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Episode 127 – The Meandering Reflections of a Literary Sybarite

Virtual Memories Show #127:
Michael Dirda – The Meandering Reflections of a Literary Sybarite

“I enjoy going back to Lorain, Ohio because I’m reminded that the world of Washington and the East Coast literary establishment is a very narrow, special one that’s parochial in its own way. The rest of the world has other concerns: family, job and life in general. Whereas we get all up in arms about very minor things.”

browsingscoverPulitzer Prize-winning book reviewer Michael Dirda rejoins the show to talk about his new collection, Browsings: A Year of Reading, Collecting, and Living with Books (Pegasus Books). We discuss the importance of reading for pleasure, the difference between book-collecting and shopping, the role of the book reviewer (and how it differs from that of the critic), a recent negative review he didn’t want to write, why he doesn’t read reviews of his work, what his mother said when he won the Pulitzer Prize, and more! Give it a listen!

“The books that you don’t grasp immediately, the ones that leave you off-kilter . . . those are often the books that really last, and matter.”

Our first three-time guest also talks about the democratization of book reviewing, the problems of storing books in his basement, what he wants an author to think upon reading his book review of a book, his affinity for Clive James’ work, whether his reviews have a coded autobiographical element to them, how the limitations of the book review form shaped his style, why he disagrees with John Clute’s philosophy on spoilers, and more!

We talk about a lot of books in this episode. Here’s a list of ’em (Note: if I ever go to a Patreon crowdfunding model for the show, this is the first thing that goes subscriber-only):

Enjoy the conversation! Then check out the archives for more great episodes! You might like:

Follow The Virtual Memories Show on iTunes, Twitter, Facebook, Tumblr, and RSS!

About our Guest

dirdaheadMichael Dirda is a weekly book columnist for The Washington Post, and he received the 1993 Pulitzer Prize for criticism. He is the author of the memoir, An Open Book: Chapters fom a Reader’s Life, and of four previous collections of essays: Readings: Essays and Literary Entertainments, Bound to Please, Book by Book: Notes on Reading and Life, and Classics for Pleasure, in addition to his newest collection, Browsings. His previous book, On Conan Doyle: Or, The Whole Art of Storytelling, received a 2012 Edgar Award for best critical/biographical work of the year. Michael Dirda graduated with Highest Honors in English from Oberlin College and earned a Ph.D. in comparative literature (medieval studies and European romanticism) from Cornell University. He is a contributor to The New York Review of Books, The Times Literary Supplement, the online Barnes & Noble Review, The American Spectator, and several other periodicals, as well as a frequent lecturer and an occasional college teacher.

Credits: This episode’s music is Ah, Putrefaction by Jaristo, from Hans Zimmer’s film music for Sherlock Holmes. The conversation was recorded at the Boston Marriott Burlington 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. Photo of Mr. Dirda by me.

Episode 112 – Remainder

Virtual Memories Show:
Clive James – Remainder

“I should have led a more balanced life, but that’s easy to say at the end of things. When you’re caught up in what you’re doing, it’s very hard to be reasonable. And art isn’t really made out being reasonable.”

sentencedClive James was diagnosed with leukemia and emphysema several years ago, but the poet, essayist, memoirist, novelist, TV host, and charter member of the Virtual Memories Show Dream List hasn’t let his ailments silence him. He joins us for a wide-ranging conversation about poetry, mortality, binge-watching Veronica Mars, writing Cultural Amnesia (one of my favorite books), being Australian despite 50 years in the UK, how his showbiz career hurt (and helped) his literary legacy, and a lot more. We talk about his two new books — Poetry Notebook (Liveright) and Sentenced To Life (Picador, UK only) — and the ones he’s working on, and how he faced two choices after his diagnoses: lie back on a couch, admire himself for his achievements, and sign off; or go on as if he had forever. Give it a listen!

“All that poetry comes in handy when you lie there, contemplating the end. The question is why: Why when your body is about to come apart, is there such appeal in reading such highly organized argument and imagery?”

Clive James on the Virtual Memories Show

We get into the role of culture, the future of the Middle East, his first encounter with a Jew, the books he made a priority of when he realized his time was short, why it’s okay for actors to be shallow, and how he wrote a critique of Daniel Goldhagen while dressed as a mariachi singer for a TV show in Mexico.

