Alphabetical by author:
- I Will Be Complete: A Memoir – Glen David Gold (podcast)
- Essays After Eighty – Donald Hall
- A Carnival of Losses: Notes Nearing Ninety – Donald Hall
- James Merrill: Life and Art – Langdon Hammer (podcast)
- The Witch of Lime Street: Séance, Seduction, and Houdini in the Spirit World – David Jaher (podcast)
- Blood Will Out: The True Story of a Murder, a Mystery, and a Masquerade – Walter Kirn (podcast)
- An Odyssey: A Father, A Son, and an Epic – Daniel Mendelsohn (podcast coming 2020)
- House of Nutter: The Rebel Tailor of Savile Row – Lance Richardson (podcast)
- A Gentleman in Moscow: A Novel – Amor Towles (podcast)
- My Young Life – Frederic Tuten (podcast)
- The Cold Song: A Novel – Linn Ullmann (podcast 1 and 2)
- Area X: The Southern Reach Trilogy: Annihilation; Authority; Acceptance – Jeff VanderMeer
- The Getaway Car: A Donald Westlake Nonfiction Miscellany – Donald Westlake (ed. Levi Stahl) (podcast w/Levi)
I started this on a whim, Christmas Eve, looking over the list of Every Book I’ve Finished Since 1989. These are the books that have stuck with me most over the decade, or continue to rise up in my thoughts. Given recency bias, a bunch of them are reads from the past few years.
I thought about ranking them, but they’re so different from one another that it seemed futile. If pressed, I’d put those two Donald Hall essay collections at the top, followed by Daniel Mendelsohn’s memoir on teaching The Odyssey.
It’s only prose, not comics. I don’t keep a list of comics I’ve finished, and I’m not at home while I write this, where I’d be able to refer to my library.
I read a ton for the podcast, but much of it is non-fiction, so I get minimal exposure to contemporary novels & stories. Hence only 3 novels to 10 non-fiction works. Also, I barely read poetry. I’m glad that memoirs didn’t outweigh history/biography, as I fear that’s a bias of mine.
This was the decade in which I finished reading Clive James’ Cultural Amnesia: Necessary Memories from History and the Arts(podcast), and in which I discovered/read Stefan Zweig (esp. Chess Story), The Peregrine by JA Baker, The Leopard by Giuseppe Lampedusa, Bruce Jay Friedman’s short fiction(podcast), Edward St. Aubyn’s Patrick Melrose series, The Friends of Eddie Coyle by George V. Higgins, and Anthony Powell’s A Dance to the Music of Time. Which is to say, a lot of pre-2010 work made a huge impression on me, which maybe crowded out some of this decade’s work, in terms of stature/relevance.
Yep, all 12 authors are white, and yep, it’s 11 male to 1 female author. I’ll try to do better next decade.
There would be a whole bunch of honorable mentions, but that’s a whole new can of worms to open up. To quote the late Tom Spurgeon, “If I missed your book, it’s because I hate you.”
“If you write something and you think it’s not that good, you should throw it away. If you write something and you think it’s really good, you should throw half of it away.”
Poet/muse/amanuensis Kathy Bidus joins the show to talk about her contribution to the new collection SisterWriterEaters (Griffith Moon). Along the way, we get into her “quit college and move to New York” decision in the late ’70s, the formation of an art salon in the early 80s, her Jean Valjean moment, meeting her husband (artist and past pod-guest Drew Friedman), Mad cartoonist Al Jaffee’s impact on her sense of humor, the Old Jewish Comedian she’s had a crush on all these years, what she learned from raising champion beagles, and the worst “please read my poetry” moment she ever had. Plus: I talk a LOT about dogs. Give it a listen! And go buy SisterWriterEaters!
About our Guest
Kathy Bidus was born and raised in Philadelphia and attended Kutztown university before moving to New York City, where she met her husband, artist Drew Friedman. Bids is a published poet, and in collaboration with Friedman, has written illustrated humor pieces for The New Yorker, The New York Times Magazine, and The New York Observer, among many others. For the last twenty years, she has raised champion show beagles. She currently resides in rural Pennsylvania with Drew.
Credits: This episode’s music is Nothing’s Gonna Bring Me Down by David Baerwald, used with permission from the artist. The conversation was recorded at Ms. Bidus’ home on a pair of Blue enCORE 200 Microphones feeding into a Zoom H5 digital recorder. I recorded the intro and outro on a Heil PR-40 Dynamic Studio Recording Microphone feeding into a Cloudlifter CL-1 and a Mackie Onyx Blackjack 2×2 USB Recording Interface. All processing and editing done in Adobe Audition CC.
