“It’s fun for me to find stories that haven’t been told and tell them for the first time.”
Author Ben Yagoda joins the show to talk about teaching journalism, 40 years (!) of writing language columns, the influence of Harry Potter own his students, the history of the memoir, the mystery of why the “Great American Songbook” withered after WWII, his hatred of the term “creative nonfiction”, the invasion of Britishisms into American English, our shared history in the Make-Believe Ballroom, the challenges of watching sporting events on tape delay, and more! (Also, I talk a little about the refugee-ban protests of the past weekend.) Give it a listen! And go buy The B Side: The Death of Tin Pan Alley and the Rebirth of the Great American Song!
About our Guest
Ben Yagoda recently retired from teaching English, journalism and writing at the University of Delaware, and is the author, coauthor or editor of nine books. He has written about language, writing and other topics for Slate.com, the New York Times Book Review and Magazine, The American Scholar, Rolling Stone, Esquire, and many other publications. He contributes to Lingua Franca, a Chronicle of Higher Education blog about language and writing and Draft, a New York Times blog about the art of writing. His personal blog is Not One-Off Britishisms. He is on Twitter as @byagoda. He lives in Swarthmore, PA.
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 Mr. Yagoda’s 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 Cloudlifter CL-1 and a Mackie Onyx Blackjack 2×2 USB Recording Interface. All processing and editing done in Adobe Audition CC. Photo of Mr. Yagoda by me. It’s on my instagram, along with a double-selfie of us.
“Arno is as close to the founder of The New Yorker cartoon as you can get.”
Michael Maslin joins the show to talk about his new book, Peter Arno: The Mad, Mad World of The New Yorker’s Greatest Cartoonist (Regan Arts). We talk about his own career at The New Yorker, marrying a fellow cartoonist, becoming a cartoon detective, the allure of Arno and the days when cartoonists were cited in gossip mags, why it took him 15 years to write this biography, and more! Give it a listen! And go buy his book on Peter Arno!
“There have been all kinds of changes, but it’s still The New Yorker.”
We also get into Michael’s cartooning influences & anxieties, the website he built to chronicle the doings of New Yorker cartoonists, the time Robert Gottlieb had to shield William Shawn from paparazzi outside the Algonquin Club, the recent Sam Gross gag that made him bust a gut, the incredible apartment building he lived in in on West 11th St. (and why so many New Yorker cartoonists wind up leaving New York). BONUS: I have a two-minute catch-up with one of my favorite cartoonists, Roger Langridge, at last weekend’s Small Press Expo! (pictured below) Now go listen to the show!
“It took 15 years because I’d never done it before. I think I wrote a paper in high school that was a page and a half, so I had to learn how to do all this.”
About our Guest
Born in New Jersey, Michael Maslin was raised in Bloomfield, a bedroom community a half hour due west of Manhattan. In high school, he drew a short-lived comic strip “Our Table” which followed the imaginary exploits of fellow students. Readership was limited to those sitting around him in the lunchroom. About this time, he first submitted work to The New Yorker, and soon received his first rejection.
In August of 1977 the magazine purchased one of his ideas. It was given to and executed by veteran cartoonist Whitney Darrow Jr. (the drawing, of a fortune teller saying to a customer, “Nothing will ever happen to you” appeared in the issue of December 26, 1977). He began contributing regularly to The New Yorker in 1978 – his first drawing appeared in the April 17th issue. In 1988 he married fellow New Yorker cartoonist, Liza Donnelly. They have two children. Simon & Schuster published four collections of his work, including The More the Merrier, and The Crowd Goes Wild. With Ms. Donnelly he co-authored Cartoon Marriage: Adventures in Love and Matrimony by The New Yorker’s Cartooning Couple, Husbands and Wives and Call Me When You Reach Nirvana. They also co-edited several cartoon anthologies. Maslin’s work has appeared in numerous magazines and cartoon anthologies.