“It’s possible to say that if I’d just concentrated on my literary activities [instead of working on TV], I’d have had a less complicated reputation. The question never would have arisen: Is he serious enough to write seriously?”

We talked a lot of books in this one. Here’s a list:

Enjoy the conversation! Then check out the archives for more great episodes! You might like:

Follow The Virtual Memories Show on iTunes, Twitter, Facebook, Tumblr, and RSS!

About our Guest

Born in Australia, Clive James lives in Cambridge, England. He is the author of Unreliable Memoirs; a volume of selected poems, Opal Sunset; the best-selling Cultural Amnesia: Necessary Memories from History and the Arts; and the translator of The Divine Comedy by Dante. He has written for the New York Times Book Review, The New Yorker, and The Atlantic. He is an Officer of the Order of Australia (AO) and a Commander of the Order of the British Empire (CBE). You can find a longer version of his bio at his site.

Credits: This episode’s music is El Cholulo by Tosca Tango Orchestra. The conversation was recorded at Mr. James’ home 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. Photo of Mr. James by me.

Podcast: Bookman’s Holiday

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Virtual Memories: Michael Dirda – Bookman’s Holiday

“I see people walking their dogs and looking down at their phones. When you’re out walking your dog, you should be thinking great thoughts, or reviewing your life’s major blunders, or having some moments alone with yourself.”

It’s a bookman’s life for him! I interrupted Pulitzer Prize-winning book critic Michael Dirda from plundering the book-dealer room at Readercon 2014 for a conversation about culling his books, the great age of storytelling, teaching adventure novels, what he dislikes about the tone of today’s book reviewers, his tendency to fall asleep while reading, and the time Neil Gaiman tried to explain Twitter to him. BONUS! I went back and remastered The Correction of Taste, the episode I recorded with Michael from October 2012! Go listen to that one, too!

Dirda returns!

“I never should have gone into book reviewing. I don’t have the right qualities for it. I read slow, I write slow: but I do love books and I’m dogged about it. I’d rather be involved with them than anything else.”

We also talk about his two early career goals (riverboat gambler or Captain Blood), what brings him back to Readercon each year, and why he’s never read Portrait of a Lady but fell in love with Lud-in-the-Mist, a fantasy novel in which the protagonists are middle-aged.

“My aim always has been to champion things that have been overlooked or neglected or otherwise not given the attention I think they deserve.”

Enjoy the conversation! Then check out the archives for more great episodes! Related conversations:

Follow The Virtual Memories Show on iTunes, Twitter, Facebook, Tumblr, and RSS!

About our Guest

Michael Dirda is a weekly book columnist for The Washington Post, and he received the 1993 Pulitzer Prize for criticism. He is the author of the memoir, An Open Book, and of four collections of essays: Readings, Bound to Please, Book by Book, and Classics for Pleasure. His most recent book, On Conan Doyle, received a 2012 Edgar Award for best critical/biographical work of the year. Mr. Dirda graduated with Highest Honors in English from Oberlin College and earned a Ph.D. in comparative literature (medieval studies and European romanticism) from Cornell University. He is a contributor to The New York Review of Books, The Times Literary Supplement, the online Barnes & Noble Review, The American Scholar, and several other periodicals, as well as a frequent lecturer and an occasional college teacher.

Credits: This episode’s music is A Soldier’s Tale by The Good, The Bad & The Queen (see, because The Good Soldier, by Ford Madox Ford, is one of Dirda’s favorite novels, and — oh, never mind). The conversation was recorded at the Marriott in Burlington Mass 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 Mr. Dirda by me.

And still champ!

I’ve been so busy lately, I haven’t checked the goings-on at The New York Sun. I wonder what’s in today’s Arts+ section?

  1. A review of David Lebedoff’s new book on George Orwell and Evelyn Waugh
  2. A review of Cyril Connolly’s “Enemies of Promise”
  3. A review of the best gins for G&Ts
  4. A sidebar on niche tonic-waters

I feel like Cliff Clavin on Jeopardy!, when the categories were “Civil Servants, Stamps from Around the World, Mothers and Sons, Beer, Bar Trivia, and Celibacy.”

Glad to see the Official Newspaper of Gil Roth is still earning its keep.

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