Podcast – Success is Embarrassing

Virtual Memories Show:
Wayne White and Mimi Pond –
Success is Embarrassing

“I’ve been very lucky. I’ve had three separate careers: freelance illustrator, then set designer, puppetteer and animator, and now fine artist. I just bluffed my way into every one of ’em.'” –Wayne White

Wayne & LBJ

Artist Wayne White joins the show to talk about how his life and art have changed since he starred in the documentary Beauty is Embarrassing (which, if you haven’t seen it, go do so now now NOW!). We talk about the allure and absurdity of hubris, how much of the movie-Wayne maps onto the real version, how LA influenced his word-paintings, how he balances art and commerce, what happens to the giant puppets that he makes for installations, what he thinks of Jeff Koons, why he’s moving toward art-as-public-spectacle, what art form he’s dying to get back to, what his next big project is, when he’s gonna get rid of that beard, and more! Give it a listen!

“Cartooning is the hardest craft I ever did, because it’s no-shit-everything-has-to-work. With a painting, you can fudge things. Everything in a cartoon has to work, like a car, or it won’t run. I learned a lot about craft and discipline from cartooning, way more than painting.” –Wayne White

But first, we have an interview with Wayne’s wife, Mimi Pond! I interviewed Mimi last May (go listen to it!) at the Toronto Comic Arts Festival, shortly after the release of her graphic memoir, Over Easy. This time around, we talk about the success of the book, the surprises of the book tour, how the sequel’s progressing, how it felt to win a PEN Center USA Literary Award, and more! (There are also some overlapping questions, and I thought you guys might dig hearing their different perspectives on topics like LA vs. NYC, and becoming empty-nesters.)

“In LA, it’s the law that you must be engaged in writing a screenplay with your hairdresser, pool boy, personal trainer, life coach, dog walker, or yoga instructor.” –Mimi Pond

Mimi also at the drawing table

Enjoy the conversations! Check out more pix from my visit to their home! Then check out the archives for more great episodes! Related conversations:

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About our Guests

Wayne White is an American artist, art director, illustrator, puppeteer, and much, much more. Born and raised in Chattanooga, Wayne has used his memories of the South to create inspired works for film, television, and the fine art world. After graduating from Middle Tennessee State University, Wayne traveled to New York City where he worked as an illustrator for the East Village Eye, New York Times, Raw Magazine, and the Village Voice. In 1986, Wayne became a designer for the hit television show Pee-wee’s Playhouse, and his work was awarded with three Emmys. After traveling to Los Angeles with his wife, Mimi Pond, Wayne continued to work in television and designed sets and characters for shows such as Shining Time Station, Beakman’s World, Riders In The Sky, and Bill & Willis. He also worked in the music video industry, winning Billboard and MTV Music Video Awards as an art director for seminal music videos including The Smashing Pumpkins’ Tonight, Tonight and Peter Gabriel’s Big Time.

More recently, Wayne has had great success as a fine artist and has created paintings and public works that have been shown all over the world. His most successful works have been the world paintings featuring oversized, three-dimensional text painstakingly integrated into vintage landscape reproductions. The message of the paintings is often thought-provoking and almost always humorous, with Wayne pointing a finger at vanity, ego, and his memories of the South. Wayne has also received great praise for several public works he has created, including a successful show at Rice University where he built the world’s largest George Jones puppet head for a piece called ‘Big Lectric Fan To Keep Me Cool While I Sleep.’ He was the subject of Neil Berkeley’s 2012 documentary, Beauty is Embarrassing.

Mimi Pond is a cartoonist, illustrator and writer. She’s created comics for the LA Times, Seventeen Magazine, National Lampoon, and many other publications. Her TV credits include the first full-length episode of The Simpsons, and episodes for the shows Designing Women and Pee-Wee’s Playhouse. She lives in LA with her husband, the artist Wayne White. She is currently working on the sequel to her 2014 graphic memoir, Over Easy.

Credits: This episode’s music is I’m Ragged but I’m Right by George Jones. The conversation was recorded in Wayne and Mimi’s dining nook on a pair of Blue enCORE 200 microphones feeding into a Zoom H5 digital recorder. The intro and outro were recorded on a Blue Yeti USB Microphone. Processing was done in Audacity and Garage Band. Photos of Mr. White and Ms. Pond by me.

