“Speaking a language inexpertly makes language visible, and malleable. You become aware of language not just as a medium but as matter itself, as something you manipulate, as something you have to work with.”
Garth Greenwell joins the show to talk about the poetics of cruising (and cruising’s great leveling potential) both in his life and in his debut novel What Belongs to You, the hyper-masculine culture and homophobia of Bulgaria, his concern that contemporary English-language writers don’t read in other languages (or read in translation), his role chairing the 2017 Festival Neue Literatur, the dangers of LGBTQ mainstreaming, the fragility of cosmopolitanism, the state of queer fiction, and our mutual admiration of Samuel R. Delany! Give it a listen! And go buy What Belongs to You: A Novel!
“I wanted in this book to create a space where I could think about what shame feels like to an open and proud gay man.”
Bonus: This episode is also part of our media partnership with Festival Neue Literatur, which is taking place March 2-5 in New York City! Garth’s the chairperson for the event! Go attend! Maybe I’ll see you there!
About our Guest
Garth Greenwell is the author of What Belongs to You, which was longlisted for the National Book Award and shortlisted for the Center for Fiction First Novel Prize and the LA Times Book Prize. A New York Times Book Review Editor’s Choice, it was named a Best Book of 2016 by The New York Times, The New Yorker, Publishers Weekly, and over 50 other publications. His work has appeared in The Paris Review, The New Yorker, the London Review of Books, and elsewhere. He lives in Iowa City.
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 the apartment of Jeff Nunokawa 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. Photo of Mr. Greenwell by me. It’s on my instagram.
“What I really cared about most, what drew me, was the relationship between lives and work, between how we live and what we do, and what we do with it. And that’s one of James Merrill’s major subjects.”
Langdon Hammer, Chair of the Yale English department, joins the show to talk about his new biography, James Merrill: Life and Art (Knopf) (and one of the best books I’ve read this year). We discuss Merrill’s allure as a poet and the alchemy that allowed him to turn base wealth into artistic gold. He also talks about learning the art of literary biography on the fly, the challenge of recreating Merrill’s life in Greece, Merrill’s silence over AIDS, how we can understand the Ouija board-derived poems of Merrill’s masterwork, and more! Give it a listen!
“Alchemy is a theme in Merrill’s writing. How is he going to make his own gold, how is he going to transform the lead of his father’s money into a higher value?”
We also learn about Langdon’s decades at Yale and how students have changed during his time there, what the globalization of English poetry means for the form, why he considers The Book of Ephraim to be James Merrill’s greatest poem, and the farthest he traveled to research the book.
About our Guest
Langdon Hammer is chair of the English Department at Yale and the poetry editor of The American Scholar. His books include Hart Crane and Allen Tate: Janus-Faced Modernism and, as editor for the Library of America, Hart Crane: Complete Poems and Selected Letters and May Swenson: Collected Poems. His lectures on modern poetry are available free online at Yale Open Courses. There’s a more extensive bio at JamesMerrillWeb, if you’d like to check that out.
Credits: This episode’s music is Lust for Life by Iggy Pop. The conversation was recorded at Prof. Hammer’s office at Yale on a pair of Blue enCORE 200 microphones feeding into a Zoom H5 digital recorder. I recorded the intro and outro on a Blue Yeti USB Microphone. Processing was done in Audacity and Logic Pro.
“Churchill was one of the last members of the Aesthetic Movement, except he applied his aestheticism to war.”
Professor Jonathan Rose joins the show to talk about his new book, The Literary Churchill: Author, Reader, Actor (Yale University Press). It’s a fascinating work about the books and plays that influenced one of the 20th century’s greatest statesmen, drawing connections from Churchill’s literary interests (and aspirations) to his policy decisions. Prof. Rose tells us about the most surprising literary influence he discovered, Churchill’s roots in Victorian melodrama, his love of the coup de theatre, his no-brow approach to art, how Hitler was like a photo-negative of Churchill, and why a politician like him would never survive in today’s party-line system.
“Just as Oscar Wilde was a public performer who created a persona, I think Churchill did something very similar in his life. His greatest creation was Winston Churchill. It was his greatest work of art.”
Along the way, Prof. Rose also tells us about the one book he wishes Churchill had read, why Churchill would love the internet, why so many politicians cite him as an influence but fail to live up to his example, what it’s like teaching history to students who weren’t alive during the Cold War, and why we need more literary biographies of political figures (at least, for those who read).
About our Guest
Jonathan Rose is William R. Kenan Professor of History at Drew University. He was the founding president of the Society for the History of Authorship, Reading and Publishing, and he is coeditor of that organization’s journal, Book History. His book The Intellectual Life of the British Working Classes: Second Edition won the Longman-History Today Historical Book of the Year Prize, the American Philosophical Society Jacques Barzun Prize in Cultural History, the British Council Prize of the North American Conference on British Studies, the SHARP Book History Prize, and the New Jersey Council for the Humanities Book Prize. It was shortlisted for the Duff Cooper Award and the British Academy Book Prize, and named a Book of the Year by the Economist magazine. His other publications include The Edwardian Temperament, 1895-1919, The Holocaust and the Book: Destruction and Preservation (Studies in Print Culture and the History of the Book), and A Companion to the History of the Book (with Simon Eliot). His latest book is The Literary Churchill: Author, Reader, Actor (Yale University Press).
