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.”

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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.”

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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:

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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:

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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 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.]

The musicalized, heat-filled dream of possessing his beloved

I went to Homecoming at St. John’s College this weekend. I got my master’s degree there, but I consider it my alma mater much more than I do my undergrad institution. I had a good time; it wasn’t as transformative as the Piraeus seminar I attended this past May/June, but it was a great opportunity to reconnect with other students, tutors, and an old pal who came to visit on Saturday. I didn’t get to record any podcast conversations during the trip, but did reach out to a few potential guests.

It’s been a busy few weeks for me. Two weekends ago was the Small Press Expo in Bethesda, MD. The next weekend we had a wedding in Dawson, PA, about 375 miles from home. This weekend was Annapolis. Next weekend I leave to Madrid and hope that the riots settle down enough for me to get to my conference safely.

I took a half-day from work on Friday, after pounding out pages and sending PDFs to the contributors of the new ish, so they can send me their corrections in time for me to get the new issue out by Wednesday. I left for Annapolis around 2 in the afternoon and had to deal with a little traffic on the ride down, but got in safe and sound, albeit unfed.

I checked in at my hotel, then drove to campus, got my registration packet, picked up a powerbar-sorta thing for dinner, and headed over to the Homecoming lecture, The Musical Universe and Mozart’s Magic Flute, by Peter Kalkavage. Peter was the tutor for my preceptorial on Hegel’s Elements of the Philosophy of Right. His 1991 essay on the role of Ulysses in The Divine Comedy was one of the things that convinced me to attend St. John’s. (It’s in this PDF.)

The lecture was way over my head, breaking down Tamino’s aria in technical ways to reveal its beauty. I’m not an opera guy and have no musical training to speak of, but I still enjoyed Peter’s exploration of the structure of the music and the effects Mozart achieved from his notes, tones, etc.

I seriously don’t have a vocabulary for this. In the Graduate Institute (the GI), we don’t receive a lot of the instruction that the undergrads do. They have music, languages (ancient Greek & French), and laboratory science. Because of our truncated schedules, we make do with a lot less. (Not that I’m complaining.) I sat with another GI during the lecture. We laughed when everyone in our section flipped the page of their sheet-music handout at the right moment, while we kept looking at the first bar. It’s always fun to be the uneducated one.

Early on, Peter put on a recording of the aria, which he would later play selections of on a piano (and sing particular segments to demonstrate certain progressions). While the recording played, he swayed a little at the lectern. That’s when my reverie began.

I thought of everything that I’ve experienced in the past few weeks. First, I thought about Jaime Hernandez, the cartooning genius, choking up while telling an SPX audience about a scene from a Tyrone Power movie, The Eddie Duchin Story.

I started recalling moments from SPX: meeting people in autograph lines, arguing (gently) with Chris Ware over how “Gill Sans” is spelled, buying art from Jaime and his brother Beto, sitting at a barroom table with the Mt. Rushmore of modern cartooning (the Hernandezes, Ware, Dan Clowes, and Charles Burns were on hand), trying to talk Kevin Huizenga into recording a podcast next time I’m in St. Louis.

From there to Michael Dirda’s house on the way back to NJ. Looking over his bookshelves, noting the UK hardcover of A Frolic of His Own, discovering that third Nabokov collection of lectures on literature, spying the brick of Kingsley Amis’ letters on the shelf behind Dirda while I interviewed him.

A week in NJ followed, with Rosh Hashanah and then the annual conference I help host. Six or seven hundred people come to a hotel to participate in the show, and it always leaves me exhausted, but at least it didn’t leave me in the emergency room like last year’s anxiety-sleeplessness-caffeine feedback loop did.

Right after the conference finished, I drove home, unpacked, then repacked, and Amy & I drove out to Dawson for a wedding: Six-plus hours in the car on 78 and 76, culminating in a dirt road (Lucky Lane) in the dark before arriving at the hotel. Touchscreen cheesesteak at a truck-stop Wawa; a little local bookstore daring enough to have William S. Burroughs’ Queer and Junky on end-cap display (picked up a used copy of The Two Cultures by CP Snow); meeting gin freaks and elderly computer bazillionaires at the wedding; finishing The Good Soldier, on Dirda’s recommendation; watching eight or nine of the male wedding guests gathering in the middle of the dance floor for a bizarre choreographed haka-polka hybrid set to Bachman Turner Overdrive’s “Taking Care of Business”; passing on karaoke.

Sunday morning, we drove out to Fallingwater, about 40 minutes away, before heading back to NJ. It was impossible and gorgeous and everything I hoped it would be, and it made me feel a little sad to be returning to the standard nine-room bi-level of our neighborhood. I thought about the engineer in Local Hero telling Peter Riegert and Peter Capaldi, “Dream large.” I got another touchscreen cheesesteak on the drive home.

Worked frantically through the next week, punctuated with a 25-hour break for Yom Kippur. In addition to the standard fast (no food or drink), I decided I’d really get out of myself and not look at a screen for that span: no iPhone, no computer, no TV. It was as liberating as I expected. By the time I checked my e-mail after breaking my fast Wednesday night (at Greek City in Ramsey), I had 35 messages on my personal e-mails, only a few of which I wanted to respond to, and none of which were imperative.

I prayed Tuesday night and Wednesday afternoon with the Chabad that I visited in past years. They’ve always been accommodating, no matter how slack of a Jew I am. Some of the older gents in the congregation either recognized me from past years or just wanted to introduce themselves and make new acquaintances, which was nice. I’m so bad about joining community; I’m much better with afflicting myself.