“Hefner’s genius was in always getting the very best people, whether in entertainment, management, editing, or cartooning: he went directly to the top.”
How did Patty Farmer go from businesswoman to historian of the Playboy empire? “I don’t do well when I’m bored,” she tells me, as we talk about her new book/oral history, Playboy Laughs: The Comedy, Comedians, and Cartoons of Playboy. We get into the cultural impact of Playboy (the clubs, resorts and jazz festivals, not just the magazine), my own history with same, the process of becoming friends with one’s interviewees, gaining access to Hugh Hefner’s immense archives, combining comedians and cartoonists into a single volume, the amazing work Hef did as a cartoon editor, how she swung from business deals to entertainment history, and more! Give it a listen! And go buy Playboy Laughs!
“My talents are really in the business sector, but I took those talents for organization and cognitive thinking and applied them to what I want to do. I want to be up there on stage, but i know I can’t, so this is the next best thing.”
About our Guest
Author and historian Patty Farmer is a businesswoman and former model, and is acknowledged as the leading expert on the comedians, music (particularly jazz), entertainment and the entertainers of Playboy. In her current book, Playboy Laughs, she chronicles—through hundreds of personal interviews—the careers and personalities of the country’s comic community. Terry Teachout, in a review for the Wall Street Journal, states, “Patty Farmer goes a long way toward answering the question of how jazz and Playboy acquired its cultural cachet.” Patty’s followed the entertainment industry as an avid fan and archivist all her life, and has spent the last decade writing about some of our most significant cultural institutions and personalities.
Credits: This episode’s music is Nothing’s Gonna Bring Me Down by David Baerwald, used with permission from the artist. The conversation was recorded at Ms. Farmer’s office on a pair of Blue enCORE 200 Microphones feeding into a Zoom H5 digital recorder. I recorded the intro and outro on a Heil PR-40 Dynamic Studio Recording Microphone feeding into a Cloudlifter CL-1 and a Mackie Onyx Blackjack 2×2 USB Recording Interface. All processing and editing done in Adobe Audition CC. Photos of Ms. Farmer by … somebody. She wouldn’t let me take her picture, so there’s nothing on my instagram.
“Time may have taught me things, but I don’t think I learned anything.”
Legendary cartoonist, illustrator, animator, ad-man, artist RO Blechman joins the show to talk about his work and life. We get into the importance of play, the development of his trademark squiggly line (and how he feels when he sees it in other people’s work), his literary upbringing, his News of the Weak series of painting/collages, why he counsels against going to art school, the fateful career decision that he rues 60+ years later, his Mad Men experience and what he learned about management from running his own animation studio, the mistake of turning down a Curious George movie, creating a fore-runner of the graphic novel, and being a 2-D character in a 3-D world. Give it a listen! And go buy all his books, including Dear James: Letters to a Young Illustrator, Amadeo & Maladeo: A Musical Duet, The Juggler of Our Lady, and Talking Lines!
“I really should have been a filmmaker. I really screwed up my life in a terrible way, because I had a chance to be a full-time filmmaker and I threw it away, and it just kills me.”
About our Guest
Born Oscar Robert Blechman in 1930, RO Blechman‘s internationally acclaimed artwork spans decades, mediums, and industries. He is one of the first contemporary cartoonists to pen a full-length graphic novel with The Juggler of Our Lady in 1953, which he published after graduating from Oberlin College. His illustrations and comic strips have graced magazines, anthologies, and newspapers. He has created more than a dozen New Yorker covers. Blechman is also an animated filmmaker, and at one time owned his own animation studio, The Ink Tank. He has been awarded the Gold Medal from the Cannes Film Festival, numerous Emmy Awards, and has been nominated for a BAFTA. In 2002, the Museum of Modern Art held a retrospective of his films. He is also in the Art Directors Hall of Fame, has been an Adweek Illustrator of the Year, and is the creator of many notable advertising campaigns. Blechman is married, has two sons, and lives in Ancram, NY.
Credits: This episode’s music is Nothing’s Gonna Bring Me Down by David Baerwald, used with permission from the artist. The conversation was recorded at Mr. Blechman’s farm on a pair of Blue enCORE 200 Microphones feeding into a Zoom H5 digital recorder. I recorded the intro and outro on a Heil PR-40 Dynamic Studio Recording Microphone feeding into a Cloudlifter CL-1 and a Mackie Onyx Blackjack 2×2 USB Recording Interface. All processing and editing done in Adobe Audition CC. Photos of Mr. Blechman and his wife by me. It’s on my instagram.