In August of 2007 he began Ink Spill, a website dedicated to news of New Yorker Cartoonists, past and present. Ink Spill is comprised of six sections: News & Events, The New Yorker Cartoonists A-Z (a listing of bare bone bios of all cartoonists who have contributed to the magazine), Links, Posted Notes (essays on New Yorker cartoonists), From the Attic (artifacts related to New Yorker cartoons/cartoonists) and The New Yorker Cartoonists Library. Maslin’s biography of Peter Arno, Peter Arno: The Mad, Mad World of The New Yorker’s Greatest Cartoonist was published by Regan Arts in April of 2016
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 Mr. Maslin’s 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. The segment with Mr. Langridge was recorded on a Zoom H2n digital recorder. Photos of Mr. Maslin and Mr. Langridge by me. Live-drawing of me and Mr. Maslin by Liza Donnelly.
“From my youth, I knew I wanted to be a medievalist of some sort or another. Byzantium was always lurking off to the side, and I thought, ‘There has to be something there.'”
Warren Woodfin joins the show to talk about guest curating Liturgical Textiles of the Post-Byzantine World installation at the Metropolitan Museum of Art (running through Nov. 1 2015). We talk about how he became a medieval art historian, the great tragedy of his high school years (it involves a Byzantine fresco at the Menil Collection artwork in Houston), what it’s like working on a Ukrainian burial mound and dealing with Soviet methods of archeological excavation, the secret fear of every Ph.D. candidate, and more! Give it a listen!
“It was the beauty of Byzantine art that got me first, and then wanting to understand where this beauty came from.”
We also talk about why art history gets a bum rap from the STEM proponents, the problem with centuries-old textile samples turning terminally brown, why Queens is the most Hellenic of the five boroughs, how new technologies have affected his work, the schisms that exist in the field, how he used to lay out “improved” versions of medieval monuments as a kid, and what the benefits of an art history education really are.
“I’m afraid that we’re embracing the view that those who can afford to pay for a quality education can major in liberal arts, while those whose educations are supported by the public should be limited to studying things we deem to be for the good of society.”
We mention a few books in this episode. Here’s they are:
- Clothing the Clergy: Virtue and Power in Medieval Europe, c. 800-1200 – Maureen C. Miller
- The Goldfinch – Donna Tartt
- Bloodlands: Europe Between Hitler and Stalin – Timothy Snyder
About our Guest
Dr. Warren Woodfin‘s research focuses on the art and archaeology of Byzantium and its cultural sphere in the 11th through 15th centuries. Since 2006, he has been collaborating with a research team of U.S.- and Ukraine-based scholars to study a medieval burial complex in the Black Sea steppe. The site, called the Chungul Kurgan, yielded a trove of medieval textiles, precious metalwork, and other artifacts interred with a nomadic leader of the thirteenth century. His recent article on the textiles from the burial (co-authored with Renata Holod and Yuriy Rassamakin) appeared in Ars Orientalis 38 (2010); a further article on a silver cup from the burial will appear in The Art Bulletin in 2016.
Warren has also published articles in the journals Gesta and Dumbarton Oaks Papers, and has contributed essays to various edited volumes. He is also the co-editor (with Mateusz Kapustka) of Clothing the Sacred: Medieval Textiles as Fabric, Form and Metaphor (Berlin: Edition Imorde, 2015). His book on Byzantine textiles and their role in ritual and hierarchy, The Embodied Icon: Liturgical Vestments and Sacramental Power in Byzantium, was published by Oxford University Press in 2012.
Prior to joining the faculty at Queens College as Kallinikeion Assistant Professor of Byzantine Studies, Warren held teaching and research posts at Duke, Princeton, the University of Pennsylvania, the Metropolitan Museum, and, most recently, a European Research Council-sponsored fellowship at the University of Zurich. In the spring semester of 2016, he will be a resident Fellow at the Israel Institute for Advanced Studies in Jerusalem.
Credits: This episode’s music is Nothing’s Gonna Bring Me Down by David Baerwald, which seems to have become our unofficial theme song. The conversation was recorded at Prof. Woodfin’s apartment 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. Upper pic: Stephanos Tzangarolas (Greek, active 1688–1710). Lateral sanctuary door with Saint James the Brother of the Lord, 1688. From the Church of the Holy Trinity on Corfu. 2.03 x .81 m. Benaki Museum, Athens. Photo of Prof. Woodfin by me.
