“Starting out at The New Yorker at 23, I thought, ‘If I draw really small, this won’t bother people too much.’ My editor told me it wasn’t just readers, but some of the older cartoonists really hated my stuff. One of them asked him if he owed my family money.”
Roz Chast is one of the best-known cartoonists around, famed for her New Yorker gag panels and comic strips about anxiety, neurosis, phobia, parental insanity, and a ton of other symptoms of our worried age. This year, she published her first long-form book, a 240-page graphic memoir about her parents’ final years called Can’t We Talk about Something More Pleasant?: A Memoir (Bloomsbury). We talk about her parents, the joy of doing a book-length project, whether her folks ever got her humor, how her shrink enabled her to structure the book, and her two biggest pieces of advice for people with elderly parents. Along, the way, we try to answer the question, “Why do old people hold onto decades-old checkbooks?”
“My mother didn’t read books about child-rearing. She was an educator, so it was sort of surprising. Maybe she felt she knew it all. And she did . . . as an assistant principal. But being an assistant principal is not the same as being a parent. It’s really, REALLY different. They almost have nothing in common.”
We also talk about her history in cartooning, why drawing chops aren’t the be-all and end-all, what makes her laugh, the best advice she ever got (from Sam Gross), and her love of Disco, the talking parakeet. Bonus: We bond over our neuroses and I talk a lot! Maybe that’s more like a minus than a bonus. Whatever.
About our Guest
Roz Chast has loved to draw cartoons since she was a child growing up in Brooklyn. She attended Rhode Island School of Design, majoring in Painting because it seemed more artistic. However, soon after graduating, she reverted to type and began drawing cartoons once again.
She’s best known for her work in The New Yorker, but her cartoons have also been published in many other magazines, including Scientific American, the Harvard Business Review, Redbook, and Mother Jones. Her most recent books are Can’t We Talk about Something More Pleasant?: A Memoir and the comprehensive compilation of her favorite cartoons, called Theories of Everything: Selected, Collected, and Health-Inspected Cartoons, 1978-2006.
Credits: This episode’s music is Mother’s Love by Tsegue-Maryam Guebrou. The conversation was recorded at Ms. Chast’s home on a pair of Blue enCORE 200 microphones feeding into a Zoom H4N digital recorder. The intro and outro were recorded on a Blue Yeti USB Microphone. Processing was done in Audacity and Garage Band. Photo of Ms. Chast by me.
Horace Engdahl, permanent secretary of the Swedish Academy and the lead judge for the Nobel Prize for literature, believes American writers are small-minded boobs:
“The U.S. is too isolated, too insular. They don’t translate enough and don’t really participate in the big dialogue of literature,” Engdahl said. “That ignorance is restraining.”
Or waitasecond: he is a small-minded boob. My bad.
“You would think that the permanent secretary of an academy that pretends to wisdom but has historically overlooked Proust, Joyce, and Nabokov, to name just a few non-Nobelists, would spare us the categorical lectures,” said David Remnick, editor of The New Yorker.
“And if he looked harder at the American scene that he dwells on, he would see the vitality in the generation of Roth, Updike, and DeLillo, as well as in many younger writers, some of them sons and daughters of immigrants writing in their adopted English. None of these poor souls, old or young, seem ravaged by the horrors of Coca-Cola.”
Not that I give much of a crap about contemporary literature, American or furrin.