – Craig Gidney/Ed Hermance: The Importance of Being Out – It’s our first double-episode of the year! First, Craig Gidney discusses his new YA/bullying novel, Bereft, and then Ed Hermance talks about the history of Giovanni’s Room, his queer bookstore that’s celebrating its 40th anniversary in 2013. Lots of great conversation about writing, publishing and bookselling in this episode. (4/2/13) – mp3

mattwuerker1#25 – Matt Wuerker: Cartoon Character – Matt Wuerker, winner of the 2012 Pulitzer Prize for Editorial Cartooning, joins The Virtual Memories Show to talk about his career (including his fascinating non-comics work and his prescient move to the online world with POLITICO), the experience of winning “the Academy Award for cartoonists”, his artistic and political influences, what it takes to get on the NRA’s Enemies List, the opportunities for editorial cartoonists in a post-print world, how his parents felt about his decision to become a cartoonist, whether he had it easier during the Bush/Cheney era or the Tea Party era, and why he thinks the golden age of cartooning is still ahead of us! (3/19/13) – mp3

Greg Gerke#24 – Greg Gerke: Sound Before Story – To celebrate the publication of Middle C, the new novel by literary legend William Gass, I sat down with writer Greg Gerke, who interviewed Gass for Tin House literary magazine. We talked about Gass’ position in the postmodern literary tradition (as it were), what Greg learned over the course of reading much of Gass’ writings and interviewing The Great Man, what it’s like to construct a literary monument to horror, which authors Greg discovered through Gass’ essays over the years, how you can’t judge a man by his (roommate’s) bookshelf, why Gass holds self-publishing in disdain, and how one can build a powerful literary career by putting Sound Before Story. (3/5/13) – mp3

fredkaplan#23 – Fred Kaplan: God’s Way of Teaching Americans Geography – Pulitzer Prize-winning writer Fred Kaplan talks about his new book, The Insurgents: David Petraeus and the Plot to Change the American Way of War, how we fought the wrong war the wrong way for years in Iraq, why the Army threw out its training manuals after Vietnam, what our original sin in Afghanistan was, and why he got into war writing. Also, I connect war-waging with pharmaceutical clinical trials. (2/19/13) – mp3

scorpiohead#22 – Miss Scorpio: All Tomorrow’s Parties – Miss Scorpio, party planner extraordinaire and mistress of Gemini and Scorpio, talks about 10 years of throwing fabulous themed costume parties, curating one of New York City’s largest underground mailing lists of offbeat cultural events, how to build your own social network, and why you never want to do dinner and a movie for your internet first date. (2/5/13) – mp3

willardhead#21 – Willard Spiegelman: The Magnificent Seven – Reading, walking, looking, dancing, listening, swimming, and writing: these are the activities organizing the life of this episode’s guest, Willard Spiegelman, author of Seven Pleasures: Essays on Ordinary Happiness! We talk about his wonderful book (go read it!), his addiction to ballroom dancing, how to find joy in the day-to-day world, why he hates book clubs, how he turned me on to one of my favorite novels, who his Desert Island Poets are, and, again, Harold Bloom (sigh). (1/22/13) – mp3

ronhead#20 – Ron Rosenbaum: Disarm – We kick off the new year by talking about the end of the world! Guest Ron Rosenbaum, one of my favorite living writers, discusses his new book on nuclear war, How the End Begins, the paradox of deterrence, the evolution of literary journalism, his inadvertent contribution to the founding of Apple, Nixon’s final lie, what he thought of Harold Bloom at Yale, and more! (1/8/13) – mp3

Season 2

cassidyhead#19 – Kyle Cassidy: Not the camera but the eye – Final episode of 2012! Amazing photographer Kyle Cassidy talks about gun culture(s) in America, science fiction authors’ writing desks, fan subcultures, the breakdown of discourse in America, how he got started in photojournalism, his most hated digital photography tricks, and whether he owns a gun, among other topics. His cat Roswell makes a cameo. (12/16/12) – mp3

scotthoffman#18 – Scott Hoffman: Hassling the Hoff – Scott Hoffman, co-founder of Folio Literary Management, joins us to talk about his transition from Washington, DC lobbyist to New York literary agent, the future of book publishing (including What Publishers Want and What Readers Want), why zombies are hot, where e-publishing is going, the explosion of the YA market, and the diminishing relevance of publishing’s gatekeepers, and more. (12/11/12) – mp3

