Episode 169 – David Mikics

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Virtual Memories Show #169:
David Mikics

“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.

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“Bellow once said that the reason writers had such messy personal lives is because they didn’t know what to do with the afternoon.”

slow-reading-in-a-hurried-age-200x300We 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.”

There’s a BIG list of books we talked about, but it’s only available to supporters of The Virtual Memories Show, so go to Patreon or Paypal and make your contribution to this podcast!

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

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.

Episode 151 – Harold Bloom

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Virtual Memories Show #151: Harold Bloom

bloom_4I visited Harold Bloom in New Haven and we recorded a podcast. He recited poetry, and we talked about his new book, The Daemon Knows, the weight of age, the intifada of the young, and the epigraphs of his life. You should give it a listen!

Here’s some of what he said:

“I’m a reader and a teacher. Writing comes out of reading and teaching. Those are all three words for the same thing. I don’t think I’m going to be remembered at all; I don’t think any of us get remembered.”

“Much as I permanently dislike T.S. Eliot’s prose — whether literary criticism (so-called) or his abominable religious writings . . . — or the whole essential nastiness of the man — misogynistic, anti-semitic, proto-fascist, despising Freud, full of a kind of contempt for humankind — at his best as a poet, he’s beyond argument.”

“As you get old you get exhausted. You lose patience, not with your students, but with the nonsense that passes for criticism or passes for scholarship. For a while, I was proud to say I was the pariah of my former profession. Now I don’t even think I’m that. I think they’ve forgotten me, which is good.”

“If in my youth you had asked me, ‘Harold, who is the better, more authentic poet: Alexander Pope or William Blake?’, I would have said Blake, of course. Now I’m not so sure. I read Pope with more pleasure, although I don’t know if Blake wants to be read for pleasure.”

“I’m a Melamed. I don’t teach Tanakh, I don’t teach scripture; I teach the secular canon, but I take the same attitude towards it that Hillel or Akiva said, ‘Build a hedge about the scripture; be resolute in judgement; raise up many disciples.”

“You want to be remembered by whoever’s going to recall you, for as long as they’re alive, with a certain degree of love. That’s about all you can hope for.”

I went full Maron on my intro; the conversation with Bloom starts at the 12-minute mark. Oh, and if you want to find out who he’s reading nowadays and get a list of all the books we talked about, join our Patreon and become a monthly contributor to The Virtual Memories Show!)

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

24214491192_b2e8cddb17_zHarold Bloom is a Sterling Professor of Humanities at Yale university and a former Charles Eliot Norton Professor at Harvard. His more than 40 books include The Anxiety of Influence, Shakespeare: The Invention of the Human, The Western Canon, and The American Religion. He is a MacArthur Prize Fellow, a member of the American Academy of Arts & Letters, and the recipient of many honorary awards and honorary degrees, including the Academy’s Gold Medal for Belles Lettres and Criticism, the Catalonia International Prize, and the Alfonso Reyes International Prize of Mexico. He lives in New Haven, CT. His new book is The Daemon Knows: Literary Greatness and the American Sublime (Spiegel & Grau).

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 Professor Bloom’s studio 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. Photos of Prof. Bloom by me.

Episode 124 – Don’t Fall

Virtual Memories Show #124:
Jonathan David Kranz – Don’t Fall

“I feel some frustration with contemporary literary fiction: there’s stuff that’s well written without really being good writing. Lovely prose, but stories that feel flat and empty.”

brotherssea Jonathan David Kranz joins the show to talk about his new novel, Our Brothers at the Bottom of the Bottom of the Sea (Henry Holt).We talk about what it means to miss New Jersey, what makes The Shore different from any other seaside amusement region, what he learned while writing for the YA category, what he unlearned from his copywriting day-job, the value of Grub Street writing courses vs. an MFA, and more! Give it a listen!

“New Jersey has two urban centers: New York and Philadelphia. And what they have in common is that neither one is in New Jersey.”

We also compare our New Jerseys (I go on at length; sorry), then talk about his history with the Society for Industrial Archeology, what it’s like to celebrate 20 years as a freelance commercial copywriter (and it is cause to celebrate), and what it was like when he came face to face with the Jungian nature of Tillie the clown.

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

On his blogTillie, Jonathan David Kranz writes, “I was born on an island, Manhattan, but grew up in New Jersey, where I did not go to the beach as often as I would have liked. I studied painting in college (Rutgers), then framed pictures, installed kitchen cabinets, and worked as a backstage theater go-fer before pursuing my MFA in creative writing. True to form, I bummed around again—this time with a family in tow, making my living as a marketing copywriter—before a vacation in Ocean City gave me the inspiration for my first novel, Our Brothers at the Bottom of the Bottom of the Sea. Today, I live with family (and an annoying little dog) in a suburb north of Boston.”