“[Reading Mein Kampf] I expected to find something totally crazy and full of poison, so disgusting you couldn’t stand reading it. And what I found was something you could bear: sometimes pragmatic, sometimes logical. I was expecting a “wrong Hitler”, as most people in Germany would expect: a monster, yelling at the reader. Not someone it would be easy to follow. That’s what I found out: it was easy to go along with him.”
Is it okay to make fun of Hitler? On May 6, 2015, the Goethe-Institut New York and the German Book Office brought in Timur Vermes, Gavriel Rosenfeld and Liesl Schillinger to discuss “Satirical Representations of Hitler in Contemporary Culture,” and they invited me to moderate the panel! Timur Vermes’ new satiric novel, Look Who’s Back (Maclehose Press), imagines Hitler mysteriously awakening in modern Berlin and trying to make sense of the world since 1945, and prompts us to explore what it means to laugh at Hitler (and laugh with him)! Give it a listen!
“If you have too many funny Hitlers, you don’t think there’s anything to be afraid of.”
The panel discusses whether Germany will ever be “normal”, the perils of using Hitler as the symbol of anything we don’t like, whether it’s okay for some ethnic groups (okay, Jews) to make fun of Hitler but not for other ethnic groups to do so, what Timur Vermes learned in the process of writing a novel in Hitler’s voice, whether Mein Kampf should be published freely in Germany, and more!
From left: me, Timur Vermes, Gavriel Rosenfeld, Liesl Schillinger.
Photo © Goethe-Institut New York / Jacobia Dahm
About our Guests
The son of a German mother and a Hungarian father who fled that country in 1956. Timur Vermes was born in Nuremberg in 1967. He studied history and politics and went on to become a journalist. He was written for the Abendzeitung and the Cologne Express and worked for various magazines. He has ghostwritten several books since 2009. Look Who’s Back (Maclehose Press) is his first novel. It has been translated into 42 languages and a film version will be released in Germany this fall.
Liesl Schillinger is a New York–based critic, translator, and moderator. She grew up in Midwestern college towns, studied comparative literature at Yale, worked at The New Yorker for more than a decade and became a regular critic for The New York Times Book Review in 2004. Her articles and essays have appeared in The New Yorker, The New York Times, New York, The New Republic, The Washington Post, Vogue, Foreign Policy, The London Independent on Sunday, and many other publications. Her recent translations include the novels Every Day, Every Hour, by Natasa Dragnic, and The Lady of the Camellias, by Alexandre Dumas, fils. Wordbirds: An Irreverent Lexicon for the 21st Century, came out in 2013.
Gavriel D. Rosenfeld is Professor of History and Director of the Undergraduate Program in Judaic Studies at Fairfield University. He received his B.A. in History and Judaic Studies from Brown University in 1989 and his Ph.D. in History from UCLA in 1996. His area of specialization is the history and memory of Nazi Germany and the Holocaust. He has written a wide range of books, including the newly released monograph, Hi Hitler!: How the Nazi Past is Being Normalized in Contemporary Culture (Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2015) and the forthcoming edited collection, “If Only We Had Died in Egypt!” What Ifs of Jewish History From Abraham to Zionism (Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2015). He has also written numerous articles, is a frequent contributor to the Forward newspaper, and runs the blog, The Counterfactual History Review.
Credits: This episode’s music is O Just Suppose by Ute Lemper. The conversation was recorded at the Goethe-Institut New York on what looked like wireless Shure M-58s. I recorded the intro and outro on a Blue Yeti USB Microphone. Processing was done in Audacity and Logic Pro. Photo of the panel © Goethe-Institut New York / Jacobia Dahm.
Two years in a row? That makes The Guest List a Virtual Memories Show tradition! I reached out to 2014’s podcast guests and asked them about the favorite book(s) they read in the past year. More than 30 of them responded with a fantastic array of books. So, just in time for Hanukkah and Christmas, the Virtual Memories Show provides you with a huge list of of books that you’re going to want to read! Get ready to update your wish lists!
This episode features selections from nearly 3 dozen of our recent guests! So go give it a listen, and then visit the Guest List cheat sheet where you can find links to the books and the guests who responded.
