“We’re shoulder to shoulder with a lot of people, and we assume we know them in a way that we don’t, but we don’t assume that we don’t know them in the way that we should.”
Poet, novelist and essayist Wallis Wilde-Menozzi returns to the show to talk about her novel, Toscanelli’s Ray, the ways Italy has changed in her four decades there, her recent work in narrative medicine, survival tips from living through the Berlusconi era, writing a polyphonic novel of Florence in the ’90s and hearing how those voices have changed, differences between her Italian and American students, balancing poetry and prose, her favorite book of the Divine Comedy (we also get into why I like a different one), accidentally winning a DAR award when she was a schoolgirl, what foods she misses when she’s in the US, thinking in Italian, and more! Give it a listen! And go buy Toscanelli’s Ray and The Other Side of the Tiber: Reflections on Time in Italy!
“To be a writer, you have to write something that in a way no one else could write.”
About our Guest
Poet and writer Wallis Wilde-Menozzi grew up in Wisconsin and resides in Parma, Italy, where she has participated in Italian life for more than 30 years. Her memoir, Mother Tongue: An American Life in Italy, was published by North Point Press to critical acclaim. In 2013, she published The Other Side of the Tiber: Reflections on Time in Italy, from Farrar Straus Giroux, and Toscanelli’s Ray, from Cadmus Editions. A collection of her prize-winning essays appeared in Italian in 2011: L’oceano e denture di not, Moratti e Vitalli. She’s a founding member of the international Ledig Rowohlt Writers Residence in Lavigny, Switzerland, and she is at work on a new book. (Here she is with her husband, Paolo.)
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 Ms. Wilde-Menozzi’s apartment 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. Photos of Ms. Wilde-Menozzi by me. It’s on my instagram.
“Like most people, I associated the Jazz Age with gaiety and decadence, but what I came to recognize was the underlying fear that, after World War I and the influenza epidemic, rather than heading toward a new enlightened era, the world was headed to a new Dark Age.”
There’s a reason I don’t do those “best books of the year” until the end of the year; you might come across a fantastic one in November or December! David Jaher‘s new nonfiction book, The Witch of Lime Street: Séance, Seduction, and Houdini in the Spirit World (Crown), might be my absolute fave from 2015! It’s both a ridiculously entertaining page-turner about Houdini’s duel with a high-class medium in Boston in the 1920s, and a remarkable study of the Spiritualism craze and humanity’s deep-rooted need to hear word from beyond the grave. David and I have a great conversation about the book,the origins of ectoplasm, his history with Houdini, researching and writing the Jazz Age, the nature of fame, David’s career as an astrologer, and more! Give it a listen!
We talk about some books in this episode. Here’s a list of them:
- The Witch of Lime Street: Séance, Seduction, and Houdini in the Spirit World – David Jaher
- Ragtime: A Novel – E.L. Doctorow
- A Collection of Essays – George Orwell
- U.S.A.: The 42nd Parallel / 1919 / The Big Money (Library of America) – John Dos Passos
- “A Short Trip Home” – F. Scott Fitzgerald
- Houdini!!!: The Career of Ehrich Weiss : American Self-Liberator, Europe’s Eclipsing Sensation, World’s Handcuff King & Prison Breaker – Kenneth Silverman
- Moby Dick – Herman Melville
About our Guest
David Jaher received a BA from Brandeis University and an MFA in Film Production from New York University. At NYU, he was the recipient of the WTC Johnson Fellowship for directing. Jaher has been a screenwriter and a professional astrologer. A New York native and resident, this is his first book.
Credits: This episode’s music is Nothing’s Gonna Bring Me Down by David Baerwald, used with permission of the artist. The conversation was recorded at his home on a pair of Blue enCORE 200 microphones feeding into a Zoom H5 digital recorder. I recorded the intro and outro on a Blue Yeti USB Microphone. Processing was done in Audacity and Logic Pro. Photo of Mr. Jaher uncredited.
