Episode 127 – The Meandering Reflections of a Literary Sybarite

Virtual Memories Show #127:
Michael Dirda – The Meandering Reflections of a Literary Sybarite

“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.”

browsingscoverPulitzer 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):

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

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About our Guest

dirdaheadMichael 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.

Episode 115 – Idlers and Belgians

Virtual Memories Show:
Edward Mendelson – Idlers and Belgians

“I have a private test for whether I’m an individual person or whether I’m part of the culture: I go to the supermarket and I look at the supermarket weeklies, and if I recognize the names, then I’m not a person, I’m a product of collective culture.”

moral-agents200Professor Edward Mendelson joins the show to talk about his new book, Moral Agents: Eight Twentieth-Century American Writers (New York Review Books), which profiles Lionel Triling, Dwight Macdonald, Alfred Kazin, William Maxwell, Saul Bellow, Norman Mailer, WH Auden, Frank O’Hara. We discuss the role of individuals in mass culture, the intellectual’s temptation to be a leader, the outdated figure of the Beloved Professor, Orwell’s misinterpretation of Auden, the writer he was terrified to meet, the failures of identity politics, the purpose of Columbia University’s Core Curriculum, his lack of nostalgia for the era of public intellectuals, the way certain books need a year off from teaching in order to recharge, and more. Give it a listen!

“All these writers were tempted by the way they were taken seriously.”

We also talk about why he hates one of my favorite novels, why he agrees with my take on Achilles’ uncanniness in the Iliad, why professors think students are getting dumber year after year, how the economic collapse of the ’70s led to improved colleges across the country, why he thinks Stoner is a study in self-pity, and more! Go listen!

Edward Mendelson on the Virtual Memories Show

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

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About our Guest

At Columbia since 1981, Professor Edward Mendelson has also taught at Yale and Harvard. A recipient of American Council of Learned Societies, NEH, and Guggenheim fellowships, he is chiefly interested in 19th-and 20th-century literature, formal and social aspects of poetry and narrative, and biographical criticism. He is Auden’s literary executor; his book Later Auden (1999) is a sequel to his Early Auden (1981). His book, The Things That Matter: What Seven Classic Novels Have to Say About the Stages of Life, was published by Pantheon in 2006. His new book is Moral Agents: Eight Twentieth-Century American Writers, from New York Review Books. He has edited a volume of essays on Thomas Pynchon and, with Michael Seidel, Homer to Brecht: The European Epic & Dramatic Traditions. He has prepared editions of novels by Hardy, Bennett, Meredith, Wells, and Trollope, the first five volumes of a complete edition of Auden, and selections of Auden’s poems and prose. His essays and reviews have appeared in the New York Review of Books, London Review of Books, TLS, the New York Times Book Review, and many other journals and collections, and he wrote an introduction for a new edition of Gravity’s Rainbow. He has also written about computers, music, and the visual arts. He is a Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature and was the first Isabel Dalhousie Fellow at the Institute for Advanced Studies in the Humanities at the University of Edinburgh.

Credits: This episode’s music is Homesickness by Tsegue-Maryam Guebrou. The conversation was recorded at Mr. Mendelson’s office 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. Mendelson by me.

Podcast: Readercon 2013 – Monsters, Memories and Mythmaking

The Three Graces on The Virtual Memories Show

Virtual Memories – season 3 episode 16 – Readercon – Monsters, Memories and Mythmaking

“Readercon focuses on the literature. And the people who come here are really smart. They take science fiction and fantasy seriously as literature. It’s always interesting to be on panels. It’s also a real community, so I can talk with writers, small presses, editors. Beyond that, it’s really a good scene socially.”

–Theodora Goss

It’s time part two of our Readercon 2013 mega-podcast! I visited the 24th annual Readercon conference on literary fantasy & science fiction in Burlington, MA in July, and recorded five interviews in one day! Readercon has great panels and programming, a fine booksellers’ hall, and lots of fun conversation; if you’re into the “literature of the fantastic,” you really should make a point of attending this event next year.