(And check out the 2013 edition of The Guest List, too!)
About our Guests
The guests who contributed their favorite book from the past year — and that’s “favorite book I read in 2014,” not “favorite book that came out in 2014” — are Maria Alexander, Ashton Applewhite, David Baerwald, Nina Bunjevac, Roz Chast, Sarah Deming, Michael Dirda, Jules Feiffer, Mary Fleener, Nathan Fox, Josh Alan Friedman, Richard Gehr, Paul Gravett, Sam Gross, Rachel Hadas, Kaz, Daniel Levine, Sara Lippmann, Merrill Markoe, Brett Martin, Mimi Pond, George Prochnik, Emily Raboteau, Jonathan Rose, Ron Rosenbaum, Dmitry Samarov, Seth, Katie Skelly, Ron Slate, Maya Stein, Rupert Thomson, and Frank Wilson. Check out their episodes at our archives!
Credits: This episode’s music is The Book I Read by Talking Heads. Most of the episode was recorded at Virtual Memories Manor on a Blue Yeti USB Microphone. A few segments were recorded by the guests and e-mailed in (which is to say: don’t blame me!). Processing was done in Audacity and Garage Band.
“The choices that an artist makes are not traceable back to a particular set of neurons firing. They’re choices made by the complete consciousness of a person. Art, in a way, validates free will, and thereby validates the notion of evil.”
Ron Rosenbaum returns to the show to talk about the new edition of his great book, Explaining Hitler: The Search for the Origins of His Evil (Da Capo Press)! We talk Hitler, the meaning(s) of evil, determinism and free will, Hitler-as-artist vs. Hitler-as-suicide-bomber, “degenerate art,” the tendency to blame Jews for their misfortune, his search for the “Higgs Boson” of Hitler, and how internet culture has warped the meaning of Hitler in the 16 years since Ron’s book was first published.
“I just couldn’t bear being a graduate student, so I dropped out after a year and revolted against academia. I wanted to hang out with cops and criminals and write long form stories about America, about crimes, about strange things.”
Of course, we also get around to some other fun topics, like whether his studies of the Holocaust inspired him to become a “better Jew”, whether it’s possible to knowingly commit evil, how Bleak House changed his life, and just how he managed to become a unique voice in American nonfiction.
About our Guest
Ron Rosenbaum‘s work has appeared in The New York Times, Harper’s, The Atlantic, The New Yorker, Slate, Esquire and other magazines. He is currently the national correspondent for Smithsonian Magazine, and was recently featured in the History Channel documentary, “The World Wars.” His books include The Secret Parts of Fortune: Three Decades of Intense Investigations and Edgy Enthusiasms, Explaining Hitler: The Search for the Origins of His Evil, How the End Begins: The Road to a Nuclear World War III, The Shakespeare Wars: Clashing Scholars, Public Fiascoes, Palace Coups, and he edited Those Who Forget the Past: The Question of Anti-Semitism. You can find him on twitter at @ronrosenbaum1.
Credits: This episode’s music is Back to Black by Amy Winehouse (see, because Ron’s a fan of her stuff, and the episode is about his returning to the topic of evil, and — oh, never mind). The conversation was recorded in a friend’s apartment on a pair of Blue enCORE 200 microphones 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. (There was a loud air conditioner, so I did some noise removal, which may have tweaked the audio a little.) Photo of Mr. Rosenbaum by me.
The year is over! I exceeded my podcast goal of getting a new episode out every other week! And rather than eke out one more interview for the final podcast of the year, I decided to make my life more difficult by hitting up this past year’s guests to find out the favorite books they read in 2013.
At the time, I thought this episode would make a nice companion to my Another Year, In the Books post, but now I realize it’s just another symptom of my Need To Create Giant Organization-Oriented Projects. Regardless, you get the fruits of my obsessive-compulsive labor! This year-end episode features selections from nearly 2 dozen of our recent guests! Go give it a listen! (And visit this cheat sheet if you’d like to see which guests responded and which books they picked.)