Podcast: Sound Before Story

Virtual Memories – season 3 episode 5
Greg Gerke – Sound Before Story

To celebrate the publication of Middle C, the new novel by literary legend William Gass, I sat down with writer Greg Gerke, who interviewed Gass for Tin House literary magazine. We talked about Gass’ position in the postmodern literary tradition (as it were), what Greg learned over the course of reading much of Gass’ writings and interviewing The Great Man, what it’s like to construct a literary monument to horror, which authors Greg discovered through Gass’ essays over the years, how you can’t judge a man by his (roommate’s) bookshelf, why Gass holds self-publishing in disdain, and how one can build a powerful literary career by putting Sound Before Story.

 

Enjoy the conversation! Then check out our archives for more great talks! And buy the issue of Tin House with Greg’s interview with Gass, while you’re at it!

Follow The Virtual Memories Show on iTunesFacebookTumblr, and RSS!

About our Guest

Greg Gerke‘s fiction and non-fiction have appeared in Tin House, The Kenyon Review Online, Denver Quarterly, and Mississippi Review. He’s the author of the short story collection, There’s Something Wrong with Sven. You can read his work and find links to his criticism at greggerke.com and Big Other.

Credits: This episode’s music is Life’s a Gas by T-Rex. The conversation was recorded at Greg Gerke’s apartment in New York City, on a pair of AT2020 mics, feeding into a Zoom H4n recorder. I recorded the other material on a Samson Meteor Mic USB Studio Microphone into Audacity. All editing and processing was done in Garage Band.

Podcast: The Correction of Taste

The original version of this episode had terrible audio quality, so I went back and remastered it! Enjoy!

(And go listen to the followup episode we recorded in July 2014: Bookman’s Holiday!)

Michael Dirda

Season 2 episode 13 – Michael Dirda – The Correction of Taste

“My personal crusade has been to urge people to read books they might otherwise not think of reading. . . . There are a lot better books that have been forgotten than are being published today.”

Are you ready for a new beautifully remastered episode of The Virtual Memories Show?

“Some very self-confident writers feel they are among the chosen, the ones that will last forever, but they’re like deluded Calvinists.'”

This time, Pulitzer Prize-winning book critic Michael Dirda talks about his lifetime of reading and career in writing, the essence of book reviewing and the role of negative reviews, breaking free of genre ghettoes and the pretense of literary immortality, how the internet has changed the reviewing ecosystem, and why Mao would have loved the collective wisdom of the internet.

“I think of it all as ‘literary fiction,’ if it’s well written.”

We also get in some literary kibitzing, touching on John Crowley, Neil Gaiman, Marilynne Robinson and a host of other writers and books.

“One of the things I’ve lamented in the course of my lifetime is the changeover in the English curriculum in the universities. English majors will really only know the literature of their time. They will know the same 40 or 50 authors and books. Anyone off the obvious track of the times, they won’t know. They’ll know Gary Shteyngart, but they won’t know Mikhail Bulgakhov, or Gogol. It’s that narrowness, that feeling that anything not of the moment is irrelevant. That worries me.”

Listen to the conversation: Virtual Memories – season 2 episode 13 – The Correction of Taste  

(BONUS: Go listen to the followup episode we recorded in July 2014: Bookman’s Holiday!)

About Our Guest

Michael Dirda, a weekly book columnist for The Washington Post, received the 1993 Pulitzer Prize for criticism. He is the author of the memoir An Open Book and of four collections of essays: Readings, Bound to Please, Book by Book, and Classics for Pleasure. His most recent book, On Conan Doyle, received a 2012 Edgar Award for best critical/biographical work of the year.Mr. 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, and several other periodicals, as well as a frequent lecturer and an occasional college teacher.  

About Our Sponsor

This episode is sponsored by Out of Print Clothing! Visit their site and check out their great selection of T-shirts, fleeces, bags and other gear featuring gorgeous and iconic book cover designs.

The Virtual Memories Show is on iTunes! If you’d like to subscribe, visit our iTunes page! If you’d like to check out past episodes, you can find us on iTunes or visit the Podcast page for all our back episodes, as well as e-mail signup and tip jar! And why don’t you friend the Virtual Memories Show at our Facebook page? It’d make my mom happy.

