Episode 227 – Ben Schwartz

Virtual Memories Show 227: Ben Schwartz

“Twitter is the best source of political humor now. It’s better than any show on TV. It’s hard to compete with a million writers.”

Comedy writer, journalist and screenwriter Ben Schwartz joins the show to talk serious laughs. We discuss his work on American humor between the wars, writing for Billy Crystal on the Oscars and his contributions to David Letterman’s monologues, the profundity of Jack Benny and the importance of Bob Hope, his amazing (but unproduced) screenplay about Bob Hope and Larry Gelbart in Korea, how Jaime Hernandez’ comics prepared him to move to LA, his take on Charlie Hebdo, and what it’s like having the same name as the actor who played Jean-Ralphio on Parks & Rec! Give it a listen!

“Part of being able to sell stories is having an idea that other people don’t have, having a point of view or knowledge that other people don’t have.”

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

Lots of ways to follow The Virtual Memories Show! iTunes, Twitter, Instagram, Soundcloud, Facebook, Tumblr, and RSS!

About our Guest

Ben Schwartz is a comedy writer and journalist whose work began appearing at Suck.com (as Bertolt Blecht) and has appeared since in The New Yorker, Vanity Fair, Letterman monologues, the 84th Oscars, The Baffler, The New York Times, on the radio show Wits, and with comics collaborators like Ivan Brunetti, Peter Bagge, and Drew Friedman. To what degree the work is considered journalism or satire depends on the legal circumstances of the moment and how serious your libel suit looks. He is currently on assignment for Vanity Fair and working on a history of American humor set between the two world wars, set to come out from Fantagraphics. He’s on Twitter as @benschwartzy.

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. Schwartz’s home on a pair of Blue enCORE 200 Microphones feeding into a Zoom H5 digital recorder. I recorded the intro and outro on the same equipment in a hotel room in Quincy, MA. All processing and editing done in Adobe Audition CC. Photo of Mr. Schwartz by me. It’s on my instagram.

Episode 224 – Graham Chaffee

Virtual Memories Show 224: Graham Chaffee

“What I’ve learned about storytelling is that you don’t know what the story’s about until you’re halfway through it. You might have your plot, but plot’s just the vehicle.”

Master tattooist and comics artist Graham Chaffee joins the show to talk about his new graphic noir, To Have & To Hold (Fantagraphics)! We get into the culture(s) of LA and why it’s the quintessential 20th century American city, the way the internet has changed the tattoo business, Graham’s history with comics, the difference between the story and the plot, his lengthy hiatus from making comics and what brought him back to it, the joys of drawing a good dog, the accidental portrayal of race in his comics, and the time he did a full-back tattoo portraying the dark night of Lisa Simpson’s soul! Give it a listen! And go buy To Have And To Hold (along with Graham’s other comics)! And visit his tattoo shop, Purple Panther Tattoo, when you’re in LA!

“I think the dirty, old, crappy version of things was organic, and the newer, cleaner version is manufactured.”

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

Lots of ways to follow The Virtual Memories Show! iTunes, Twitter, Instagram, Soundcloud, Facebook, Tumblr, and RSS!

About our Guest

Graham Chaffee is a professional tattoo artist and cartoonist. His previous books are The Big Wheels (1993), The Most Important Thing and Other Stories (1995), and Good Dog (2013). He lives and works in Los Angeles. You can find him on instagram at graham_chaffee

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 Purple Panther Tattoos 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 Graham by me. They’re on my instagram.

Episode 192 – Jim Woodring

Virtual Memories Show #192: Jim Woodring

“I have something to live for in the goal of producing this long, fascinating, convoluted, loop-de-loop, metaphysical story arc. And that’s the kind of thing that occupies me and makes my days the joyous things they are: living in this screwed-up dream-world that isolates me from the rest of the world and humanity in general.”

