It’s time for our year-end Virtual Memories Show tradition: The Guest List! I reached out to 2016’s pod-guests and asked them about the favorite book(s) they read in the past year, as well as the books or authors they’re hoping to read in 2017! More than 30 responded with a dizzying array of books. (I participated, too!) Just in time for you to make some Hanukkah and/or Christmas purchases, The Virtual Memories Show offers up a huge list of books that you’re going to want to read! Give it a listen, and get ready to update your wish lists!
This year’s Guest List episode features selections from more than 30 of our recent guests (and one bonus guest)! So go give it a listen, and then visit our special Guest List page where you can find links to the books and the guests who responded.
Also, check out the 2013, 2014 and 2015 editions of The Guest List for more great book ideas!
The guests who participated in this year’s Guest List are Glen Baxter, Ross Benjamin, Harold Bloom, MK Brown, Nina Bunjevac, Hayley Campbell, David M. Carr, Myke Cole, Liza Donnelly, Bob Eckstein, Glynnis Fawkes, Rachel Hadas, Liz Hand, Glenn Head, Virginia Heffernan, Harry Katz, Ed Koren, David Leopold, Arthur Lubow, Michael Maslin, David Mikics, Ben Model, Christopher Nelson, Jim Ottaviani, Ann Patty, Burton Pike, Frank Sorce, Willard Spiegelman, Leslie Stein, Tom Tomorrow (a.k.a. Dan Perkins), Andrea Tsurumi, Carol Tyler, Jim Woodring, and me, Gil Roth! Check out their episodes at our archives!
“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.
Virginia Heffernan has a nice piece in the NYT Magazine about Amazon’s Kindle e-reader. The biggest complaints I hear about the Kindle from tech geeks is that it needs to have an color touchscreen with a high-powered browser, cellphone service and maybe a camera. Which is to say, they miss the point. It’s an e-reader, not an e-everything. I agree with them, of course, when they say it’s a butt-ugly piece of design.
Ms. Heffernan does a good job of explaining how the Kindle’s “limitations” are what define it as a great device for . . . reading books. Which I do a lot of.
In short, you get absorbed when reading on the Kindle. You lose hours to reading novels in one sitting. You sit up straighter, energized by new ideas and new universes. You nod off, periodically, infatuated or entranced or spent. And yet the slight connection to the Web still permits the (false, probably, but nonetheless reassuring) sense that if the apocalypse came while you were shut away somewhere reading, the machine would get the news from Amazon.com and find a way to let you know. Anything short of that, though, the Kindle leaves you alone.
And alone is where I want to be, for now. Itâ€™s bliss. Emerge from the subway or alight from a flight, and the Kindle has no news for you. No missed calls. Itâ€™s ready only to be read. Itâ€™s like a good exercise machine that mysteriously incentivizes the pursuit of muscle pain while still making you feel cared for. The Kindle makes you want to read, and read hard, and read prolifically. It eventually makes me aware that, compared with reading a lush, inky book, checking e-mail is boring, workaday and lame.
The only thing she doesn’t touch upon is what I consider the Kindle’s game-changing aspect: the ability to download free samples of e-books rather than having to buy the whole thing. There are a number of books that I’ve decided not to buy after checking out their first 30 or so pages on the Kindle. In some cases, I decided I simply didn’t like the book enough to buy it; in others, I’ve passed because the formatting of that particular book hasn’t looked good on the device, or because a translation isn’t the one I wanted (Amazon’s Kindle store is a little hinky when it comes to books in translation).