Credits: This episode’s music is Desert Prayer by John Sheehan. I recorded the intro on a Blue Yeti mic into Audacity, and the conversation with was recorded in Mr. Dirda’s home in Silver Spring, MD on a pair of Blue Encore 100 mics, feeding into a Zoom H4N recorder. All editing was done in Garage Band, with some post-processing in Audacity. This is a remastered version of the October 2012 episode, with better sound quality. Photo by Amy Roth.

Finishing the Dance

I first encountered A Dance To The Music Of Time in the mid-’90’s. A Borders bookstore had opened at the West Belt Mall in Wayne, NJ, and as was my wont, I inspected the fiction section — or was it “literature”?

At the time, my points of reference were the beginning of the G’s, where I’d look for Williams Gaddis and Gass, as well as David Gates, and the late P’s, where I’d check the selection of books by Richard Powers and Thomas Pynchon. It was in the latter section that I discovered Anthony Powell. University of Chicago Press had recently released a four-volume, slipcased edition of A Dance To The Music Of Time.

In college, I focused on “the encyclopedic novel” for my literature degree. I had a vague idea of what that term meant, and wound up conflating it with “really long novels with which I could impress/cow my contemporaries.” As such, this 12-novel cycle looked like it was right up my alley. Still, I’d never heard of Powell and the internet in that period wasn’t as awash in fan pages for obscure artists as it is today.

Further, I don’t recall there being any “flap copy” or anything else involving a plot description on the slipcase, which was shrink-wrapped to prohibit singleton sales. So I had nothing to go by, in terms of knowing what this series was about. The case was adorned with Poussin’s eponymous painting of the Dance, and the spine of each volume was a detail of one or another face of the dancers. I knew nothing of Poussin back then, still a year away from reading Arcadia for the first time.

The dance to the music of time c

Sixty or so dollars was a large sum to me in those days, so I held off on buying the Dance. It slipped off my radar shortly after. When Powell died in 2000, I read up on the Dance a little. I considered tackling the series, which is a sort of roman a clef of British literary & society life through the eyes of a crypto-Powell narrator over the span of half a century, but never got around to it. I noted at the time that it seemed like a book to tackle in my 40’s. I used to say that about Proust when I was young, but I got around to him before turning 35, and should’ve done so sooner.

It wasn’t until last December, when U of Chicago Press announced that it had released all 12 novels as e-books, that I returned to the notion of reading the Dance. Like a good drug dealer, the publisher was offering the first e-book free. I had just finished My Year Of Gin, in which I would try a bottle of a new (to me) boutique gin each month of the year. I had planned to write about the project, but both overachieved (in terms of bottles) and underachieved (in terms of coherence), and so scrapped my chronicle of the project. You can, however, find photographic evidence here:

A Dance To The Music Of Time, it seemed to me, would make for a fine followup. The two projects were of a piece with what I now realize is a life of dilettantism. Why not give my amateur passions some degree of structure by organizing them around the calendar?

And so I decided to read one book of the Dance each month throughout 2011. Besides allowing the pace to mirror the seasons themselves, around which each novel was (subtly) organized, I was also protecting myself from burnout. I know myself well enough to know how easy it would be for me to roll through 3 or 4 of the books in the first 6 weeks of the year, before allowing the distractions and derailments that characterize much of my life to lead me away.

This morning, I finished reading the last of the 12 books, Hearing Secret Harmonies. My wife still asks me, “So, is it good?” and I don’t know exactly how to answer her.

I certainly enjoyed reading the novels, and I’ll be the first to admit that Powell’s prose can be quite tortured at times. I was also amazed at the reticence to reveal anything about the narrator’s own life or feelings, to the extent that one never learns Jenkins’ children’s names nor much about the books he writes over his 70 years (his volume on Burton’s Anatomy of Melancholy notwithstanding).

At times, the sheer volume of coincidental meetings can be maddening (coincidence being the author’s point, I know). Another type of coincidence, during a bombing raid of London, strains all credulity. But then, perhaps that’s because my own life doesn’t have much room for chance meetings nowadays. In the early books, bumping into old friends takes the place of the narrator having to commit any real activity. While the stories and the interrelations of his friends and acquaintances are engaging, I found the “autumn” novels — those covering WWII — much more entertaining, because the narrator was largely removed from his society surroundings and had to become much more of a participant in the world. Paradoxically, the level observation is much sharper in these books than the preceding ones. There’s a wonderful comedy of manners of Jenkins’ superiors at dinner, highlighting the absurdities and hierarchies of military life. (There’s also a great moment when Jenkins, who remembers everyone over the years, encounters his brigade from earlier in the war, and discovers that his old cohort has no recollection of him whatsoever.)

