Episode 148 – The Guest List 2015

Virtual Memories Show: The Guest List 2015

It’s time for our year-end Virtual Memories tradition: The Guest List! I reached out to 2015’s podcast guests and asked them about the favorite book(s) they read in the past year, as well as the books or authors they’re hoping to read in 2016! More than 30 responded with a dizzying array of books. (I participated, too!) So now that you’ve got your Hanukkah and/or Christmas gelt, the Virtual Memories Show offers up a huge list of books that you’re going to want to read! Get ready to update your wish lists!

This year’s Guest List episode features selections from nearly 3 dozen of our recent guests! So go give it a listen, and then visit our special Guest List page where you can find links to the books and the guests who responded.

(Also, check out the 2013 and 2014 editions of The Guest List for more great book ideas!)

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Your illustrious podcast-host, as drawn by Roger Langridge

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About our Guests

The guests who participated in this year’s Guest List are Derf Backderf, Anthea Bell, John Clute, Michael Dirda, Matt Farber, Jonathan Galassi, Brad Gooch, Langdon Hammer, Liz Hand, Jennifer Hayden, Ron Hogan, Dylan Horrocks, David Jaher, Kathe Koja, Jonathan Kranz, Peter Kuper, Lorenzo Mattotti, JD McClatchy, Scott McCloud, Michael Meyer, Dan Perkins (a.k.a. Tom Tomorrow), Summer Pierre, Witold Rybczynski, Dmitry Samarov, Elizabeth Samet, Liesl Schillinger, Posy Simmonds, Levi Stahl, Rupert Thomson, Irvine Welsh, Warren Woodfin, Jim Woodring, Claudia Young, and me, Gil Roth! Check out their episodes at our archives!

Credits: This episode’s music is Nothing’s Gonna Bring Me Down by David Baerwald, used with permission from the artist. Most of the episode was recorded at Virtual Memories Manor on a Blue Yeti USB Microphone. A few segments were recorded by the guests and e-mailed in (which is to say: don’t blame me!). Processing was done in Audacity and Logic Pro.

Podcast 103 – Nostalgia of the Infinite

Virtual Memories Show:
Jim Woodring – Nostalgia of the Infinite

“I have this one focus in my life, which is that this world isn’t real. There are much more interesting right behind it or in it and sometimes you can glimpse them. Those are the most interesting things. That’s what my work has always been about.”

The great cartoonist Jim Woodring joins the show to talk about comics, surrealism, Vedanta, the principle of fluorescence, and why he may be the reincarnation of Herbert E. Crowley! While he was in town for his first solo gallery show, Jim and I met up to talk about his conception of the universe, how his FRANK comics have and haven’t evolved in 20+ years, how art can convey the existence of something it can’t show, why it’s easier to express the grotesque than the beautiful, why younger cartoonists may be lacking the bitter, competitive drive of past generations, and why I think the Prado is a second-rate museum! Give it a listen!

YOU_DRIVE!

“I always felt in my post-adolescence that, as soon as I figured out how to say what I wanted to say, there would be some people who would respond to it. I never doubted that people would find the work interesting if I could only produce it properly.”

Bonus: I’ve got BIG NEWS about booking an upcoming guest! It’s in the intro.

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

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About our Guest

Jim Woodring was born in Los Angeles in 1952 and enjoyed a childhood made lively by an assortment of mental and psychological quirks including paroniria, paranoia, paracusia, apparitions, hallucinations and other species of psychological and neurological malfunction among the snakes and tarantulas of the San Gabriel mountains.

He eventually grew up to be an inquisitive bearlike man who has enjoyed three exciting careers: garbage collector, merry-go-round-operator and cartoonist. A self-taught artist, his first published works documented the disorienting hell of his salad days in an “illustrated autojournal” called JIM. This work was published by Fantagraphics Books and was recently collected in a single edition called JIM.

He is best known for his wordless comics series depicting the follies of his character Frank, a generic cartoon anthropomorph whose adventures careen wildly from sweet to appalling. A decade’s worth of these stories was collected in The Frank Book in 2004. The 2010 Frank story Weathercraft won The Stranger’s Genius Award and was a finalist for the Los Angeles Times Book Prize for that year. Woodring has published two more FRANK books, Congress of the Animals, and Fran.

Woodring is also known for his anecdotal charcoal drawings (a selection of which was collected in Seeing Things in 2005), and the sculptures, vinyl figures, fabrics and gallery installations that have been made from his designs. His multimedia collaborations with the musician Bill Frisell won them a United States Artists Fellowship in 2006. He lives in Seattle with his family and residual phenomena.

