“There’s no way to write about millennials without adopting a comic tone.”
I get over my insecurity about younger authors and talk with Tony Tulathmiutte about his debut novel, Private Citizens! We discuss his critique of the idea of voice-of-a-generation novels, the heavy and weird expectations of being an Asian-American writer, the impossibility of satire, what he got out of his years working in Silicon Valley, writing good bad sex scenes, and his discovery that Jonathan Franzen thinks he uses “overly interesting verbs”. Give it a listen! And go buy Private Citizens!
“I don’t think of writing as a therapeutic activity. It’s more like exhibitionist wallowing.”
“It’s not fair to castigate David Foster Wallace for the purposes to which other people put his writing.”
From tonytula.com: “I’ve written for The New York Times, VICE, The New Yorker, The Atlantic, The New Republic, N+1, Playboy, The Paris Review, and elsewhere. I come from the Pioneer Valley in the Bay State, and used to work in Silicon Valley in the Bay Area. For some reason I’ve received an O. Henry Award and a MacDowell Fellowship, and I appeared as a guest on Late Night with Seth Meyers. I work in New York.” His new novel is Private Citizens.
“I want to use this media, which is all about going somewhere else, to say, ‘Just here. Just stop at these woods, this snowy evening. Just here.'”
For more than a decade, Princeton literature professor Jeff Nunokawa has posted daily mini-essays using Facebook Notes. We talk about how he discovered that form, the audience that grew around his work, writing without links, the experience of producing a print edition of the notes, and his ambivalence over the final product. We get into the negative review that affirmed all of his self-doubts and pushed him toward his goal of becoming transparent, the benefits of consolatory drivel, dreaming of the next day’s note and making writing a source of pleasure, his mixed-race heritage (his dad’s Japanese, his mom’s caucasian-American) and his childhood in the 60s, his 30 years at Princeton, his joy at living in the same world as Torres and Ronaldo, and why you have to feel homesick before you feel home. Oh, and there’s a heartbreaking story of how he came out to his parents, plus I do a lot more talking than usual. This is one of those beautiful, soul-diving conversations, so give it a listen! And go buy note book (Princeton University Press)!
“My father said, ‘I was trying to turn you into a samurai, but you were actually a poet, and I went the wrong way.’ My father never apologized to me for anything, and that was as close as he came.”
“This project, which began as a lark, has become the single most serious thing in my life.”
“It’s very, very weird to do something along with three billion other people.”
Cultural critic Virginia Heffernan joins the show to talk about her new book, Magic and Loss: The Internet as Art (Simon & Schuster)! We talk about what’s behind the screen, why the internet is bigger than the Industrial Revolution, her first experience online in 1979, what it’s like to be in a piece of performance art with half the world’s population, her crushing defeat at meeting Joan Didion, why she’s nostalgic for landline phones, the motive motive of Pokemon Go, asking The New York Times to host a shred-guitar competition, and why there’s value in Reading The Comments! Give it a listen! And buy Magic and Loss!
“The Magic is the part of the internet that is delightful, that moves you to a new space, that is the Mystery of existence. The Loss is that sick feeling you have when you’ve been online all the time.”
We also get into the karmic hassle of filing expense reports, the necessity of having an online avatar, balancing her virtual and physical presences, the Talmudic ferocity of language-correctors online, the long history of selfies, what goes wrong every time she tries to write fiction, being a fiction fact-checker for The New Yorker, why people should read upthread, and the miracle of her author picture and the uncanny valley. Now go listen to the show!
“Absolute banality is not good, but babbling eccentricity is dangerous, too.”
Virginia Heffernan (a.k.a. @page88) is a journalist, critic and author, most recently, of Magic and Loss: The Internet as Art (Simon & Schuster, 2016). Heffernan has been called “America’s preeminent cultural critic,” “a public intellectual for the 21st century,” and among the “finest living writers of English prose.” Edward Mendelson in The New York Review of Books called Magic and Loss, “surprisingly moving…an ecstatic narrative of submission.” Kevin Kelly, the co-founder of WIRED, writes, “Heffernan is a new species of wizard. It is a joy and a revelation to be under her spell.”
From 2008 to 2012, Heffernan wrote “The Medium,” a weekly column about Internet culture, for The New York Times Magazine. Before introducing the column, Heffernan spent four years as a television critic at the daily New York Times, where, in addition to writing reviews and features, she chronicled the convergence of television and the Internet. In 2002, she received a Ph.D. in English and American literature from Harvard, where her dissertation was on financial dynamics in American novels. Before that, she served as articles editor at Talk Magazine, senior editor at Harper’s Magazine, and television critic for Slate. From 2012 to 2014, she was the national correspondent at Yahoo! News. From 2015-2016, she was a Visiting Scholar in the department of Media, Culture and Communications at NYU, and editorial director of West, a venture-capital firm in San Francisco. She still consults with VCs and startups.
“What I’m passing on to people is . . . the capacity to have fun. To have a life that you can build around. Not branding, and not the demands of the marketplace, but what you really think and what you want.”