I think Jenkins also undergoes a maturation process during the war novels. By book 9, The Military Philosophers, his literary persona really blooms as his military duty begins to draw to a close. There’s a wonderful passage where he realizes his assignment has taken him to Cabourg, the town that Proust fictionalized into Balbec. Maybe it’s a sort of clue into the roman a clef of the whole Dance itself, but it’s also some of the most gorgeous writing in the books.

As I look back over the scope of it all, a story beginning in 1920 or thereabouts, carrying on to 1971 (the year I was born, coincidentally enough), and flashing back to Jenkins’ childhood in the naughts, I’m struck by the vividness of so many minor characters. Just like life, I didn’t think much of some of them at the time and miss them now they’re gone. (Speaking of which, Powell is merciless in his characters’ ends. So many figures are simply reported dead as the years carry on. I was under the impression that the whole cycle of novels would revolve around the four schoolboys introduced in the first book, and then found myself thinking, “Well, they didn’t actually show us [x]’s body, so maybe he’s still alive and will be back in a later novel…”, as though Anthony Powell was writing The Fantastic Four or something.)

But I won’t write too much about the goings on of the Dance. I do think it comprises a wonderful tapestry of the transformation of a certain class in British society throughout the century, but it’s also the sort of thing that no one (I know) reads anymore. In harmony with my college self, that’s probably a big part of why I stuck with this project all year.

Just as Jenkins sees patterns and echoes throughout the generations (and there are plenty of echoes in the last novel), I know there are echoes of myself from that pretentious college kid to this pretentious trade magazine editor. But there are also substantial changes, both internal and external. That Borders was demolished a few years ago, before the chain itself went under. Pynchon and Powers? I don’t read them much anymore.

I’m not sure if I’ve changed all that much since beginning A Question of Upbringing last January. It’s been a complex year, and I think reading The Leopard had more of an effect on me than these 12 novels. Perhaps I’m underestimating. After all, the clarity of the first 800 words or so of this piece — written in the morning after finishing Hearing Secret Harmonies, driving my wife to the bus stop, and walking the dogs in a frosted-over field — and the sense of bliss I had all morning long could be telling me that I’ve been feeling a subtle anxiety about completing the Dance. Maybe my hesitance and depression of these past few months has stemmed from an anxiety about coming to the end of something so long and continuous. (Everything after Anatomy of Melancholy was written following a long day at the office.)

Who Am I?

I’m the guy who was in serious doldrums this evening. I think it’s anxiety about work, but it’s been running me down for a while now. I feel overwhelmed, unable to get ahead because there are so many fires to put out. I’ve been talking to people less and less, and having more difficulty just keeping up a normal conversation.

When I got home tonight, I was pretty burned out. The mile with the dogs didn’t help much, and I came home and found myself staring out the window, emptying the dishwasher, and otherwise trying to avoid looking at computer or TV screens.

Eventually, I went downstairs to the library. Still dolorous, I looked over some shelves of books and told myself, “I’m never going to read any of these.” Then, on a whim, I reached out to pick up one of several collections of essays by William Gass, whom I haven’t read in many years. I opened The World Within the Word to its table of contents, saw, Proust at 100, took the book upstairs, cracked open the spine on page 147, and started reading.

At first, I kept losing focus, partly because of Gass’s gorgeous by sneaky prose but mainly because thoughts from the office kept intruding. So I began reading the pages aloud. I thought it would be good practice for the podcast, because I need to learn to record prose without falling into my distant, nasal, uninflected tone. But reading it aloud, finding the rhythms of the sentences, also drove all the office banalities from my mind.

I’m the guy who’s amazed at how far he’s fallen from himself.

UPDATE: Here’s a 9.5-minute audio clip of me reading from the essay! Enjoy! Or try to!

Exorcism Weekend

If a man cannot forget, he will never amount to much.

–Soren Kierkegaard

Ever wonder where all those Unrequired Reading links come from? I use NetNewsWire for my RSS reader. It helps me keep track of 150+ RSS feeds, and has its own browser for feeds that I want to click through. The problem is, I have a tendency to save tabs “for later”, and there are presently more than 60 browser windows open in the program.