First, Theodora Goss talks about her new accordion-shaped novella, The Thorn and the Blossom, what writing contracts taught her about writing stories, why most classic literary monsters were female, and the joys of coffee in Budapest. Then (52:00), Valya Dudycz Lupescu explores the joys of Growing Up Ukrainian in Chicago, the role of folklore and myths in her fiction, and how every immigrant wave has to choose what it holds onto when it lands in America. Finally (1:15:00), Nancy Hightower tells us why she gave up Colorado for NYC, how she made the transition from teaching the grotesque to writing epic eco-fantasy, and how we learn the cost of wilderness.

Enjoy the conversations! And check out the archives for more great episodes!

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About our Guests

Theodora Goss was born in Hungary and spent her childhood in various European countries before her family moved to the United States. Although she grew up on the classics of English literature, her writing has been influenced by an Eastern European literary tradition in which the boundaries between realism and the fantastic are often ambiguous. Her publications include the short story collection In The Forest Of Forgetting (2006); Interfictions (2007), a short story anthology coedited with Delia Sherman; Voices from Fairyland (2008), a poetry anthology with critical essays and a selection of her own poems; and The Thorn and the Blossom (2012), a novella in a two-sided accordion format. She has been a finalist for the Nebula, Locus, Crawford, and Mythopoeic Awards, as well as on the Tiptree Award Honor List, and has won the World Fantasy Award. Check out her website, tumblr, Facebook page and twitter feed for more.

Valya Dudyz Lupescu is a writer and the founding editor of the literary magazine, Conclave: A Journal of Character. Born and raised in Chicago, she received her degree in English at DePaul University, studying with Richard Jones, Maureen Seaton, and Anne Calcagno. She earned her MFA in Writing as part of the inaugural class at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, where she studied under Michael D. Collins, James McManus, M. Evelina Galang, Rosellen Brown, and Carol Anshaw. Since receiving her MFA, Valya has worked as a college professor, obituary writer, content manager, goth cocktail waitress, internal communications specialist, and co-producer of the independent feature film, The Secret. She teaches workshops around the city and online, and  helps to facilitate a monthly gathering of writers and artists in Chicago called the Chicago Creative Cooperative (“the Coop”). Her historical novel, The Silence of Trees, was published in 2010 (Wolfsword Press) in hardcover, paperback, ebook, and audiobook (2012, Iambik Audio). She has also been published in various journals, including Sentence, The Pedestal Magazine, and Doorknobs & Bodypaint. She is currently an Artist-in-Residence at the historic Cliff Dwellers Club and at the Everleigh Club in Chicago. Check out her website, tumblr, Facebook page and twitter feed for more.

Nancy Hightower is a speculative fiction author and poet, as well as an art critic who writes for Weird Fiction Review. Her debut epic fantasy novel, Elementarí Rising, will be published in September 2013 with Pink Narcissus Press. She has co-authored, along with Carrie Ann Baade, the Cute and Creepy exhibition catalogue, an art book of contemporary macabre and surrealist works. She reviews books for Fantasy Matters and interviews writers such as China Miéville and Neil Gaiman for DJ Spooky’s Origin Magazine (interviews can be read online here). She has a Ph.D. in literature from the University of Denver, and previously taught the rhetorics of the fantastic, uncanny, and grotesque in art and literature at the University of Colorado. Her short fiction and poetry has appeared in Up the Staircase, Word Riot, Strange Horizons, Neon, Bourbon Penn, Prick of the Spindle, Liquid Imagination, Corvus, Red Fez, Prime Number Magazine, The New York Quarterly, storySouth, and Dense Macabre, among others. She now resides in New York City. Check out her website, Facebook page and twitter feed for more.

Credits: This episode’s music is Budapest by Blimp by Thomas Dolby. All conversations were recorded in a room at the Burlington Marriott on a pair of Blue enCORE 200 mics feeding into a Zoom H4n recorder. I recorded the intro and outro on a Blue Yeti into my Mac Mini, at my Ikeahack standing desk. File-splitting is done on a Mac Mini using Audacity and all editing and processing was done in Garage Band. Photo by me.

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)!

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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.

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