After a remarkable 40-year career, publisher Malcolm Margolin is retiring from Heyday Books in Berkeley. He joins the show to talk about the liberation of being unimportant, building a roundhouse to fall apart, the “dress code” necessary to make things palatable to a mainstream audience, his efforts to chronicle California Indian culture, his next act(s), and more! Give it a listen!
“In some ways I feel regret; the irony is that I was so active in preserving other people’s cultures and languages, but I let mine go.”
We also talk about the craziest golf foursome ever, the two-week-plus run of LSD that may have changed his life, his hatred of salesmanship (and environmentalists), the publishing revolution of the ‘70s, how we learn to live in a world bigger than our capacity to understand it, the inscription he’d want on his headphone e’d what drew him to publishing all those years ago (the beautiful women)! Give it a listen!
And become a patron of this podcast via Patreon or Paypal to get access to bonus conversation with Malcolm and a list of all the books we talked about! (Also, here’s a free bonus page of all the great quotes from our conversation.)
“I’m an emotion junkie. If I can go more than a few hours without breaking into tears, it’s a wasted day.”
“These days, we tend to think of identity as something chosen; we put on certain masks or we identify as this or that, culturally, ethnically or politically. Bellow is interested in something much more basic: who we really are.”
“Bellow once said that the reason writers had such messy personal lives is because they didn’t know what to do with the afternoon.”
We also talk about David’s experience as a professor, why writing is harder for today’s students, what it’s like to teach course called, “Is Life Worth Living?” and “The Human Situation”, which science fiction novels warped him as a youth, why we need Slow Reading in a Hurried Age, what contemporary books look like they’ll last, and why he eventually came around on Faulkner. Go listen!
“Canonicity is not where you find it, but where you make it.”
There’s a BIG list of books we talked about, but it’s only available to supporters of The Virtual Memories Show, so go to Patreon or Paypal and make your contribution to this podcast!
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 David’s home on a pair of Blue enCORE 200 microphones feeding into a Zoom H5 digital recorder. Intro was recorded on the same setup. Photo of Mr. Mikics by me.
“I was a Henry Morgan authority at the age of 24.”
Kliph Nesteroff joins the show to talk about his new book, The Comedians: Drunks, Thieves, Scoundrels, and the History of American Comedy (Grove Press). We discuss the evolution of comedy over the century (from vaudeville to comedy podcasters) and how he got started chronicling it, American comedy’s twin themes of struggle and influence, the connect-the-dots game of comedic lineage, the stories that didn’t make it into the book, comedy’s role in the civil rights struggle, Kliph’s autodidactic background and how it shapes his pursuit of history, the story of how he got kicked out of high school, and more! Give it a listen! And go buy Kliph’s book, The Comedians! (NOTE: Kliph’s section starts at 17:15, if you wanna skip right to that)
“I’m just as deeply immersed in the history of film, the history of music, of TV, of pop culture. . . . But Leonard Maltin already exists; he’s got it cornered. Jerry Beck is the world’s foremost animation historian; he’s got that market covered. There’s a million people who write about music; I don’t need to be one of those guys. But there’s no other comedy historian. I’m happy to pick up that mantle.”
Plus, I give Liz Hand a call on the occasion of the publication of her new book, Hard Light: A Cass Neary Crime Novel! We explore how her nihilistic, burned-out, drug-addicted post-punk-scene photographer-protagonist has grown over the course of three books of increasing mayhem and murder. (Hint: she doesn’t decide to become a nurturing mom and validate herself with a rich husband.) Go listen! And buy Hard Light! (NOTE: Liz’s section starts around 3:30)
Kliph Nesteroff is a former stand-up comic turned writer. A longtime contributor to WFMU, writing about the history of comedy, Nesteroff’s latest project is hosting the Classic Showbiz Talk Show, a live series in Los Angeles that has welcomed comedy luminaries like Mel Brooks, Fred Willard and Laugh-In creator George Schlatter.
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 an undisclosed location in Manhattan 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. The conversation with Liz Hand was recorded using Call Recorder on Face Time Audio; I was using a Blue Yeti USB mic. Processing was done in Audacity and Logic Pro. Photo of Kliph by me.
I visited Harold Bloom in New Haven and we recorded a podcast. He recited poetry, and we talked about his new book, The Daemon Knows, the weight of age, the intifada of the young, and the epigraphs of his life. You should give it a listen!
Here’s some of what he said:
“I’m a reader and a teacher. Writing comes out of reading and teaching. Those are all three words for the same thing. I don’t think I’m going to be remembered at all; I don’t think any of us get remembered.”
“Much as I permanently dislike T.S. Eliot’s prose — whether literary criticism (so-called) or his abominable religious writings . . . — or the whole essential nastiness of the man — misogynistic, anti-semitic, proto-fascist, despising Freud, full of a kind of contempt for humankind — at his best as a poet, he’s beyond argument.”
“As you get old you get exhausted. You lose patience, not with your students, but with the nonsense that passes for criticism or passes for scholarship. For a while, I was proud to say I was the pariah of my former profession. Now I don’t even think I’m that. I think they’ve forgotten me, which is good.”