Jim Woodring rejoins the show to talk art, comics and the Unifactor! During a break at SPX 2016, we sat down to discuss the importance of Fantagraphics on its 40th anniversary, Jim’s move to Seattle in 1974 and his move away from there last year, camaraderie with the cartoonists of his generation, what he’d do if he was just starting out as a cartoonist today, the experience of seeing Frank in 3-D, the joys of drawing with a six-foot pen, just what Art is there for, and more! Give it a listen! And go buy his newest book, Frank In The 3rd Dimension!

“Some people say religious experiences are just in the person’s mind, but where else would they be?”

frank-in-3rd-dimension-coverWe also talk about how Jack Kirby drew like a haunted machine, why computers have led to a generation of prosthetic geniuses, why he sticks with analog drawing tools (like that six-foot-long pen, known as Nibbus Maximus), the remarkable experience of going on a tour of the South China Seas with “a billionaire friend of mine”, his relationship with the Unifactor (and the perils of trying to circumvent its storytelling imperatives), the role of perseverance in becoming a better artist, and the feeling that he’s done the right thing in his life. Now go listen to the show!

“I feel like a pretender next to guys like Jaime and Gilbert Hernandez. With my limited abilities and my ‘that’s good enough’ philosophy of art, I feel like I’ve just sneaked into the party.”

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

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About our Guest

16219296116_804d4bfe9c_kJim Woodring was born in Los Angeles in 1952 and enjoyed a childhood made lively by an assortment of mental an 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 collected in The Book of Jim in 1992. A newer collection of these comics was published as 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, The Congress of the Animals, and Fran. His newest book is Frank In The 3rd Dimension, with Charles Barnard.

Woodring is also known for his anecdotal charcoal drawings (a selection which was gathered 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 on Vashon Island with his family and residual phenomena.

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 the Bethesda North Marriott 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 Mackie Onyx Blackjack 2×2 USB Recording Interface. Photos of Jim by me.

Episode 187 – Tom Gauld

Virtual Memories Show #187:
Tom Gauld

“I think I made three cartoons about Jane Austen before I got around to reading a Jane Austen novel. And then I thought, ‘Oh, this is really good!'”

70_mccover2Cartoonist & illustrator Tom Gauld joins the show to talk about his new book, Mooncop (Drawn & Quarterly), and developing a post-optimistic view of the future. We get into his drawing and storytelling influences, how he got a weekly gig doing literary gags at The Guardian, why he likes doing illustration work, the time he melted down when he met his comics-idols, how he got his first New Yorker cover, the two key elements of productivity for all artists and writers (coffee & walking) and more! Give it a listen! And go buy Mooncop! (and his other books, Goliath and You’re All Just Jealous of My Jetpack!)

“I never tailored my work to an audience, other than just trying to make what I think is funny.”

gauld-suitcase-1200

We also get into the importance of the hand-drawn line, the question of collaborating with a writer, the balance of long-form comics and weekly assignments, his schoolteacher’s rapprochement with his compulsive cartooning, the challenge of doing literary comics while trying not to read too deeply, the scope-creep of doing the cover for the Drawn & Quarterly 25th anniversary collection, why weaknesses are as important as strengths to one’s style, and why he REALLY needs to learn to draw hands. Now go listen to the show!

“The constraints of illustration work are actually liberating. . . . I think I’d go crazy if I had to draw comics all the time.”

gauld-tom-genre-090616-1200

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

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About our Guest

tom-gauld-illoTom Gauld was born in 1976 and grew up in Aberdeenshire, Scotland. He is a cartoonist and illustrator and his work is regularly published in The Guardian, The New York Times, and The New Scientist. His comic books, Mooncop, Goliath, and You’re All Just Jealous of My Jetpack, are published by Drawn & Quarterly. He lives in London with his family.

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 in the Bethesda North Marriott 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 Mackie Onyx Blackjack 2×2 USB Recording Interface. Photo of Mr. Gould by me.

Episode 180 – Leslie Stein

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Virtual Memories Show #180: Leslie Stein

“I’m able to be what people want me to be when I’m behind the bar or playing music, but I’m not a performer by nature, so it’s not an easy transition. With comics, the joy I feel when I’m drawing comes through.”