Credits: This episode’s music is Forest Veil by Lisa Gerrard. The conversation was recorded 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. Woodring by me, photo of art by Jim Woodring.

Podcast: The Wonders of the Audible World

David Gates on The Virtual Memories Show

Virtual Memories – season 3 episode 14 –
The Wonders of the Audible World

“One day, I was on the train to work and I had a terrible anxiety attack and a crisis of whatever, and began just scribbling on a yellow legal pad that I had. It was basically my complaints about my own misery. I was terrified that if I even lifted the pen from the page, I would just be carried off that railroad car screaming, past all the commuters.

“I did that for about three days, just a therapeutic venting on the page. In a little while, I began to become cold and calculating and worldly, and I thought, ‘Shit, this is pretty interesting. What if I just gave this a little quarter-turn to the left? Maybe this would be fiction.’ So that was it.

“Having nothing else to do, it was, hey, let’s dedicate the life to this.”

This episode of the Virtual Memories Show features a conversation with one of my favorite contemporary authors! In June, I drove up to Bennington College to talk to David Gates, author of the novels Jernigan and Preston Falls, the short story collection, The Wonders of the Invisible World, about owning his niche (once described as “smart-but-self-destructive-white-American-middle-class-male-in-crisis”), teaching fiction and non-fiction writing, why he left the east coast for Montana, how he feels about the end of Newsweek, what it was like to make his start as a writer in his 30s.

You’ll also find out why he doesn’t want to write another novel, whose books he rereads every year, the status of his next collection of stories, the lineup for his country-rock band of writers and critics, and why he’s not exactly as enamored with Jernigan as its fans are.

As a bonus, our very first guest, Professor Ann Rivera, rejoins us for a quick conversation about what she’s been reading lately and why! (Hint: she’s down on postmodern lit.) Why, here we are at Gina’s Bakery in Montclair, NJ, recording away!

Annriveraandme

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

Others conversations with contemporary literary writers and critics:

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About our Guests

David Gates is the author of the novels Jernigan and Preston Falls and a collection of stories, The Wonders of the Invisible World. His fiction has appeared in such magazines as The New Yorker, Esquire, GQ, Granta, The Paris Review, Tin House and Ploughshares. His nonfiction has appeared in Newsweek, where he was a longtime writer and editor, The New Yorker, The New York Times Book Review, Bookforum, GQ, Rolling Stone, H.O.W., The Oxford American and the Journal of Country Music. He has been a Guggenheim Fellow, and his books have been finalists for the Pulitzer Prize and the National Book Critics Circle Award. He is an Assistant Professor Fiction and Nonfiction in the Creative Writing Program at University of Montana.

Ann Rivera is a professor of English at Villa Maria College in Buffalo, NY, where she teaches courses in writing, narrative and literary genres. Her current project investigates the influence of digital media on narrative, reading networks and social structures. She attended Hampshire College along with your humble podcast-host in the early ’90s, which may help explain our mutual dislike of postmodernism.

Credits: This episode’s music is Guitar Man by Bread. The conversation with David Gates was recorded in the back yard of the Dog House residence on the Bennington College campus on a pair of Blue enCORE 200 mics feeding into a Zoom H4n recorder. The conversation with Ann Rivera was recorded Gina’s Bakery in Montclair, NJ with the same equipment. (Sorry about all the door opening/closing noises in that segment!) I recorded the intro and outro with that gear, sitting in a comfy chair in my library. File-splitting is done on a Mac Mini using Audacity. All editing and processing was done in Garage Band. Photo of David Gates by me, photo of Ann Rivera and me by Amy Roth.

Podcast: Little Suicides, Little Fish

Lori Carson on The Virtual Memories Show (3/3)

Virtual Memories – season 3 episode 11 – Little Suicides, Little Fish

“There’s this misconception that something born of the imagination is less true. It’s more true, if you do it right.”

TheOriginal1982 PB CLori Carson joins us to talk about her debut novel, The Original 1982 (published by William Morrow, an imprint of Harper Collins). Lori’s one of my all-time favorite musicians, so the conversation also covers her singer-songwriter career and her time with the Golden Palominos, where she recorded two phenomenal albums, This Is How It Feels and Pure. It’s a really fun talk about the blurring of fact and fiction, the differences between songwriting and prose-writing (and album vs. book launches), how the music industry changed over the course of her career, her favorite authors and the books that sustained her through her first novel, why she made this life-jump from music to books, and more!

“Many people get to a point where they say, ‘I’ve done this all my life; what’s next?'”