I save some pages for my own edification, not necessarily for posting. Still, I have a feeling all these tabs are starting to impair my computer’s ability to keep me happy, so I’ve decided to thin out the ranks today. After all, there are also more than 800 unread items in the feed. That’s about two days’ accumulation of feeds. I’ll zap through some of them en masse, but read some of the others pretty intently.

So let’s go through a whole ton of links that I meant to write about, but never got around to and likely never will! I’ll even share the “just for me” links, goofy as they are! (I thought about writing this as 88 Lines about 44 Links, but didn’t think I’d be able to make it all rhyme; sorry.)

Orwell

I meant to write a whole lot about George Orwell, and that’s why the following links have been sitting in my tabs for so darned long.

The Masterpiece That Killed George Orwell – Orwell’s last days on Jura, writing 1984. (5/10/09)

Oxford Literary Festival: George Orwell’s son speaks for the first time about his father – Richard Blair was only 6 when his adoptive dad died, but he liked life on Jura. (3/15/09)

TS Eliot’s snort of rejection for Animal Farm – Ha-ha! You were wrong, Tough Shit! (3/29/09)

A Fine Rage – James Wood on Orwell. I haven’t read this yet; the link is only for an abstract, and I’m not a New Yorker subscriber, so I gotta hit the library sometime and find the original. Sure sounds interesting, and it’s got a great Ralph Steadman illo of Orwell. (4/13/09)

Eternal Vigilance – Keith Gessen on Orwell’s essays, eventually getting around to the problematic nature of my favorite one: Inside the Whale. (5/28/09)

Bumming Smokes in Paris and London: George Orwell’s Obsession with Tobacco – I once argued that the real horror of 1984 isn’t the rats in a cage or the police busting down the door, but rather the dull razor blades and the cigarettes that fall apart. This PopMatters article may cover that, but it’s SEVEN PAGES LONG and the single-page version is poorly formatted and won’t resize in my browser. So I’ll never know. (6/19/09)

Curse Ye, Orwell! – I hadn’t gotten around to reading this Popmatters article about the limitations of Orwell’s Why I Write essay till now, but it strikes me that the author takes Orwell’s writing as far too canonical and literal. Pfeh. (1/22/10)

Libraries

I wanted to write about the thinning out of my library. I had some thoughts about the process of admitting that there are books you will never get around to reading, a theme I hit on before, and how my tastes and interests have changed.

Shelf Life – William H. Gass on his library. (12/07)

Longing for Great Lost Works – Stephen Marche on the (maybe) wonderful books, plays and poems that were lost. Sorta like all the blog-posts I abandoned, right? (4/18/09)

Books do furnish a life – Roger Ebert on the books that mount up in his office library. (10/5/09)

Antilibraries – Jason Kottke on Nassim Nicholas Taleb on Umberto Eco on how the books we haven’t read menace us. (6/1/09)

2009 Commencement Address by Daniel Mendelsohn – Beautiful story about why we read the classics, which would’ve helped (in part) with my justification for tossing many contemporary/ephemeral books from my library. (5/15/09)

Middlebrow Messiahs – A review of a book about the history of the Great Books as a commercial concept. The book is uncharitable toward St. John’s College, where I went to grad school, but the reviewer takes the writer to task for that. (1/16/09)

Confessions of a Middlebrow Professor – Here’s another essay inspired by that book and the idea of middlebrow culture striving for intellectual achievement. Obviously, I was going to write some sort of essay about my time at St. John’s around this. (10/5/09)

The Arcadia Fire

Speaking of the classics, destroying libraries, and the conversation with the past, I really wanted to write about Tom Stoppard’s play Arcadia. I may still. Here are the first few paragraphs of an abortive attempt:

I’ve written before about my evolving relationship with works of art (mainly books, movies and music) and their touchstone-y nature in my life. I think my best take on it was my year-end post in 2008 — I’ve written plenty on works that meant a lot to me once upon a time, but make me cringe now, as well as works that have grown in my estimation over the years.

Sometimes I think I’ve neglected to tell you about the works that have retained their importance to me all these years. Partly it’s because of how familiar I am with them, how much they’ve come to inform who I am and how I understand things. Partly it’s because I’m afraid that I’ll fail to do them justice, that I’ll come up short in my descriptions of them and their importance.