EOTMC3_Cover_FINALCartoonist Leslie Stein joins the show to celebrate her new book, Time Clock (Fantagraphics)! We talk about her amazing diary comics (recently collected in Bright-Eyed At Midnight), why she picked a really weird name for her ongoing comics project (Eye of the Majestic Creature), the artistic benefits of boredom, finding her style(s), drawing for online vs. print (and color vs. b/w), her strategy for surviving comic cons and festivals, how she got a gig publishing comics at VICE, the disconcerting discovery that she had an audience, and how she strikes a balance of cartooning, being in a band, and tending bar! Give it a listen! And buy her newest books, Time Clock and Bright-Eyed At Midnight (my personal fave of all her work)!

“I’ve been thinking about this one project for five years, and that’s been keeping me from starting it. I feel like it could be amazing or it could be terrible, and I just have to spend a few years on it to figure that out.”

This episode was recorded at the School of Visual Arts, where Leslie studied. Past guest Nathan Fox, chair of the MFA Visual Narrative Department at SVA, offered us a space to record. SVA’s low-residency MFA Visual Narrative Program includes two years online and three summers in NYC. The program focuses on the growing need for original content creators in advertising, video games, picture books, graphic novels, film, comic arts, illustration and animation, and it prepares artists and authors to become innovators in the ever-evolving art of visual storytelling. Now go listen to the show!

“I started diary comics on a whim, which is how I approach everything.”

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

Leslie Stein is a cartoonist and musician living in Brooklyn, New York. She is the author of the comic book series Eye of the Majestic Creature, as well as the author of Bright-Eyed At Midnight, a collection of diary comics, both published by Fantagraphics Books. She regularly contributes comics to VICE. She plays music with Prince Rupert’s Drops.

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 the School of Visual Arts 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, inside a closet in Des Allemands, LA. Processing was done in Audacity and Logic Pro. Photo of Ms. Stein by me.

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:

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

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 Hollow Man

Virtual Memories Show:
The Hollow Man

It’s the ONE-HUNDREDTH EPISODE of The Virtual Memories Show! And they said it would never last! To celebrate hitting the century mark, I asked past guests, upcoming guests and friends of the show to interview me this time around!

The sorrow of the lonely podcaster

This special episode includes questions and recorded segments with Maria Alexander, Ashton Applewhite, John Bertagnolli, Lori Carson, Sarah Deming, Paul Di Filippo, Michael Dirda, Robert Drake, Aaron K. Finkelstein, Mary Fleener, Drew Friedman, Josh Alan Friedman, Kipp Friedman, Richard Gehr, Ben Katchor, Sara Lippmann, Brett Martin, Zach Martin, Seth, Jesse Sheidlower, Ron Slate, Tom Spurgeon, Levi Stahl, Maya Stein, Rupert Thomson, Peter Trachtenberg, Wallis Wilde-Menozzi, Frank Wilson, and Claudia Young.

Find out about my reading childhood, my dream list of pod-guests, my best practices for productivity (don’t have kids!), my favorite interview question, my top guest in the afterlife, the book I’d save if my house was on fire, what I’d do if I won a Macarthur Grant. and more! Give it a listen!

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

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

About our Guest

Gil Roth is the host of The Virtual Memories Show and the president of the Pharma & Biopharma Outsourcing Association.

Credits: This episode’s music is Stupid Now by Bob Mould. Several of the conversations were recorded on a pair of Blue enCORE 200 microphones feeding into a Zoom H5 digital recorder. I recorded the intro and outro and the self-interview segments on a Blue Yeti USB Microphone. Processing was done in Audacity and Logic Pro. Photo of me by Aaron K. Finkelstein.

Podcast: Semper Fido

Sheila Keenan and Nathan Fox talk Dogs of War on The Virtual Memories Show

Virtual Memories – season 4 episode 9 – Semper Fido

“We move through a human-centric world as if that is reality, but we’re surrounded by other species, and their species is centric to their world. I’m interested in how that works, not in humanizing other animals.”