(And there’s a book launch at The Corner Bookstore on Madison and 93rd St. in New York City on Thursday, May 30, starting at 6 pm.! If you’re in the area, check it out! Also, here’s a video of her reading the book’s prologue.)

Enjoy the conversation! Then check out the archives for more great talk!

Follow The Virtual Memories Show on iTunesTwitter, FacebookTumblr, and RSS!

About our Guest

Carson-Lori-ap1Lori Carson is a critically acclaimed singer/songwriter whose albums include Shelter, Where It Goes, Everything I Touch Runs Wild, Stars and Another Year. A former member of the seminal band Golden Palominos, she has contributed to the soundtracks of Bernardo Bertolucci’s Stealing Beauty, Kathryn Bigelow’s Strange Days, Keith Gordon’s Waking the Dead, and others. The Original 1982 is her first novel.

Credits: This episode’s music is Little Suicides, Souvenir, and Stars by Lori Carson and/or Golden Palominos. The conversation was recorded at the Harper Collins offices (thanks, Leah!) on a pair of Blue enCORE 100, feeding into a Zoom H4n recorder. I recorded the intro and outro on a Blue Yeti USB mic into Audacity. All editing and processing was done in Garage Band. Photo by Lauren Cook (thanks, Lauren!). There are a few more pix of us up at the Virtual Memories Show flickr set.

Bros Before Prose

In the new issue of GQ (April 2013), there’s a feature called The New Canon: The 21 Books from the 21st Century Every Man Should Read. It’s not something that I take too seriously, since this is the same magazine that decided last year to promote bucket hats as a spring/summer accessory. Still, I’m compulsive about literary lists, especially when they provide the opportunity for me to see how far I’ve journeyed off the contemporary literature track.

The list, as the introduction puts it, is “numbered but not ranked,” which is to say that it provides no guidance at all, except perhaps how to fit these entries in for space. It’s also exclusively fiction, which is fine, since I don’t read poetry and that issue already has a column on “this season’s best memoirs,” a genre that really could take a break.

So here’s the numbered but not ranked list:

  1. The Corrections – Jonathan Franzen
  2. The Human Stain – Philip Roth
  3. The Road – Cormac McCarthy
  4. White Teeth – Zadie Smith
  5. True History of the Kelly Gang – Peter Carey
  6. 2666 – Robert Bolano
  7. Tree of Smoke – Denis Johnson
  8. Everything Ravaged, Everything Burned – Wells Tower
  9. The Fortress of Solitude – Jonathan Lethem
  10. Pastoralia – George Saunders
  11. Runaway – Alice Munro
  12. Austerlitz – W.G. Sebald
  13. Cloud Atlas – David Mitchell
  14. Gilead – Marilynne Robinson
  15. The Art of Fielding – Chad Harbach
  16. Netherland – Joseph O’Neill
  17. The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao – Junot Diaz
  18. The Line of Beauty – Alan Hollinghurst
  19. Saturday – Ian McEwan
  20. The Yellow Birds – Kevin Powers
  21. The Namesake – Jhumpa Lahiri

Not bad! I was expecting more knuckle-headed bro-prose, a fiction equivalent of Tucker Max or Timothy Ferriss out there. Lucky for me, I’m so outside the loop on contemporary writers that I don’t even know who would qualify for that category.

So how do I measure up to GQ‘s literary bar? I’m amazed to see that I’ve read eight of the 21 books on their list. I thought I was far more esoteric than that:

The Corrections • Back when it came out, before I worked out my belief that life is too short for shitty novels. I read it in the month after 9/11, so I wasn’t thinking straight. Cut me some goddamned slack, alright?

The Human Stain • Maybe my least favorite of Roth’s American Pastoral books. The GQ writeup cites it as “the best book on sex, scandal . . . and political correctness in the Lewinsky Moment.” It’s also about a black guy passing for white, but that’s part of what makes it my least favorite of those books, and probably why GQ doesn’t include that in the “best” part. Also, they write, “Roth coined the famous phrase ‘ecstasy of sanctimony’,” which I swear to God I have never heard/read until this weekend.

Austerlitz • Hands-down best book on this list. You need to read all of Sebald’s books. I was going to write “novels” there, but Sebald’s writing defies the fiction/non-fiction categories in a much more interesting way than the spate of writers who spice up their memoirs by creating utterly false events. Stop wasting your time reading silly blogs and go read Sebald!

Cloud Atlas • I’m a fan of Mitchell’s work and loved the Pynchon/Calvino meta-structuring, where the novel is built like a series of nested narratives in a symbolic logic sequence (not, as GQ writes, “six rollicking story lines connecting disparate-seeming characters through reincarnation”). It jumps genres and offers plenty of thrills, along with profound thoughts on various modes of art. Give it a read.