I could give you a list of books that have stuck with me all this time, beginning with Orwell’s essays and Miller’s Tropic of Cancer, and it’d be a nice counterweight to my 0-fer series, where I celebrate all the lacunae in my reading universe.

Which brings me to Arcadia.

Eh. Here are some of the links that would’ve woven into the piece.

Et In Arcadia – Mark Sarvas of The Elegant Variaion kicked things off for me by noting two revivals of Arcadia in D.C. and London. (5/15/09)

Warmly, an ‘Arcadia’ That’s Most Calculating – Peter Marks at The Washington Post reviews the D.C. revival. I imagine that the editor who wrote that headline must be very difficult to understand in conversation. (5/15/09)

Dinner with the FT: Sir Tom Stoppard – Illuminating conversation covering the London revival of Arcadia and Stoppard’s adaptation of Chekhov. Plus you get to find out what they spent on the meal.(5/15/09)

Books

Interview: Katherine Dunn – I could’ve sworn I posted this AV Club interview with Katherine “Geek Love” Dunn before, but I’m not finding any link for it on the site. Oops. (5/21/09)

Outsmarted – Another big John Lanchester review/essay in The New Yorker about finance. I’m undecided about reading his new book on the subject, I.O.U.: Why Everyone Owes Everyone and No One Can Pay. (6/1/09)

50 Must-Read Novels from the 20th Century – Do you miss that Literary 0-fers series I used to post, about authors and series I’ve never read a word of? I was going to use this list for that. Since it has White Noise on the list and describes it as “beautifully postmodern,” you don’t really have to subject yourself to this one.

When Lit Blew Into Bits – This was going to be near the center for my Books of the Decade post, which got derailed when a pal of mine died unexpectedly. It’s got some neat arguments, even if it neglects to mention that Oscar Wao is a prose hybrid-rewrite of the Hernandez Bros.’ Love & Rockets comics. (12/6/09)

Rilke the clay pot – I wish I had the stamina to make it through this review of a new translation of Rilke’s poems, a new bio and a collection his correspondence with Lou Andreas-Salomé. Alas, I’m going to delete it after six months. (9/16/09)

The Hack – How did Gabriel Garcia Marquez’ time as a journalist affect his prose? Sadly, I don’t care enough to finish the article. (Jan/Feb 2010)

Hollywood’s Favorite Cowboy – A rare interview with Cormac McCarthy. I don’t dig his work very much, but it’s a fascinating conversation. (11/20/09)

Court of Opinion – A New York Magazine book club-style discussion of Bill Simmons’ Book of Basketball. I quit reading that book after discovering that the Robert Horry writeup consisted of a 3-page reprint of one of Simmons’ columns. Still, it was fun to get other people’s perspectives. (12/8/09)

Movies

Vulcan: The Soul of Spock – A video essay from Matt Zoller Seitz on Spock-As-Othello. (5/6/09)

Zen Pulp: The World of Michael Mann, Pt. 1: Vice Precedent – Zoller Seitz also did a series of video essays on Michael Mann’s movies, partly focusing on the idea that Mann is obsessed with work, albeit not in the way that Charlie Kaufman’s scripts all seem to be about work and how it defines us. (7/1/09)

The Ubiquitous Anderson – A video essay about the pernicious influence of Wes Anderson, from the prism of Rian Johnson’s movie The Brothers Bloom. I haven’t watched this yet and, since I didn’t like The Brothers Bloom very much, probably won’t. (5/21/09)

Quentin Tarantino lists his top films of 2009Star Trek was #1, so whatever.(12/14/09)

Bourgeois Surrender

A pal of mine from St. John’s has been blogging under that handle for a while. I’ve reposted him from time to time.

Music Post – I haven’t clicked through all the links to the music and videos. Glad we share an affinity for the Pet Shop Boys. (Gayyyy. . . .) (10/5/09)

Yeats: “Sailing to Byzantium” – B.S. is a good reader (and re-reader) of books, plays and poetry, so I’ve saved some of the ones for pieces that I’ve yet to read.

