Virtual Memories – season 3 episode 2 – The Magnificent Seven
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Reading, walking, looking, dancing, listening, swimming, and writing: these are the activities organizing the life of this episode’s guest, Willard Spiegelman, author of Seven Pleasures: Essays on Ordinary Happiness! We talk about his wonderful book (go read it!), his addiction to ballroom dancing, how to find joy in the day-to-day world, why he hates book clubs, what Dallas, TX is like for a secular Philadelphia Jew, how he turned me on to one of my favorite novels, who his Desert Island Poets are, how he writes about the visual arts, why the world’s great novels are lost on the young, and what it was like to attend his 50th high school reunion. (Also, Harold Bloom crops up yet again; I really gotta try to get him on the show sometime. Boy, talk about the anxiety of influence . . .)
One of the best things about doing this podcast is that I get to meet some wonderful people. In this case, meeting with Willard over two afternoons (story to come) was like making a new old friend.
Enjoy the conversation! Then check out the archives for more!
About our Guest
Willard Spiegelman is the Hughes Professor of English at Southern Methodist University. He also serves as editor-in-chief of Southwest Review, the third oldest continuously published literary quarterly in America. In 2005, Willard won the PEN/Nora Magid award for literary editing. In addition to Seven Pleasures, he’s also written or edited How Poets See the World: The Art of Description in Contemporary Poetry, Wordsworth’s Heroes, Imaginative Transcripts: Selected Literary Essays, Majestic Indolence: English Romantic Poetry and the Work of Art, The Didactic Muse: Scenes of Instruction in Contemporary American Poetry, and Love, Amy: The Selected Letters of Amy Clampitt. He writes about the arts for the Wall Street Journal. Oh, and he’s quite dapper.
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Credits: This episode’s music is This Charming Man by The Smiths. The conversation was recorded at Willard Spiegelman’s home in New York City, on a pair of AT2020 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.
Since I got back from that Piraeus seminar in Annapolis in early June (part 1 and part 2), I’ve found myself recharged. Now that I’ve wrapped up the Top Companies issue of my magazine, which occupies my June-into-July every year, I feel like I’m ready to get at a lot of reading and writing. While still juggling the podcast, of course.
I thanked both of the tutors who ran the seminar and also asked Tom May for some suggestions for a “mini-curriculum” on the Romans. I’ve always neglected them, and I think it was largely due to my uninformed notion that they were a pastiche or a degradation of classic Greek culture. By extension, I must have assumed that every last member of that world was as decadent as the empire was in its fallen days. I’m not sure how I stumbled across that idea, and why I left it untested for so long. I’m a yutz. Perhaps my enjoyment of Homer made me reticent to even give Virgil a shot.
In fact, when I was out with an old college pal of mine in San Francisco a few months ago, I was actually irked when she mentioned that she’d never been able to get into Homer, but that the Aeneid rocked her world. Keep in mind
- I have never read Virgil and have no basis for comparison, and
- I’m a 41-year-old man.
So I began reading the Aeneid on Sunday, and am enjoying the heck out of it. It’s not Homer, but it’s not Homer. It’s Virgil.
Meanwhile, I thought I’d share with you the list that Mr. May e-mailed me, along with his disclaimer:
“I’ll stop here, making no claim that all of the most important works are here, but all of these are seminal and reverberate through the tradition. I led a Graduate Institute preceptorial on Cicero several years ago that was really a delight, thanks to both Cicero and the class; I’d really like to offer one on Ovid, whose Metamorphoses are indispensable for all art and poetry ever after, it seems.”
The only thing I’ve read in that whole list is a bit of Plutarch (I’m still considering doing a Plutarch feature a la my Monday Morning Montaigne series). So I’m gonna get rolling on that Virgil. Aeneas is just bugging out of Troy at the beginning of book 3.
On Friday evening, Amy was over at a neighbor’s, so I spent some time downstairs in the library, looking at my books and pulling ones that I hope to read in the year ahead. I’m going to list them here so I can check back in December and see how far I deviated from plan. Also, so I can look like a smartypants:
That’s only 14 books, so I’ve left myself plenty of wiggle room. I don’t think I’ll start a major reading project this year, like tackling Caro’s biography of LBJ or re-reading Proust. I’ve been thinking about re-reading Middlemarch, or taking up David Mitchell’s newest one, and there are a bazillion other books downstairs to discover or return to, but this seems like a good starting point. I’ll let you know how it goes (like it or not).