Sikoryak#17 – R. Sikoryak: Classical Pop – R Sikoryak, creator of Masterpiece Comics and ringmaster of the Carousel Cartoon Slideshows, joins us to talk about his mashups of “high” literature and “low” comics, the 1980’s art scene in NYC, the sea change in the acceptance of comics as art and entertainment, the (un)importance of having an individual drawing style, and more. (Kindasorta sponsored by Out Of Print Clothing.) (11/26/12)- mp3

dirda#16 – Michael Dirda: The Correction of Taste – Pulitzer Prize-winning book critic Michael Dirda talks about his lifetime of reading and career in writing, the essence of book reviewing and the role of negative reviews, breaking free of genre ghettoes and the pretense of literary immortality, how the web has changed the reviewing ecosystem, and why Mao would have loved the collective wisdom of the internet. (Kindasorta sponsored by Out Of Print Clothing.) (10/16/12) – mp3

tomspurgeon#15 – Tom Spurgeon: Comic Sans – Tom Spurgeon, editor of The Comics Reporter and one of my closest pals, talks about his near-death experience in June 2011 and how he’s changed his life since, a process that involved losing more than 175 lbs. in 16 months. We also talk about  the insatiability of junk culture, the good and bad sides of internet commenters, and the meanings of nostalgia. And nothing about the new Batman movie. (Kindasorta sponsored by Out Of Print Clothing.) (10/2/12) – mp3

bogabeach#14 – Boaz Roth: Fire and Bleak House – My brother, Boaz Roth, reflects on what it means to lose his library in house fire. Along the way, we also talk about the joys of Bleak House, the lasting influence of Orwell’s Inside the Whale, the Tolstoyan qualities of Lost, and what he’s learned over 18 years of teaching literature. Oh, and I offer up The Key To Quentin Tarantino’s Movies. (9/13/12) – mp3

lynballard#13 – Lyn Ballard: Four Quartets and Other Pilgrimages – Former literature professor Lyn Ballard talks about her gateway books, the metaphysical poets, reading Huck Finn at the age of 5, an embarrassing Stanley Elkin anecdote, the murder of Sir Thomas Overbury, the importance of making literary pilgrimages, and more! (9/5/12) – mp3

janeborden#12 – Jane Borden: New York and Old South – Jane Borden discusses her memoir, I Totally Meant To Do That, her life as a debutante-hipster hybrid, the night at the UCB that changed her life, the ways in which we find and lose ourselves in New York, and the challenges of finding a standup venue in Sewanee, TN (along with her favorite comics and how she built her writing career). (8/9/12) – mp3

pauldifilippodiana renn#11 – Diana Renn/Paul Di Filippo: Manga-loids and Steampunks! – Diana Renn discusses her new YA novel, Tokyo Heist, and science fiction writer/critic Paul Di Filippo discusses his 30 years as a freelance writer, what forces shape the SF market, what it’s like to be regarded as “King of Steampunk,” and how he would’ve handled a Before Watchmen offer. (7/5/12) – mp3

#10 – Tom May: Here At the Western World – Part II of The Piraeus Tapes sees Tom May, a tutor at St. John’s College, about his path to the school, how the place has changed over the years, and how he had to get a note from his priest to read books from the Vatican’s Index Librorum Prohibitorum. (6/16/12) – mp3

#9 – David Townsend: My Old School Part I of The Piraeus Tapes, where St. John’s College tutor David Townsend talks about his path to becoming a tutor at St. John’s College, how to build an American notion of education, what we can learn from the Koran, and whether comic books may ever make it on to St. John’s Great Books curriculum. (6/15/12) – mp3

#8 – John B.: Look In Your Heart – John B. talks about being dead for 10 minutes last year, and being alive since; Gil talks about Robert Caro and the publicity-industrial complex – mp3

#7 – Removed at request of interviewee

#6 – Ann Rivera: Good Housekeeping – Guest Ann Rivera talks about Housekeeping in the first Secondhand Books conversation – mp3

#5 –  Burning libraries, Geoff Dyer, and Norah Jones – No interview, just rambling. mp3

#4 –  Bach, Piers Anthony and the escapism of being a geek – No interview, just rambling. mp3

Season 1

#3 – Ernesto Sabato, Clive James, and Borges’ library – No interview, just rambling. mp3

#2b – Not-quite-an-episode – No interview, just reading an old blog-post about Proust, love and Hegel – mp3 only

#2a – Not-quite-an-episode< – No interview, just reading a passage from a William Gass essay on Proust. mp3

#2 – Invisible Cities – On Italo Calvino’s Invisible Cities and the high school teacher who turned me on to that book. Music by Telepopmusik – mp3

#1 – Welcome to the Pod-party Just a brief proof-of-concept introduction and a little Calvino reading. Music by Danny Wilson (covering Bowie) – mp3


Tip Jar

Want to help pay for our web-hosting, equipment, travel (and coffee!) costs or otherwise show your appreciation for The Virtual Memories Show? To quote our podcast-idol Marc Maron, “Kick in a few shekels!” Make a donation to the tip-jar via PayPal, either through the button below or through! (Anyone who makes a donation above $1 gets a PDF of one of my short stories!)


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