“With this new book, I’m reconnecting with my earlier self from the underground era, but with all the experience and skill that I’ve gained in the last 30 years of doing a daily strip.”
Bill Griffith is best known for nearly 30 years of daily comic strips featuring the absurd, surreal American treasure known as Zippy the Pinhead, but he’s also the author of the amazing graphic memoir, Invisible Ink: My Mother’s Love Affair With A Famous Cartoonist (Fantagraphics). This new 200-page work chronicles Bill’s mother’s affair with the cartoonist Lawrence Lariar, and explores notions of family, infidelity, art, vanishing New York, the transience of reputation and memory, and of course, comics. The book is so significant that I decided to have two separate sessions with Bill, one to discuss his background and his comics history, and the other to focus on Invisible Ink. In part 1, we tackle Bill’s discovery of underground comics and the scene in ’70s San Francisco, his fine art education, the inescapable importance of Robert Crumb, his collaboration with Art Spiegelman on Arcade magazine, how he wound up with a syndicated daily Zippy comic strip, his rediscovery of diners, muffler-men, and roadside advertising icons, his surprisingly youthful audience, the responsibility of blowing up his readers’ minds, and more! Give it a listen! (And go buy Invisible Ink!)
“We thought of Arcade magazine as a life-raft. We were worried that underground comics would die in two ways: economically, with the Supreme Court ruling on pornography . . . and through the limits of its own audience, which was centered around headshops. Arcade was supposed to be where underground comics went to grow up, and build a wider audience.”
Part 2 of this episode takes place at the inaugural Cartoon Crossroads Columbus, where I interviewed Bill in front of an audience that included Art Spiegelman. This section focuses on Invisible Ink, and covers Bill’s relationship with his parents, the reasons he pursued the story of his mother’s affair, the transience of fame, his need to re-draw all of Lawrence Lariar’s art in his book, how he reacted when his mother wanted to get a tattoo of Zippy, what he’s learned from teaching cartooning at SVA, and more! We had two great conversations, so go listen to them!
“Art Spiegelman told me he liked Zippy, but it was a little like being stuck in an elevator with a crazy person.”
About our Guest
Bill Griffith grew up in Levittown, NY. He attended Pratt Institute and studied painting and graphic arts concurrently with Kim Deitch — they dropped out about the same time. Inspired by Zap, Griffith began making underground comics in 1969, and joined the cartoonists in San Francisco in 1970. Griffith’s famous character Zippy the Pinhead made his initial appearances in early underground comic books, morphing into a syndicated weekly strip in 1976 and then a nationally-syndicated daily strip a decade later. Griffith is married to cartoonist and editor Diane Noomin. They live in Connecticut. His new book is Invisible Ink: My Mother’s Love Affair With A Famous Cartoonist (Fantagraphics).
You can find a more extensive bio at Bill’s site.
Credits: This episode’s music is Nothing’s Gonna Bring Me Down by David Baerwald, used with permission of the artist. The conversation was recorded at Mr. Griffith’s studio in Connecticut in August 2015 and at the Cultural Arts Center in Columbus, OH at Cartoon Crossroads Columbus in October 2015 on a pair of Blue enCORE 200 microphones feeding into a Zoom H5 digital recorder. I recorded the intro and outro on a Blue Yeti USB Microphone. Processing was done in Audacity and Logic Pro. Photos of Mr. Griffith by me.
“I love the notion of great beauty hidden in ugliness. Or vice versa.”
Amanda Filipacchi joins this week’s show to talk about her latest novel, The Unfortunate Importance of Beauty: A Novel (WW Norton), her solution to sexism in the publishing world, her misgivings about contributing to a website of authors’ 10 favorite books, her attraction to surrealism and fairy tales, her garden-of-forking-paths approach to fiction, and more! Give it a listen!
“My big life obsession is my lack of productivity and my constant struggle to be more productive. . . . In theory, I have a routine, but I don’t find myself sticking to it.”
