“We try to find things that move the walls in our brain about what fiction and poetry can do.”
New Directions publisher Barbara Epler joins the show to talk about her accidental career, the pros and cons of New Directions’ size, the Moneyball aspect of publishing works in translation, surviving a Nobel crush, the importance of secondary rights, the language she most wishes she could read, the novel she promises never to write, the book whose success surprised her the most, where WG Sebald’s work might have gone, and more! This is part of our Festival Neue Literatur series; Barbara is the 2017 recipient of the FNL’s Friedrich Ulfers Prize! Give it a listen!
“We have to make money, but we don’t do anything that overtly looks like it makes money.”
“James Laughlin believed that one of the most important streams of income for New Directions was to get the best poets of the generation who were working in an experimental mode, because of the secondary rights.”
About our Guest
Barbara Epler started working at New Directions after graduating from Harvard in 1984, and is now the publisher. The writers Epler has published include such international luminaries as W.G. Sebald, Roberto Bolaño, László Krasznahorkai, Robert Walser, Clarice Lispector, Yoko Tawada, César Aira, Inger Christensen, Franz Kafka, Yoel Hoffmann, Bei Dao, Tomas Tranströmer, Jenny Erpenback, Veza Canetti, Fleur Jaeggy, Raduan Nassar, Joseph Roth, Takashi Hiraide, Alexander Kluge, and Antonio Tabucchi. She has worked with some of the world’s most gifted translators and has served as a judge for the PEN/Heim Translation Fund Awards. In 2015, Poets & Writers awarded Epler their Editor’s Prize and in 2016 Words Without Borders gave her the Ottaway Award for the Promotion of International Literature.
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 the New Directions offices 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. Photo of Ms. Epler by me. It’s on my instagram.
“I enjoy going back to Lorain, Ohio because I’m reminded that the world of Washington and the East Coast literary establishment is a very narrow, special one that’s parochial in its own way. The rest of the world has other concerns: family, job and life in general. Whereas we get all up in arms about very minor things.”
Pulitzer Prize-winning book reviewer Michael Dirda rejoins the show to talk about his new collection, Browsings: A Year of Reading, Collecting, and Living with Books (Pegasus Books). We discuss the importance of reading for pleasure, the difference between book-collecting and shopping, the role of the book reviewer (and how it differs from that of the critic), a recent negative review he didn’t want to write, why he doesn’t read reviews of his work, what his mother said when he won the Pulitzer Prize, and more! Give it a listen!
“The books that you don’t grasp immediately, the ones that leave you off-kilter . . . those are often the books that really last, and matter.”
Our first three-time guest also talks about the democratization of book reviewing, the problems of storing books in his basement, what he wants an author to think upon reading his book review of a book, his affinity for Clive James’ work, whether his reviews have a coded autobiographical element to them, how the limitations of the book review form shaped his style, why he disagrees with John Clute’s philosophy on spoilers, and more!
We talk about a lot of books in this episode. Here’s a list of ’em (Note: if I ever go to a Patreon crowdfunding model for the show, this is the first thing that goes subscriber-only):
- Little Big Man – Thomas Berger
- Suspects – Thomas Berger
- The Creators: A History of Heroes of the Imagination – Daniel Boorstin
- The Discoverers – Daniel Boorstin
- Heart of Darkness – Joseph Conrad
- The Unquiet Grave: A Word Cycle by Palinurus – Cyril Connolly
- The Moving Toyshop – Edmund Crispin
- Browsings: A Year of Reading, Collecting, and Living with Books – Michael Dirda
- Readings: Essays and Literary Entertainments – Michael Dirda
- On Conan Doyle: Or, The Whole Art of Storytelling – Michael Dirda
- The Robe – Lloyd C. Douglas
- The New Lifetime Reading Plan: The Classical Guide to World Literature, Revised and Expanded – Clifton Fadiman
- Party of One – Clifton Fadiman
- Enter Conversing – Clifton Fadiman
- The Recognitions – William Gaddis
- Muse: A novel – Jonathan Galassi
- The Green Carnation – Robert Hichens
- The Odyssey – Homer
- Appleby’s End – Michael Innes
- Cultural Amnesia: Necessary Memories from History and the Arts – Clive James
- Kim – Rudyard Kipling
- Zorba the Greek – Nikos Kazantzakis
- Dazzle – Judith Krantz
- V R Lang: Poems & Plays with a Memoir – Alison Lurie
- Extraordinary Popular Delusions and The Madness of Crowds – Charles Mackay
- Bright Lights, Big City – Jay McInerney
- The Scarlet Pimpernel – Baroness Orczy
- Atlas Shrugged – Ayn Rand
- Burning the Days: Recollection – James Salter
- Memorable Days: The Selected Letters of James Salter and Robert Phelps
- Anathem – Neal Stephenson
- Walden – Thoreau
- Stoner – John Williams
- On Writing Well – William Zinsser
About our Guest
Michael Dirda is a weekly book columnist for The Washington Post, and he received the 1993 Pulitzer Prize for criticism. He is the author of the memoir, An Open Book: Chapters fom a Reader’s Life, and of four previous collections of essays: Readings: Essays and Literary Entertainments, Bound to Please, Book by Book: Notes on Reading and Life, and Classics for Pleasure, in addition to his newest collection, Browsings. His previous book, On Conan Doyle: Or, The Whole Art of Storytelling, received a 2012 Edgar Award for best critical/biographical work of the year. Michael Dirda graduated with Highest Honors in English from Oberlin College and earned a Ph.D. in comparative literature (medieval studies and European romanticism) from Cornell University. He is a contributor to The New York Review of Books, The Times Literary Supplement, the online Barnes & Noble Review, The American Spectator, and several other periodicals, as well as a frequent lecturer and an occasional college teacher.
Credits: This episode’s music is Ah, Putrefaction by Jaristo, from Hans Zimmer’s film music for Sherlock Holmes. The conversation was recorded at the Boston Marriott Burlington 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. Dirda by me.
On this day seven years ago, I was
- living in an apartment that was getting overrun by books,
- in the midst of losing 30-odd lbs. on an Atkins regime,
- a week or so from receiving the typescript of a 9/11 novel by Paul West,
- working on the 30th issue of my magazine,
- planning a trip to New Zealand,
- finishing Arthur Phillips’ Prague, and
- reading Gouldâ€™s Book of Fish, Rembrandtâ€™s Eyes, and Minotaur: Sir Arthur Evans and the Archeology of the Minoan Myth.
- living in my ancestral home, with lots of room for books,
- keeping my weight around 40 lbs. below its peak,
- retired as a book publisher,
- working on the 100th issue of my magazine,
- not planning any major trips,
- starting Eddie Campbell’s Alec: The Years Have Pants, and
- glad that I finished reading Gould’s Book of Fish, even though the other two books fell by the wayside.
And seven years ago today, I started this blog.
The world and I have gone through plenty of changes since that day. I’m happy that I’ve had Virtual Memories to help me try to chronicle it. To paraphrase Tony Kornheiser, I’ll try to do better next time.
Bonus: And we’re celebrating by having some glass guys remove the big smoked-mirror wall in our living room (installed by my dad, c.1989). Good thing they didn’t break any of those panels, or it’d be seven years of bad blogging ahead!