Podcast: Disarm

Virtual Memories – season 3 episode 1
Ron Rosenbaum – Disarm

Our first guest of 2013 is Ron Rosenbaum, one of my favorite living writers! This episode of The Virtual Memories Show is The Bomb!

I’ve been a fan of Ron’s writing (let’s call it “literary journalism”) since reading Long Island, Babylon (originally titled The Devil in Long Island) in The New York Times Magazine nearly 20 years ago, so having him on the show is a big honor for me.

Our conversation focuses on his most recent book, How the End Begins: The Road to a Nuclear World War III, and what he learned in the course of researching the present danger of nuclear conflict. (It’s a pretty harrowing — and very important — topic, folks.) From there, we discuss Ron’s body of work, his literary influences, Nixon’s final lie, what he thinks of Harold Bloom, his opinions about contemporary literary journalism, and more.

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

Ron Rosenbaum on The Virtual Memories Show

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About our Guest

Born in Manhattan, Ron Rosenbaum grew up on Long Island, got a degree in English literature from Yale, and dropped out of Yale Graduate School to write. Ron’s other books include Explaining Hitler: The Search for the Origins of His Evil, The Shakespeare Wars: Clashing Scholars, Public Fiascoes, Palace Coups, and The Secret Parts of Fortune: Three Decades of Intense Investigations and Edgy Enthusiasms, a collection of his essays and journalism from The New York Times Magazine, Harper’s, Esquire, The New Yorker, The New York Observer, and other publications. I highly recommend all of them; in fact, I have extra copies of The Secret Parts of Fortune at home and in my office, just in case I feel like reading one of what Errol Morris calls “metaphysical detective stories.” You can find Ron’s current work at Slate, where he’s a columnist, and Smithsonian Magazine, where he’s a National Correspondent. He’s currently at work on two new books.

Credits: This episode’s music is One of Our Submarines (extended mix) by Thomas Dolby. The conversation was recorded at the Inn on 23rd in New York City, on a pair of Blue Encore 100 mics, feeding into a Zoom H4n recorder. I recorded the other material on a Blue Yeti USB mic into Audacity. All editing and processing was done in Garage Band. Photo courtesy of the receptionist at the Inn on 23rd, whose name I didn’t catch.

What It Is: 11/30/09

What I’m reading: I took last week off so’s I could keep our new dog, Otis B. Driftwood, from getting into trouble. To that end, I spent a lot of time on the loveseat, trying to give affection to both doggies (I didn’t want Rufus to feel like he’s being ignored/replaced). So I had some reading time on my hands.

I read Stephen King’s On Writing this week. One of my author-acquaintances asked me, “Why would you read a book about writing by an author whose writing you’ve never read?” I’d heard the memoir section was good and, even if I have no other experience with his prose, I was curious as to what he’d offer about the practice of writing. So it was illuminating, although I don’t know when I’ll get around to reading his fiction.

I continued to slog through Bill Simmons’ Book of Basketball, which has some good points but is poorly written in a way that the author would likely contend is its strength. He’d be wrong about that; huge swathes of it are just extended columns with overwritten jokes. He once described writing the book out of sequence and eventually figuring out the overall structure for it. After 250 pages, I can see the incoherence but not to emergent order.

And I read Jeff Lemire’s Essex County trilogy. This is a collection of comics by Lemire about a small farm-town in western Ontario, and several families whose lives have intertwined over generations. While his artwork is expressionist, the stories themselves aren’t filled with any formal trickery, outside of extensive use of flashback in the second book (about a guy with Alzheimer’s, so hey). I enjoyed the collection overall. It’s no George Sprott, which continues to subtly blow my mind, but I thought it was a good, solid collection by a young cartoonist.

And I started Walter Kirn’s Up in the Air, after reading the sample chapter on my Kindle. I know I don’t really travel too much for work, but an awful lot of the narrator’s Airworld observations resonated with me. Apparently, the movie is All That. I’m kinda jarred by how so many of the airport scenes are pre-9/11.

What I’m listening to: Not a lot. I didn’t drive much this week, and the dogs & I mainly hung out in the living room, away from my iTunes liberry.

What I’m watching: Chandni Chowk to China, a Bollywood movie about a poor potato-slicer who gets mistaken as the reincarnation of an ancient Chinese warrior and has to go save a small village. I was aghast when our Netflix DVD showed up and the movie turned out to be 2 hours and 30 minutes long (!). But it’s actually pretty darn entertaining (we split it up into two viewings), even if the Indian lead looked like John Turturro’s handsomer brother. We also watched The Third Man, which I’d never seen before. Loved it, and returned the next day to Ron Rosenbaum’s essay on Kim Philby.

And there was Unforgiven, some NFL, and Role Models again, because I’m a mark for Paul Rudd and The State guys.

What I’m drinking: Desert Juniper gin and Q-Tonic.

What Rufus & Otis are up to: Ru is just taking things as they come. He and Otis are getting along fine in the house. Otis, however, is still pretty hyper when we go for walks. He doesn’t bark, but he pulls pretty powerfully when he gets his prey-drive on.

Where I’m going: Nowhere. (Well, maybe a dinner or two in NYC next weekend.)

What I’m happy about: Having a nice Thanksgiving meal at the home of my neighbors across the street.

What I’m sad about: Being too on-the-verge-of-sick to make it to my 20-year reunion in Philadelphia over the weekend. And discovering that our water heater was leaking and needs replacing, an hour before I was supposed to get together with old friends in NYC on Sunday.

What I’m worried about: Not a lot. I mean, I’m a little burned out on my low-level anxiety of trying to train Otis to walk without going after everything he perceives as prey (squirrels, chipmunks, other dogs, deer, crows, etc.). I guess the draining aspect of this is that I have to exert power in a way that I can’t just “explain” to the dog. It’s tough on me, Having to be the Big Boss and pull him along when he starts going into his statue mode. So I guess there’s a worrisome aspect to that: my discomfort at the exercise of force. Boy, this has been one long What It Is post, huh?

What I’m pondering: The eschatological significance of my father’s decision to shave his beard, which he’s been sporting since before I was born.