At the end of mid-day prayers, we received a blessing from a kohen. I’d never been present for that before. We were instructed to look in his direction, but not to make eye contact during the blessing. It’s customary to cover one’s eyes with one’s tallis during this. The man in front of me set a good screen, however, so I was able to look forward without looking on the kohen’s face.

When I wasn’t at Chabad, I passed the time by re-reading King Lear, since I’d signed up for a 90-minute seminar in it for Homecoming. I hadn’t read it in years, and this reading may have been skewed a bit by the fast, since I was going without caffeine for this stretch.

After mid-day, I drove out to Nyack, NY to walk around and pass sometime. I discovered my favorite bookstore there was gone, replaced by a dry cleaner. I visited another store, the fiction department of which was filled with stacks of trade paperbacks. I tried looking at some back Paris Reviews in a stack, but it started to tip, then bumped another tower of books. I caught both of them and struggled to get them stable again without anyone at the front of the store noticing. A day of affliction can always use a little levity.

And then it was back to work, and then on to Homecoming, where this reverie began. I scrawled these reminiscences all over the backs of the sheet-music handouts. I also wrote down some details of a wonderful dream I had the night before, where I read the profile of an author who wrote a book that, according to a hybrid of Chip Delany, Michael Dirda and Junot Diaz, I would love. The book and the author don’t exist, but I retained the title of the novel, and woke up and wrote it down. I used to dream a lot more about fully-formed works of art, but it hasn’t happened in a while. I’m afraid of what that means.

Among all these notes Friday night, I wrote, “Made PDFs for contributors; put on conference.” Then I wrote, “It’s funny how unimportant those things are, and how necessary for me to live this beauty. How little of work will I remember as I grow old, and how much will I hold onto from everything else?”

Thanks for sticking around. Here are the books I bought at the college store on Saturday:

St. John's College bookstore run

An Embarrassment (Of riches? Maybe?)

The library downstairs is nearing completion! All that remains is painting the ceiling and the wall under the shelves, and then putting in the floor (I know, that last part could take forever, but hey).

Last month, I got the idea to inaugurate the new library with some special/new books. I’ve noted before that I’m on a bit of an austerity plan this year. I’ve cut back most of my discretionary purchases, let some expenses go, and basically done some evaluating of what makes me happy and what just distracts me.

I decided our new library could use a nice set of A Dance To The Music of Time paperbacks. I was saddened to discover that the U of Chicago press edition of the four-volume set with slipcover isn’t available (I mean, you can find that set on ABEbooks for like $250, but eh), so I settled for the four paperbacks themselves. I ordered them through my local-ish indie bookstore, Well Read, since they offer a decent online special-order discount and I always try to toss some business their way.

I even had them delivered to the store, rather than my home, so I could stop in and look around the store. And look! Here they are! For only $81.01, with shipping and tax!

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(Yes, my wife bought me a pair of greyhound bookends. No, it wasn’t her idea. I actually looked around online trying to find a nice set for the library, but she’s better at that than I am.)

Well, mission accomplished! I found the books I want to celebrate the new library! I can go back to austerity mode!

Or can I . . .?

A day after I picked up these Powell books, I got an e-mail from bookcloseouts.com, a book remainder site. I noticed they had some Arden Third Series editions of Shakespeare in stock, so I checked out my books downstairs and realized that there were a dozen of them that I could order to (nearly) give me a full set of Shakespeare’s plays! And with the remainder discount, it would only cost me $93.72 (shipping, no tax).

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(No, I don’t want everything in a single volume; these need to be portable.)

There’s a reason I didn’t already have most of those histories, since they’re supposed to be lesser plays, but now I have ’em! The book-buying can end!

Well, there is that Roman “mini-curriculum” that Tom May sent me last weekend. But I can pick those up in drips and drabs. In fact, I took a half-day today to celebrate (there’s a lot of that) finishing my big Top Companies issue of my magazine, and stopped at the Barnes & Noble on Rt. 17 to see if any of Mr. May’s suggestions were in the used books section in the back of the store. I found a copy of Horace’s Odes for $2.50 (score!) and then I noticed . . . the first twelve volumes of the original Love & Rockets collections, for a little under $5 each!

Since I promised David Townsend back in June that I’d initiate him into the world of Los Bros. Hernandez (as part of my plot to get comic books on the curriculum at St. John’s College), I decided to grab the whole lot of them, write him a little guide for what’s worth reading and what he can skip, and start him on the roads to Hoppers and Palomar!

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(Yeah, they even had the 3×3 gridded square edition, Love & Rockets X.)

Which is to say, stop me before I book-buy again!

Podcast: My Old School

Virtual Memories – season 2 episode 6
David Townsend – My Old School

The June episode of The Virtual Memories Show is ready to go! Around Memorial Day, I took a little vacation to my alma mater, St. John’s College, for a seminar on Flannery O’Connor, and got to interview two of my favorite tutors: David Townsend and Tom May.

Because they both had so much to talk about, I decided to split this month’s show into two parts. This episode has my conversation with David Townsend, and it’s a remarkable take on education in America, the nature of good conversation, and the poetry of the Koran (among other topics)!

Check out the followup episode, in which tutor Tom May talks about a dizzying array of topics. There are also episodes with tutors Peter Kalkavage (2014) and Eva Brann (2013)!

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

If you’re interested in seeing some of Annapolis, check out my photoset from that trip!

Spa Cove

Credits: This episode’s music is Steely Dan’s My Old School. I recorded the intro on a Blue Yeti mic, and the conversation with was recorded on a pair of Blue Encore 100 mics, feeding into a Zoom H4N recorder.