Credits: This episode’s music is Mr. Churchill Says by The Kinks (duh). The conversation was recorded at Mr. Rose’s home on a pair of Blue enCORE 200 microphones feeding into my brand-new Zoom H5 digital recorder. The intro and outro were recorded on a Blue Yeti USB Microphone. Processing was done in Audacity and Garage Band. Photo of Prof. Rose by me.
“We were taught with the idea that these books meant something, that it was something vital to your life, that if you read these books you could understand what was going on around you better than you could if you didn’t. I don’t know if anyone’s doing that now.”
Time to wrap up our August book critics miniseries! Following our conversations with Michael Dirda and Jessa Crispin, we have Frank Wilson, who’s been reviewing books for FIFTY YEARS. Frank, who launched the Books, Inq. blog in 2005, talks about the changes in book culture over that half-century, the marvel of Tolstoy, his picks for most underrated and most overrated authors, the perils of using big-name writers as book reviewers, and more!
“I think that blogging has wiped out the book reviewing business but it does wonders for the literary business.”
We also talk about his life as a Catholic Taoist, the similarities of poetry and religion, whether Catholics can write good novels, the biggest gap in his literary background, when it’s okay to break the rules of Haiku (and other forms), and why he thinks Willa Cather is truly the Great American Novelist!
About our Guest
Frank Wilson is celebrating his 50th year of book reviewing. His reviews have appeared in a number of newspapers and magazines, but mainly the Philadelphia Inquirer, where he served as book editor until 2008. In 2005, he launched Books, Inq.: The Epilogue, a blog about books and publishing. He has an entertaining bio over here.
Credits: This episode’s music is Sinner’s Prayer by Ray Charles (see, because of Frank’s Catholicism and belief in the fallenness of — oh, never mind). The conversation was recorded at Mr. Wilson’s home in Philadelphia on a pair of Blue enCORE 200 microphones feeding into a brand-new Zoom H5 digital recorder. The intro and outro were also recorded on that equipment, in a room at the Courtyard Marriott in Creve Coeur, MO. Processing was done in Audacity and Garage Band. Photo of Mr. Wilson by me.
Note: DG Myers died on Sept. 26, 2014, about 6 months after we recorded this episode. You can read my contribution to his festscrhift here.
“I would take an evil delight in asking my colleagues what they were reading, and watching the look of panic on their faces. Because everyone reads scholarship now, and very few primary materials. Our academic specialties are an inch wide and a mile deep.”
Literature professor and book critic DG Myers is dying of cancer, but that doesn’t mean he’s planning to go gentle into that good night. In a far-ranging conversation, we talk about why he believes university English departments will barely outlast him, how he made the move from Southern Baptist to Orthodox Judaism (getting recircumcised a few times along the way), what he’d like to be remembered for, why the idea of The Western Canon is a canard, which books and authors he’s trying to get to before he dies, who he regrets not reading before now, and the identity of the one author he’d like to hear from. Give it a listen!
“Every Shabbos I thank Hashem for my cancer, because it has focused me on what’s good and enabled me to ignore what’s not.”
We also talk about his plans to dispose of his library, the joys of studying under Stanley Elkin, the relation of books to moral life, the things that cease to matter in the face of a terminal diagnosis, the failure of English departments in the age of Theory, the thorny question of whether creative writing can be taught, and what writers and readers should do to save the humanities. Also, check out the list of books that came up in our conversation.
About our Guest
DG Myers is the author of The Elephants Teach: Creative Writing Since 1880, a work of literary scholarship. He has been a critic and literary historian for nearly a quarter of a century at Texas A&M and Ohio State universities, and was formerly the fiction critic for Commentary. He has written for Jewish Ideas Daily, the New York Times Book Review, the Weekly Standard, Philosophy and Literature, the Sewanee Review, First Things, the Daily Beast, the Barnes & Noble Review, the Journal of the History of Ideas, American Literary History, and other journals. He is working on a memoir, Life on Planet Cancer, and lives in Columbus, OH, with his wife Naomi and their four children: Dov, Saul, Isaac, and Miriam (“Mimi”). He writes at A Commonplace Blog.
Credits: This episode’s music is First We Take Manhattan by Jennifer Warnes. The conversation was recorded at Prof. Myers’ home on a pair of Blue enCORE 200 microphones, feeding into a Zoom H4n recorder. The intro and outro were recorded on Blue Yeti USB Microphone. Processing was done in Audacity and Garage Band. Photo of Prof. Myers by me.