Shelley: “Ode to the West Wind” – I wish I read more poetry. (11/4/09)

Julius Caesar: Part I and Part II – Embarrassingly, I haven’t read Julius Caesar yet. I really oughtta get on that. (4/25/09 and 5/1/09)

People Must Love a Good Blog Post – He covers a couple of subjects, but focuses on Hollywood of the 1970’s, considered via Peter Biskind’s book Easy Riders, Raging Bulls, (or How the Sex, Drugs, and Rock and Roll Generation Saved Hollywood).

Books in a Digital Age – I’m afraid this long Sven Birkerts’ essay will boil down to “books good, internet bad,” but I haven’t read it yet. Given the nature of this post of mine, he’s probably right. (Spring 2010)

Comics

Interview: Joe Sacco – I’m saving this till I read Sacco’s Footnotes in Gaza. (1/18/10)

Preface to Mid-Life Creative Imperatives, Part 1 of 3 – Springboarding off Jeet Heer’s post about what great cartoonists did in their middle-age, Gary Groth recently wrote an epic take on the subject. I think. Approaching 40, I was interested in the topic, but feared I wouldn’t finish reading it before turning 50. (2/24/10)

CR Holiday Interviews #9 (Jeet Heer) and #11 (Timothy Hodler) – Tom Spurgeon at Comics Reporter published a great series of interviews around the holidays. I pulled a couple of them and keep meaning to go back and read the whole shebang, but I was most interested in checking out these guys, who are both good comics critics. (12/29/09 and 12/31/09)

Etc.

The Architect of 9/11 – I haven’t gotten around to reading these posts about Mohamed Atta, and how his architecture background may have influenced his radicalism and his role in 9/11. (9/8/09)

The Chess Master and the Computer – I was gonna tie this Garry Kasparov review into a conversation I had c.1994 about how the changeover to CD and digital recording may have subtly affected the way music was played and recorded. Nowadays, some artists are recording in ways that play to the narrower range of MP3 compression and/or ringtone speakers, and I’m glad to be vindicated in that. Playing chess against computers changes the way we learn and play chess. (2/11/10)

Ennui Becomes Us – A National Interest article about how the world’s going to hell or something, as per the second law of thermodynamics. No, seriously: information entropy is behind everything. It’s like Thomas Pynchon c. 1965. (12/16/09)

Seizing the Opportunity to Destroy Western Civilization – Speaking of which, World War I was a black swan. (3/4/10)

Edge People – The latest installment in Tony Judt’s memoirs, post-ALS. (2/23/10)

The agony of a body artist – I’m not sure what I was going to do with this Roger Ebert blog post about performance artist Chris Burden. (10/14/09)

Andy Warhol’s TV – I still wanna write about Plimpton and Warhol and celebrity in New York. I’ll probably get some good material out of watching these Warhol TV shows from the ’80’s.(7/1/09)

NYC Grid

I love Paul Sahner’s daily photo-essays of New York, one block at a time on NYC Grid. But I fell behind last month, and have a couple of them tabbed (as well as a bunch as unread news items).

Just For Me

The Essential Home Bar – I care about my gin. (2/18/10)

This year, I started to care about how I dress, so I have some men’s fashion sites in my RSS.

Feature: Footwear With Jesse Thorn of PutThisOn.com – I need some variety in my shoes, okay? (3/9/10)

The Pants After Jeans – It’s difficult for me to find a pair of pants that fit well (not too tight in the crotchal region, not too balloony for the rest of the leg). (2/28/10)

I still want to get back to fiction writing someday. So:

Ten rules for writing fiction – A bunch of writers offer up their antidote to Elmore Leonard’s weird 10 rules. It took me a while to start it, because I’m that good at procrastinating when it comes to my own writing. (2/20/10)

How to Write a Great Novel: Junot Diaz, Anne Rice, Margaret Atwood and Other Authors Tell – Sort of a shorthand version of those Paris Review Writers At Work interviews. (11/13/09)

Overcoming Creative Block – Strategies visual artists use to get out of a rut. There’s some good stuff in here. I’m sure one technique is to quit reading so many RSS feeds. (2/10/10)

Publishers at Play

When I was a pretentious young man (I’m older now; but that doesn’t mean I’m less pretentious), the Paris Review Writers at Work anthologies were my Bible. (Or at least my Apocrypha. My Bible was a mash-up of Tropic of Cancer and Inside the Whale.)