Credits: This episode’s music is 4th of July by Lori Carson. The conversation was recorded at the Virtual Memories Studio 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.

Podcast – Success is Embarrassing

Virtual Memories Show:
Wayne White and Mimi Pond –
Success is Embarrassing

“I’ve been very lucky. I’ve had three separate careers: freelance illustrator, then set designer, puppetteer and animator, and now fine artist. I just bluffed my way into every one of ’em.'” –Wayne White

Wayne & LBJ

Artist Wayne White joins the show to talk about how his life and art have changed since he starred in the documentary Beauty is Embarrassing (which, if you haven’t seen it, go do so now now NOW!). We talk about the allure and absurdity of hubris, how much of the movie-Wayne maps onto the real version, how LA influenced his word-paintings, how he balances art and commerce, what happens to the giant puppets that he makes for installations, what he thinks of Jeff Koons, why he’s moving toward art-as-public-spectacle, what art form he’s dying to get back to, what his next big project is, when he’s gonna get rid of that beard, and more! Give it a listen!

“Cartooning is the hardest craft I ever did, because it’s no-shit-everything-has-to-work. With a painting, you can fudge things. Everything in a cartoon has to work, like a car, or it won’t run. I learned a lot about craft and discipline from cartooning, way more than painting.” –Wayne White

But first, we have an interview with Wayne’s wife, Mimi Pond! I interviewed Mimi last May (go listen to it!) at the Toronto Comic Arts Festival, shortly after the release of her graphic memoir, Over Easy. This time around, we talk about the success of the book, the surprises of the book tour, how the sequel’s progressing, how it felt to win a PEN Center USA Literary Award, and more! (There are also some overlapping questions, and I thought you guys might dig hearing their different perspectives on topics like LA vs. NYC, and becoming empty-nesters.)

“In LA, it’s the law that you must be engaged in writing a screenplay with your hairdresser, pool boy, personal trainer, life coach, dog walker, or yoga instructor.” –Mimi Pond

Mimi also at the drawing table

Enjoy the conversations! Check out more pix from my visit to their home! Then check out the archives for more great episodes! Related conversations:

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About our Guests

Wayne White is an American artist, art director, illustrator, puppeteer, and much, much more. Born and raised in Chattanooga, Wayne has used his memories of the South to create inspired works for film, television, and the fine art world. After graduating from Middle Tennessee State University, Wayne traveled to New York City where he worked as an illustrator for the East Village Eye, New York Times, Raw Magazine, and the Village Voice. In 1986, Wayne became a designer for the hit television show Pee-wee’s Playhouse, and his work was awarded with three Emmys. After traveling to Los Angeles with his wife, Mimi Pond, Wayne continued to work in television and designed sets and characters for shows such as Shining Time Station, Beakman’s World, Riders In The Sky, and Bill & Willis. He also worked in the music video industry, winning Billboard and MTV Music Video Awards as an art director for seminal music videos including The Smashing Pumpkins’ Tonight, Tonight and Peter Gabriel’s Big Time.

More recently, Wayne has had great success as a fine artist and has created paintings and public works that have been shown all over the world. His most successful works have been the world paintings featuring oversized, three-dimensional text painstakingly integrated into vintage landscape reproductions. The message of the paintings is often thought-provoking and almost always humorous, with Wayne pointing a finger at vanity, ego, and his memories of the South. Wayne has also received great praise for several public works he has created, including a successful show at Rice University where he built the world’s largest George Jones puppet head for a piece called ‘Big Lectric Fan To Keep Me Cool While I Sleep.’ He was the subject of Neil Berkeley’s 2012 documentary, Beauty is Embarrassing.

Mimi Pond is a cartoonist, illustrator and writer. She’s created comics for the LA Times, Seventeen Magazine, National Lampoon, and many other publications. Her TV credits include the first full-length episode of The Simpsons, and episodes for the shows Designing Women and Pee-Wee’s Playhouse. She lives in LA with her husband, the artist Wayne White. She is currently working on the sequel to her 2014 graphic memoir, Over Easy.

Credits: This episode’s music is I’m Ragged but I’m Right by George Jones. The conversation was recorded in Wayne and Mimi’s dining nook on a pair of Blue enCORE 200 microphones feeding into a Zoom H5 digital recorder. The intro and outro were recorded on a Blue Yeti USB Microphone. Processing was done in Audacity and Garage Band. Photos of Mr. White and Ms. Pond by me.

Podcast: Critical Mass

Frank Wilson on books!

Virtual Memories Show: Frank Wilson – Critical Mass

“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!

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

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.