In honor of K-9 Veterans Day, our guests are Sheila Keenan and Nathan Fox, the writer and the artist behind Dogs of War, a YA graphic novel about dogs on the battlefield. We talk about their collaborative process and how it developed over the course of this project, as well as the challenges of writing about war for a YA audience, how the trajectory of dog use parallels the development of military technology, and the ways that our empathy for animals can help us better understand the cost of conflict.

“I want the power of time and imagination that resides in the white space between panels.”

Also, find out about their circuitous paths to comics, the alchemy of a writer’s vision interpreted by an artist, why Nathan launched an MFA program at the School of Visual Arts, and how Sheila’s husband wooed her with a page of Love & Rockets!

Praise for Dogs of War

  • Starred reviews in Publishers Weekly, School Library Journal, and The Bulletin of the Center for Childrens’ Books
  • School LIbrary Journal Top Ten Graphic Novels
  • YALSA Top Ten Great Graphic Novels (Young Adult Library Services Association, a division of ALA/American Library Association)
  • ALA Quick Picks for Reluctant Young Adult Readers

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 Guests

Sheila Keenan is an established author of books for young people, including As The Crow Flies, a picture book she did in collaboration with her husband artist Kevin Duggan, and Animals in the House: A History of Pets and People. Dogs of War is her first graphic novel.

Nathan Fox was born in 1975 in Washington D.C. Raised from the age of five on the suburban outskirts of Houston, an early addiction to cartoons, commercials and video games led to a lifelong exploration of Narrative Art and the over-stimulation associated with his generation. In the hopes of making such an addiction his full time job, Nathan left Texas for Missouri, where he attended the Kansas City Art Institute. After graduating in 1997, Nathan pursued Illustration from Milwaukee, WI for the next two years with little result. Frustrated with pursuing editorial illustration and working as an offset pressman, he and his wife moved to New York City in 2000 where Nathan attended The School of Visual Arts (SVA) Illustration As Visual Essay Graduate Program. His work has appeared in The New York Times Newspaper and Magazine, Interview, The New Yorker, Rolling Stone, Wired, ESPN Magazine, Print, Entertainment Weekly, Mother Jones, Spin, Mad Magazine, MTV Store Windows and Tshirts, Burton US Open 2009, Instant Winner and REAL Skateboards, DC Comics, Vertigo, Dark Horse Comics, Marvel and many other publications and mediums. In 2011, Nathan designed the curriculum for a new low-residency graduate program in visual storytelling and is now chair of SVA’s MFA Visual Narrative program.

Credits: This episode’s music is Atomic Dog by Parliament. The conversation was recorded at Mr. Fox’s office at the School of Visual Arts on a Blue enCORE 200 microphone (for me) and an Audio-Technica AT2020 Cardioid Condenser microphone (for them), 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. Fox and Ms. Keenan by me.

Shaft’s Big Book Score

What with me being me, it’s tough to go without buying books for too long, although I’m in semi-austerity mode just now. I ordered a stack of books from Bookcloseouts.com last week, but still made a stop at the Barnes & Noble on Rt. 17 in Paramus, NJ today, to see if they have a copy of JL Carr’s A Month in the Country in their used section.

They don’t. Still, I picked up some other things, then came home to find the Bookcloseouts order had arrived.

So here’s today’s book score:

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Barnes & Noble

  • Open City – Teju Cole – $7 – Just ‘cuz. If I don’t dig it, I can give it to a book-reading pal.
  • Locas – Jaime Hernandez – $25 – Because one of my book-reading pals still has my copy of this enormous collection of Love & Rockets comics, and I’m afraid I’ll never get it back.

Bookcloseouts.com

I’ll likely hit the Montclair Book Center tomorrow afternoon to see about that JL Carr book. And get some barbecue at The Wood Pit.

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.]