About our Guests
The guests who contributed their favorite book from the past year — and that’s “favorite book I read in 2013,” not “favorite book that came out in 2013” — are Charles Blackstone, Lisa Borders, Scott Edelman, Drew Friedman, Kipp Friedman, Craig Gidney, Ed Hermance, Nancy Hightower, Jonathan Hyman, Maxim Jakubowski, Ben Katchor, Ian Kelley, Roger Langridge, Philip Lopate, Hooman Majd, Zach Martin, Ron Rosenbaum, David Rothenberg, Willard Spiegelman, Peter Trachtenberg, Wallis Wilde-Menozzi, and Matt Wuerker. Check out their episodes at our archives!
Credits: This episode’s music is Ho Renomo by Cluster/Brian Eno. Most of the episode was recorded at Virtual Memories Manor on a Blue Yeti USB Microphone. Some segments were recorded on a pair of Blue enCORE 200 microphones feeding into a Zoom H4n recorder. Some segments were recorded by the guests and e-mailed in (which is to say: don’t blame me!). Processing was done in Audacity and Garage Band.
“One day, I was on the train to work and I had a terrible anxiety attack and a crisis of whatever, and began just scribbling on a yellow legal pad that I had. It was basically my complaints about my own misery. I was terrified that if I even lifted the pen from the page, I would just be carried off that railroad car screaming, past all the commuters.
“I did that for about three days, just a therapeutic venting on the page. In a little while, I began to become cold and calculating and worldly, and I thought, ‘Shit, this is pretty interesting. What if I just gave this a little quarter-turn to the left? Maybe this would be fiction.’ So that was it.
“Having nothing else to do, it was, hey, let’s dedicate the life to this.”
This episode of the Virtual Memories Show features a conversation with one of my favorite contemporary authors! In June, I drove up to Bennington College to talk to David Gates, author of the novels Jernigan and Preston Falls, the short story collection, The Wonders of the Invisible World, about owning his niche (once described as “smart-but-self-destructive-white-American-middle-class-male-in-crisis”), teaching fiction and non-fiction writing, why he left the east coast for Montana, how he feels about the end of Newsweek, what it was like to make his start as a writer in his 30s.
You’ll also find out why he doesn’t want to write another novel, whose books he rereads every year, the status of his next collection of stories, the lineup for his country-rock band of writers and critics, and why he’s not exactly as enamored with Jernigan as its fans are.
As a bonus, our very first guest, Professor Ann Rivera, rejoins us for a quick conversation about what she’s been reading lately and why! (Hint: she’s down on postmodern lit.) Why, here we are at Gina’s Bakery in Montclair, NJ, recording away!
Others conversations with contemporary literary writers and critics:
About our Guests
David Gates is the author of the novels Jernigan and Preston Falls and a collection of stories, The Wonders of the Invisible World. His fiction has appeared in such magazines as The New Yorker, Esquire, GQ, Granta, The Paris Review, Tin House and Ploughshares. His nonfiction has appeared in Newsweek, where he was a longtime writer and editor, The New Yorker, The New York Times Book Review, Bookforum, GQ, Rolling Stone, H.O.W., The Oxford American and the Journal of Country Music. He has been a Guggenheim Fellow, and his books have been finalists for the Pulitzer Prize and the National Book Critics Circle Award. He is an Assistant Professor Fiction and Nonfiction in the Creative Writing Program at University of Montana.
Ann Rivera is a professor of English at Villa Maria College in Buffalo, NY, where she teaches courses in writing, narrative and literary genres. Her current project investigates the influence of digital media on narrative, reading networks and social structures. She attended Hampshire College along with your humble podcast-host in the early ’90s, which may help explain our mutual dislike of postmodernism.
Credits: This episode’s music is Guitar Man by Bread. The conversation with David Gates was recorded in the back yard of the Dog House residence on the Bennington College campus on a pair of Blue enCORE 200 mics feeding into a Zoom H4n recorder. The conversation with Ann Rivera was recorded Gina’s Bakery in Montclair, NJ with the same equipment. (Sorry about all the door opening/closing noises in that segment!) I recorded the intro and outro with that gear, sitting in a comfy chair in my library. File-splitting is done on a Mac Mini using Audacity. All editing and processing was done in Garage Band. Photo of David Gates by me, photo of Ann Rivera and me by Amy Roth.