Gilead • I’m hoping to get Marilynne Robinson on my podcast someday, once I’ve read some of her essays. She’s able to write about quietness, earnest faith and day-to-day life much better than her contemporaries. I want to reread this one before I start on her followup to it, Home.

Netherland • One of the first novels I read on a Kindle, so I’m thinking maybe I need to cut it some slack, because I wasn’t used to the reading experience and not knowing how far along I was in a book. I enjoyed the first chapter, but felt it dragged on pretty interminably after that. Enough people I respect dig it enough that I think I need to give it a reread.

The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao • I’ve gone on record saying that it’s a good novel that feels like a prose-adaptation of the Hernandez Brothers’ Love & Rockets comics, with the Dominican Republic standing in for the Palomar parts. I mean that pretty much as a good thing, but I also mean, “Those characters feel like they were lifted from Beto and Jaime’s strips in ways that feel really obvious to me but might not occur to critics and readers who aren’t familiar with the source matter.” That said, I consider my recommendation to be far better than GQ‘s: “Because we’ve heard heard a book talk like this one: ‘Dude, you don’t want to be dead. Take it from me. No-pussy is bad. But dead is like no-pussy times ten.'” Seriously: that’s the entirety of their recommendation. Nothing about the history of the Dominican Republic, nothing about nerd culture, nothing about the female punker characters.

Saturday • I was on a bit of a McEwan kick a few years ago, but wound up feeling like he was a writer who was working almost completely to match E.M. Forster’s Aspects of the Novel. This one, about a London surgeon whose life gets uprooted when he’s stuck in traffic because of an anti-war (Iraq) march, didn’t feel as formulaic as Amsterdam, but still felt somehow . . . modeled. It gets points for having a House-like medical diagnosis play a major role in the plot.

That wasn’t so bad. The only one I regret spending time on was Franzen.

What about the ones I haven’t read? I’ve got that Cormac McCarthy book on my Kindle, but never started it. Never saw the movie, either.

I feel like I would’ve been compelled to read Zadie Smith if she’d been around when I was a student at Hampshire, and that notion has totally repulsed me from even giving her a shot. Which is to say, I’m quite cognizant of my irrational biases. I try to overcome them, but there are only so many hours in a day. I went to a college that had no course requirements but did have a “third-world expectation”.

I was intrigued by the PR for 2666, but I lay down and it passed.

I thought about reading Tree of Smoke several times over the years and even considered buying it this morning when I saw it on bookcloseouts.com, but I opted to buy some John Hodgman books and the Complete Poems of Philip Larkin instead.

I’ll likely get around to that George Saunders collection; I really dug CivilWarLand in Bad Decline when I read it (c. 1996), but I haven’t been much of a short-story guy in recent decades. Now that he’s in vogue again, I’ll put off reading him for a while.

I know I really need to get to Alice Munro, and will.

I think I have a copy of that Lethem novel in my library, but I may have traded it in when I went through The Mid-Life Culling.

I heard that The Art of Fielding is utterly mediocre. That’s another one that got a huge PR push from literary venues, and apparently left some readers feeling like they’d been swindled. B.R. Myers tore up the publicity machine behind it, which was fun.

I don’t know anything about the other ones. Let me know if you think I’m missing anything there.

What would I have swapped onto that list? I don’t have a ton of post-2000 novels on under my belt, but I’d make a place for Gould’s Book of Fish by Ricahrd Flanagan. I’d also replace The Human Stain with Everyman, Roth’s book about an old Jew who dies. Glen David Gold’s Carter Beats the Devil is more compulsively entertaining than any book on the list. I’d put Max Brooks’ World War Z on, as well as Richard Price’s Lush Life and Elliot Perlman’s Seven Types of Ambiguity. Maybe Tom Rachman’s The Imperfectionists is better than one of the books I didn’t read. I bet it is. Walter Kirn’s Up in the Air? Probably that, too. Which kinda makes the point that there’s no way to establish a “canon” nowadays, especially not an instant one like this. I still wonder what books from, say, 1980 onwards will be read in 25 years, but that’s the sorta thing that occupies my otherwise idle cycles.

I have to give the GQ editors some credit, even if some of their actual recommendations/precis were laughably bad. Unless these selections were just bought by publishers’ PR departments, they seem to have some interest in relatively intelligent contemporary fiction. Their recommendations certainly weren’t as horrific as I feared it’d be.

Still, doesn’t mean I’m going to buy a bucket hat any time soon. Nor these.

[More literary ramblings await at my podcast, The Virtual Memories Show.]