“These days, we tend to think of identity as something chosen; we put on certain masks or we identify as this or that, culturally, ethnically or politically. Bellow is interested in something much more basic: who we really are.”
David Mikics joins the show to talk about his wonderful new book, Bellow’s People: How Saul Bellow Made Life Into Art (Norton). We get into Bellow’s legacy, his fall from academic favor, his transmutations of life into art, David’s humorously accidental introduction to his work, what Jewishness meant to Bellow, whether Philip Roth was right when he told Bruce Jay Friedman, “Saul Bellow am de daddy of us all,” and more! Give it a listen! And go buy Bellow’s People: How Saul Bellow Made Life Into Art.
“Bellow once said that the reason writers had such messy personal lives is because they didn’t know what to do with the afternoon.”
We also talk about David’s experience as a professor, why writing is harder for today’s students, what it’s like to teach course called, “Is Life Worth Living?” and “The Human Situation”, which science fiction novels warped him as a youth, why we need Slow Reading in a Hurried Age, what contemporary books look like they’ll last, and why he eventually came around on Faulkner. Go listen!
“Canonicity is not where you find it, but where you make it.”
- Rachel Hadas (2014 and 2016)
- Bruce Jay Friedman
- Jules Feiffer
- Harold Bloom
- Langdon Hammer
- Edward Mendelson
- Willard Spiegelman
About our Guest
David Mikics grew up in Carteret, New Jersey and Atlanta. He went to college at NYU and earned a Ph.D. at Yale. He lives in Brooklyn with his wife Victoria and son Ariel, and teaches every year at the University of Houston, where he is John and Rebecca Moores Professor of English. He is the author of six books, including Slow Reading in a Hurried Age (Belknap/Harvard) and Bellow’s People: How Saul Bellow Made Life Into Art (Norton), and is a columnist at Tablet magazine.
Credits: This episode’s music is Nothing’s Gonna Bring Me Down by David Baerwald, used with permission from the artist. The conversation was recorded at David’s home on a pair of Blue enCORE 200 microphones feeding into a Zoom H5 digital recorder. Intro was recorded on the same setup. Photo of Mr. Mikics by me.
“I was a Henry Morgan authority at the age of 24.”
Kliph Nesteroff joins the show to talk about his new book, The Comedians: Drunks, Thieves, Scoundrels, and the History of American Comedy (Grove Press). We discuss the evolution of comedy over the century (from vaudeville to comedy podcasters) and how he got started chronicling it, American comedy’s twin themes of struggle and influence, the connect-the-dots game of comedic lineage, the stories that didn’t make it into the book, comedy’s role in the civil rights struggle, Kliph’s autodidactic background and how it shapes his pursuit of history, the story of how he got kicked out of high school, and more! Give it a listen! And go buy Kliph’s book, The Comedians! (NOTE: Kliph’s section starts at 17:15, if you wanna skip right to that)
“I’m just as deeply immersed in the history of film, the history of music, of TV, of pop culture. . . . But Leonard Maltin already exists; he’s got it cornered. Jerry Beck is the world’s foremost animation historian; he’s got that market covered. There’s a million people who write about music; I don’t need to be one of those guys. But there’s no other comedy historian. I’m happy to pick up that mantle.”
Plus, I give Liz Hand a call on the occasion of the publication of her new book, Hard Light: A Cass Neary Crime Novel! We explore how her nihilistic, burned-out, drug-addicted post-punk-scene photographer-protagonist has grown over the course of three books of increasing mayhem and murder. (Hint: she doesn’t decide to become a nurturing mom and validate herself with a rich husband.) Go listen! And buy Hard Light! (NOTE: Liz’s section starts around 3:30)
About our Guest
Kliph Nesteroff is a former stand-up comic turned writer. A longtime contributor to WFMU, writing about the history of comedy, Nesteroff’s latest project is hosting the Classic Showbiz Talk Show, a live series in Los Angeles that has welcomed comedy luminaries like Mel Brooks, Fred Willard and Laugh-In creator George Schlatter.
Credits: This episode’s music is Nothing’s Gonna Bring Me Down by David Baerwald, used with permission of the artist. The conversation was recorded at an undisclosed location in Manhattan on a pair of Blue enCORE 200 microphones feeding into a Zoom H5 digital recorder. I recorded the intro and outro on the same setup. The conversation with Liz Hand was recorded using Call Recorder on Face Time Audio; I was using a Blue Yeti USB mic. Processing was done in Audacity and Logic Pro. Photo of Kliph by me.