Also, I make a pretty amazing bookstore discovery in the airport in Milwaukee, and give (as expected) heady praise to Clive James’ new essay collection, Latest Readings.
We talk about a bunch of books in this episode. Here’s a list of ’em (Note: if I ever go to a Patreon crowdfunding model for the show, this is the first thing that goes subscriber-only):
- The Unfortunate Importance of Beauty: A Novel – Amanda Filipacchi
- Love Creeps: A Novel – Amanda Filipacchi
- The Remains of the Day – Kazuo Ishiguro
- The Blazing World – Siri Hustvedt
- In Search of Lost Time – Marcel Proust
- Survival In Auschwitz – Primo Levi
- The House of Mirth – Edith Wharton
- Jane Eyre – Charlotte Bronte
- Crime and Punishment – Dostoevsky
- The Picture of Dorian Gray – Oscar Wilde
- The Great Gatsby – F. Scott Fitzgerald
- The Lottery and Other Stories – Shirley Jackson
- Emma – Jane Austen
- The Fairy Tales of Charles Perrault
- The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle: A Novel – Haruki Murakami
- Up in the Air – Walter Kirn
- Blood Will Out: The True Story of a Murder, a Mystery, and a Masquerade – Walter Kirn
- Big Brother: A Novel – Lionel Shriver
- We Need to Talk About Kevin – Lionel Shriver
- May We Be Forgiven: A Novel – A.M. Homes
- Sparta: A Novel – Roxana Robinson
About our Guest
Amanda Filipacchi is the author of four novels: Nude Men (Viking/Penguin 1993), Vapor (Carroll & Graf, 1999), Love Creeps (St. Martin’s Press, 2005), and The Unfortunate Importance of Beauty (W. W. Norton, Feb. 2015). Her fiction has been translated into fourteen languages and been anthologized in The Best American Humor 1994 (Simon & Schuster), Voices Of the X-iled (Doubleday), and The Good Parts: The Best Erotic Writing in Modern Fiction (Berkley Books). Her writing has appeared in The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, The New Yorker, and The Atlantic.
Born in Paris, France, Amanda Filipacchi was educated in both France and the US, and has lived in New York since the age of seventeen. She earned a BA from Hamilton College and an MFA in creative writing from Columbia University. She lives in Manhattan with Richard Hine, also a novelist.
Credits: This episode’s music is Head in a Box by Lori Carson. The conversation was recorded at an undisclosed location on a pair of Blue enCORE 200 microphones feeding into a Zoom H5 digital recorder. I recorded the intro and outro on a Blue Yeti USB Microphone. Processing was done in Audacity and Logic Pro. Photo of Ms. Filipacchi by Marion Ettlinger.
“When you look at the history of northeast China, it’s all successive regimes that have tried to import their version of civilization into this area, and they’ve all failed.”
When he was a kid in Minnesota, Michael Meyer papered his walls with National Geographic maps. A Peace Corps stint in 1995 began his 20-year odyssey in China, yielding two books, true love, and a unique perspective on the world’s most populous country. We talk about his latest book, In Manchuria: A Village Called Wasteland and the Transformation of Rural China (Bloomsbury), life in rural China compared to suburban MN, the country’s changes in the past two decades, the flexibility of the Communist party, China’s uses and abuses of history, the tortured history of the Manchuria region, the need to explode Americans’ myths about the country and its people, our favorite jet-lag remedies, and the Chinese use of “uh” as a conversational placeholder. Give it a listen!
“China isn’t a billion-plus people marching in lockstep. Nor is it some mastermind sitting in some opulent room in Beijing and declaring, ‘Now we will do this!'”
We also get into the time the Beijing police took Michael in so he could teach them American curse-words, why it’s safe to be a writer but not to be a journalist, China’s transition from individual farms to an agribusiness model, why the time to write a book is when the book you want to read doesn’t exist, the differences in storytelling modes between Americans and Chinese, his debts to Bruce Chatwin, Pearl S. Buck, and Ian Frazier, and how tens of thousands of Jews wound up in the town of Harbin.