“If in my youth you had asked me, ‘Harold, who is the better, more authentic poet: Alexander Pope or William Blake?’, I would have said Blake, of course. Now I’m not so sure. I read Pope with more pleasure, although I don’t know if Blake wants to be read for pleasure.”
“I’m a Melamed. I don’t teach Tanakh, I don’t teach scripture; I teach the secular canon, but I take the same attitude towards it that Hillel or Akiva said, ‘Build a hedge about the scripture; be resolute in judgement; raise up many disciples.”
“You want to be remembered by whoever’s going to recall you, for as long as they’re alive, with a certain degree of love. That’s about all you can hope for.”
I went full Maron on my intro; the conversation with Bloom starts at the 12-minute mark. Oh, and if you want to find out who he’s reading nowadays and get a list of all the books we talked about, join our Patreon and become a monthly contributor to The Virtual Memories Show!)
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 Professor Bloom’s studio 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. Photos of Prof. Bloom by me.
“I want to be working, making comics, and knowing that the thing I’m doing right now is the thing I should be doing and I shouldn’t feel guilty about doing it. I’ve been able to keep that going much of the time for the last 20 years, and it’s kinda great.”
Is Scott McCloud comics’ leading theorist or a deranged lunatic? Find out in this lengthy conversation we recorded during SPX 2015! Scott talks about applying (and forgetting) the lessons of Understanding Comics in his new book, The Sculptor (First Second), the massive implications of crowdfunding for cartoonists and other creators, the problems with ‘balance’ in comics pages, his rebellion against Facebook, the Laurie Anderson model of comics, how he defines success, how to keep a happy marriage inside the comics world, and more! Give it a listen!
“We’ve never seen the consumer dollar at full strength. In traditional print markets, somebody spends a dollar on my work, and I get 10 cents at the end of that chain, that massive army of middlemen. Now we’re seeing what kind of world happens when the consumer dollar stays closer to a dollar. That army of consumers really has an enormous power to put your boat afloat.”
We also talk about his next book (on visual communication and education), his strengths and weaknesses as a cartoonist, making a 500-page comic book that readers could tackle in one sitting, why Reinventing Comics was like “trying to eat 10 lbs. of potato salad”, how every success story in cartooning is unique, the differences in working in print vs. working for the screen, and trying to be a scholar for the first time. Now go listen!
“Craig Thompson’s Blankets is probably off the hook now, because I finally did a comic even more sentimental. So now I made Craig look like Gary Panter.”
Scott McCloud is the award-winning author of Understanding Comics, Making Comics, Zot!, The Sculptor, and many other fiction and non-fiction comics spanning 30 years. An internationally-recognized authority on comics and visual communication, technology, and the power of storytelling, McCloud has lectured at Google, Pixar, Sony, and the Smithsonian Institution. There’s a more extensive and funny bio at his site.
“The literary writer still needs someone to have a dialogue with, to help shape their book, understand it and make it as presentable to the world as possible.”
FSG president Jonathan Galassi has been a literary editor and publisher for more than four decades, so how did that experience prepare him for publishing his first novel? Find out in this week’s show, as we talk with Mr. Galassi about Muse (Knopf)! We talk about his history (and future) in publishing, how he wound up a publisher-hybrid of Roger Straus and James Laughlin, how he learned to shut off his editor-self in order to get in touch with writer-self, why he took the challenge of writing a character’s world-changing poetry, and more. Give it a listen!
“The most important thing an editor has is taste. And how do you get taste? By reading a lot of books, and coming to understand what makes them good. Having a visceral love or detestation is important.”
We also talk about Muse‘s affectionate satire of the New York publishing world (okay: he calls it a “revenge fantasy” in our conversation), why he enjoys the rough-and-tumble aspects of the biz, the degree to which authors’ expectations have changed over the decades, the degree to which publishing relies on luck, the best training for an editor, our favorite Philip Roth novels, the value of big advances, where he falls on MFA vs. NYC, why the better literary writers should shouldn’t self-publish, and whether it was a taboo for him to venture into fiction writing after spending so many years editing fiction writers. (Photo: Yvonne Albinowski/New York Observer)
“You go into publishing because you love literature, and you end up reading a lot of crap.”
Jonathan Galassi is a lifelong veteran of the publishing world and the author of three collections of poetry, Morning Run, North Street and Other Poems and Left-handed, as well as translations of the Italian poets Eugenio Montale and Giacomo Leopardi. He has served as a senior editor at Houghton Mifflin, and as executive editor and later president of Farrar, Straus & Giroux. In 2008 he received the Maxwell E. Perkins Award, which recognizes an editor, publisher, or agent who “has discovered, nurtured and championed writers of fiction in the U.S.” A former Guggenheim Fellow and poetry editor of the Paris Review, he also writes for the New York Review of Books and other publications. He lives in New York City. His new novel is Muse.
Credits: This episode’s music is Caçada by Bebel Gilberto. The conversation was recorded at Mr. Galassi’s office at FSG 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. Galassi by Yvonne Albinowski/New York Observer.
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!
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!
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.