“Proust tried to explain how we live in subjective time. Both our work is about the transformation of society, but he seems nostalgic about the time before. I’m not nostalgic for that period. I’m more interested in how societies reach their peak and then fall down.”
Charif Majdalani has been called the Lebanese Proust, thanks to his series of novels chronicling the modern history of his home country. He joins the show this week to celebrate the first American publication of his wonderful novel, Moving the Palace (New Vessel Press). We talk about the the dynamic of French and Arabic languages, Lebanon’s fixation on the eternal present and its sense of living under the volcano, his process of escaping his literary influences, why he needed to get away to France to gain perspective on home, and what he wants to do on his first trip to America. Give it a listen! And go buy Moving the Palace!
“Lebanon is living through repetitive history. Problems never find resolution, so we go from crisis to crisis.”
“The problem with New York is that everyone who comes here has an image or idea of New York that comes from the movies. We try to find it, but we have to adjust to the real New York.”
About our Guest
Charif Majdalani, born in Lebanon in 1960, is often likened to a Lebanese Proust. Majdalani lived in France from 1980 to 1993 and now teaches French literature at the Université Saint-Joseph in Beirut. The original French version of his novel Moving the Palace won the 2008 François Mauriac Prize from the Académie Française as well as the Prix Tropiques.
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 the home of New Vessel Press co-founder Michael Z. Wise 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. Majdalani by me. It’s on my instagram. Photo of me & Charif by Michael Z. Wise.
“We were taught with the idea that these books meant something, that it was something vital to your life, that if you read these books you could understand what was going on around you better than you could if you didn’t. I don’t know if anyone’s doing that now.”
Time to wrap up our August book critics miniseries! Following our conversations with Michael Dirda and Jessa Crispin, we have Frank Wilson, who’s been reviewing books for FIFTY YEARS. Frank, who launched the Books, Inq. blog in 2005, talks about the changes in book culture over that half-century, the marvel of Tolstoy, his picks for most underrated and most overrated authors, the perils of using big-name writers as book reviewers, and more!
“I think that blogging has wiped out the book reviewing business but it does wonders for the literary business.”
We also talk about his life as a Catholic Taoist, the similarities of poetry and religion, whether Catholics can write good novels, the biggest gap in his literary background, when it’s okay to break the rules of Haiku (and other forms), and why he thinks Willa Cather is truly the Great American Novelist!
About our Guest
Frank Wilson is celebrating his 50th year of book reviewing. His reviews have appeared in a number of newspapers and magazines, but mainly the Philadelphia Inquirer, where he served as book editor until 2008. In 2005, he launched Books, Inq.: The Epilogue, a blog about books and publishing. He has an entertaining bio over here.
Credits: This episode’s music is Sinner’s Prayer by Ray Charles (see, because of Frank’s Catholicism and belief in the fallenness of — oh, never mind). The conversation was recorded at Mr. Wilson’s home in Philadelphia on a pair of Blue enCORE 200 microphones feeding into a brand-new Zoom H5 digital recorder. The intro and outro were also recorded on that equipment, in a room at the Courtyard Marriott in Creve Coeur, MO. Processing was done in Audacity and Garage Band. Photo of Mr. Wilson by me.
“I like that we live in an age that’s increasingly curious about this dark side, and not merely in terms of its pure darkness, but of how seemingly ordinary or normal people can commit atrocities.”
Daniel Levine joins us to talk about his debut novel, HYDE, an inventive and gorgeous retelling of The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. It’s a fun conversation about our public and private selves, the ways we define evil, the mechanics of storytelling, the luck of human evolution, and more! Give it a listen!
“Art and torture occupy opposite ends of the same spectrum. Art is the attempt at beauty on a superfluous level . . . while torture is pain taken to an almost artistic, a musical level.”
About our Guest
Daniel Levine studied English Literature and Creative Writing at Brown University and received his MFA in Fiction Writing from the University of Florida. He has taught composition and creative writing at high schools and universities, including the University of Florida, Montclair State University, and Metropolitan State College of Denver. Originally from New Jersey, he now lives in Colorado. Hyde is his first novel.
Credits: This episode’s music is Dr. Jekyll by Miles Davis. (It was either that or Dr. Heckle & Mr. Jive by Men at Work.) The conversation was recorded at Daniel Levine’s childhood home 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. Photo of Daniel Levine by me.
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!)
“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.
If a man cannot forget, he will never amount to much.
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.)
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 Eliotâ€™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)
Bumming Smokes in Paris and London: George Orwellâ€™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)
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)
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-SalomÃ©. 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)
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 2009 – Star Trek was #1, so whatever.(12/14/09)
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)
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)
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)
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)
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).
- Riverside Dr Between 79th St and 81st St (2/15/10)
- Central Park West Between 81st St and 77th St (2/16/10)
- 75th St Between Columbus Ave and Amsterdam Ave (2/17/10)
- 29th St Between 7th Ave and 8th Ave (3/5/10)
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)