I’d seek out the collections at used bookstores. The first volume I picked up, the 5th Series, contained interviews with William Gass (whom I was just then struggling to read), Jerzy Kosinski, Gore Vidal, P.G. Wodehouse, Isaac Bashevis Singer, and more. The interviews were a joy to this self-important, deluded Future Great American Writer, deftly exploring the writers’ histories, influences and literary opinions, while also revealing some of the practical aspects of their writing habits. Each interview was prefaced with a facsimile of a page of the writer’s manuscript or typescript. This was a wonderful touch, a peek into the writer’s editorial process.

(Well, except for the Henry Miller interview, which had a bizarre diagram with the caption, “Manuscript plan of Henry Miller’s Tropic of Capricorn, ’embracing planetary conjunction; topographical map of region and monuments and streets and cemeteries; fatal, or otherwise, influence of fields — according to type; Major Events; Dominant Idea; Psychological Pattern.” This may be why I never finished Tropic of Capricorn.)

If I found WaW volumes in a library, I’d photocopy the interviews with my favorites. I still have a folder somewhere with Philip Roth, Harold Bloom, Milan Kundera (I said I was pretentious back then) and others. I began looking up past issues of the Paris Review to find other interviews that had yet to be anthologized.

One of my great triumphs came when I was in Bethesda, MD in 1998 for the Small Press Expo (SPX), an indie-comics event. In a used bookstore near the expo hotel, I found issue #105 with the famed (and uncollected) William Gaddis interview!

At SPX, I met Fantagraphics publisher Gary Groth. I’d been writing mean-spirited reviews for his magazine, The Comics Journal, for a few months at that time. He thanked me for those, joking that it was good to have someone else writing mean-spiritedly in the magazine, because it freed up his time. Then he noticed the Paris Review back issue in my hand and said, “I see you found the one with the William Gaddis interview!”

I felt like I was in good company.

The WaW anthology series, published by Viking / Penguin, ended after the 9th volume in 1992, near as I can tell from abebooks.com. A decade or so later, Modern Library began publishing Women Writers at Work, Beat Writers at Work, Playwrights at Work and, um, Latin American Writers at Work (?), but I never picked those up. (I did grab The Writer’s Chapbook, which excerpted quotes from the interviews around particular themes, such as the audience, character, potboilers, peers, etc. It was a nice volume, but not as satisfying as having the complete interviews.)

In 2006, St. Martin’s Picador imprint began a new series called The Paris Review Interviews (I, II, and III). They’re the same format as the old WaW collections, right down to the facsimile manuscript page. And they collected the Gaddis interview! I still find the interviews pretty delightful, even though I’m no longer harboring dreams of being a Great American Writer. (I 0-fer-ized two of them here and here.)

George, Being George has a lot of good material about the history of the interviews, including the giddy elation some writers experienced when they were asked by George Plimpton to sit down for a Writers at Work session. Rather than excerpt any of those, I instead offer up a passage about the business of publishing the books:

MONA SIMPSON: [George] was very unhappy at one point with the amount of money that the Review had been paid for the various anthologies of interviews. Viking was paying us very little, and they were delaying publications. So Jay and I volunteered to go to this guy we knew at Simon and Schuster to see about moving our books there, and George was all for it. After an extended series of meetings, we got an offer for twenty-five thousand dollars — the current publisher was offering, I think three thousand — and they were really going to push it and promote it. So we come to George saying, “Okay, let’s sign on the dotted line, it’s going to be great.”

Then, at the last minute, George calls our editor at the other house — basically an old friend of George’s whom he’d been working with for years, who occasionally sent him tickets to a ball game. The editor sends George some tickets to the ball game and the whole deal is off. We realized at that point that we couldn’t just go out in the world and do that sort of thing anymore, not even with his permission, because we found that we basically didn’t have power to go against his personal loyalties. It was very embarrassing, because Simon and Schuster was outraged that we were staying with an offer that was about twelve percent of theirs.

I’ve taken several clients to basketball and baseball games, as well as fancy dinners. I like to believe that our magazine offers great value to our advertisers and that the fun times are sorta ancillary, but I’m sure that “relationship-building” activities like this muddle even the most otherwise clear business decisions.

As I said, George, Being George is a pretty entertaining book. Why, it’s right here at the end of my Plimpton/Review shelf!

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Oh, and the fourth volume of the new series — sorry, the IVth one — is coming out next week, so you should get on that.