About our Guest
Michael Meyer is the author of the acclaimed nonfiction book The Last Days of Old Beijing: Life in the Vanishing Backstreets of a City Transformed. He first came to China in 1995 with the Peace Corps, and for over a decade has contributed from there to The New York Times, Time, the Financial Times, Los Angeles Times, Chicago Tribune, Architectural Record, Reader’s Digest, Slate, Smithsonian, This American Life and many other outlets.He is the recipient of a Whiting Writers’ Award, a Guggenheim Fellowship, and a Lowell Thomas Award for travel writing, as well as residencies at the New York Public Library’s Cullman Center for Scholars and Writers, and the Rockefeller Foundation’s Bellagio Center. He recently taught Literary Journalism at Hong Kong University’s Journalism and Media Studies Center, and wrote the foreword to The Inmost Shrine: A Photographic Odyssey of China, 1873, a collection of Scottish explorer John Thomson’s early images. He is a current member of the National Committee on United States-China Relations‘ Public Intellectuals Program, and an Assistant Professor of English at the University of Pittsburgh, where he teaches Nonfiction Writing. Michael’s new book, In Manchuria: A Village Called Wasteland and the Transformation of Rural China, was published by Bloomsbury in February, 2015.
Credits: This episode’s music is Life in a Northern Town by Dream Academy. The conversation was recorded at the Bloomsbury offices on a pair of Blue enCORE 200 microphones feeding into a Zoom H5 digital recorder. I recorded the intro and outro on a Blue Yeti USB Microphone. Processing was done in Audacity and Logic Pro. Photo of Mr. Meyer by me.
“He could not imagine what went on in other people’s hearts and minds any more than you and I could imagine what it’s like to live on Jupiter.”
Author and journalist Walter Kirn joins the show to discuss his latest book, Blood Will Out: The True Story of a Murder, a Mystery, and a Masquerade (Liveright Press), which chronicles his relationship with con artist/sociopath “Clark Rockefeller”. We talk about how Clark hacked the social software, how attending Princeton and Oxford prepared Walt to be fooled by Clark’s lies, why he thinks Clark was actually a progenitor of the social media age, whether writing his best book was worth losing his faith in humanity, what it felt like to be the Nick Carraway to Rockefeller’s Gatsby, and more! Give it a listen!
“One thing I learned is that I might never have found out about Clark’s lies if he hadn’t made a mistake.”
We also talk about the three things that are most often smuggled into California prisons, what (if anything) can be done to pre-empt sociopaths, the experience of getting trolled by a convicted murderer, the advice he gleaned from Joan Didion before starting up his Great American Novel, what he thinks of New York under DeBlasio, what brought him to Montana and what keeps him there, and where the name “Virtual Memories” comes from!
About our Guest
Walter Kirn is the author of eight books and an e-book. His most recent is Blood Will Out: The True Story of a Murder, a Mystery, and a Masquerade, a memoir of his friendship with the con artist and murderer, Clark Rockefeller. His other books include Up in the Air, Thumbsucker (both of which have been made in to feature films), Mission to America, My Mother’s Bible (e-book), The Unbinding, She Needed Me, My Hard Bargain, and Lost in the Meritocracy. His work has appeared in The New Yorker, The New York Times Magazine, The New York Times Book Review, The New Republic, GQ, New York, and Esquire, among other publications.
Credits: This episode’s music is The Secret Silken World by David Baerwald. The conversation was recorded at Mr. Kirn’s apartment on a Zoom H2n digital recorder, because the XLR cables I bought from Monoprice turned out to be crap. I recorded the intro and outro on a Blue Yeti USB Microphone. Processing was done in Audacity and Logic Pro. Photo of Mr. Kirn by me.