“I think I made three cartoons about Jane Austen before I got around to reading a Jane Austen novel. And then I thought, ‘Oh, this is really good!'”
Cartoonist & illustrator Tom Gauld joins the show to talk about his new book, Mooncop (Drawn & Quarterly), and developing a post-optimistic view of the future. We get into his drawing and storytelling influences, how he got a weekly gig doing literary gags at The Guardian, why he likes doing illustration work, the time he melted down when he met his comics-idols, how he got his first New Yorker cover, the two key elements of productivity for all artists and writers (coffee & walking) and more! Give it a listen! And go buy Mooncop! (and his other books, Goliath and You’re All Just Jealous of My Jetpack!)
“I never tailored my work to an audience, other than just trying to make what I think is funny.”
We also get into the importance of the hand-drawn line, the question of collaborating with a writer, the balance of long-form comics and weekly assignments, his schoolteacher’s rapprochement with his compulsive cartooning, the challenge of doing literary comics while trying not to read too deeply, the scope-creep of doing the cover for the Drawn & Quarterly 25th anniversary collection, why weaknesses are as important as strengths to one’s style, and why he REALLY needs to learn to draw hands. Now go listen to the show!
“The constraints of illustration work are actually liberating. . . . I think I’d go crazy if I had to draw comics all the time.”
About our Guest
Tom Gauld was born in 1976 and grew up in Aberdeenshire, Scotland. He is a cartoonist and illustrator and his work is regularly published in The Guardian, The New York Times, and The New Scientist. His comic books, Mooncop, Goliath, and You’re All Just Jealous of My Jetpack, are published by Drawn & Quarterly. He lives in London with his family.
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 in the Bethesda North Marriott home 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 Mackie Onyx Blackjack 2×2 USB Recording Interface. Photo of Mr. Gould by me.
“If virtue can be taught, it’s only by learning to ask the types of questions that make you a thoughtful person.”
My two-year term at St. John’s College’s Graduate Institute was the most important part of my life. During my recent trip back to Annapolis, I sat down with outgoing president Christopher Nelson to talk about lessons learned during his 26-year tenure, the books that guided him to the college, the ones he returns to, and the ones that gave him the most trouble as an undergrad, what he’ll miss and what he hopes to do next, his key advice for his successor, and more! Give it a listen!
“Running an institution and reading a budget were second nature to me. . . . Being able to participate in the life of the college so I could make good and deep judgements about what’s important around here; that was going to come from spending time in the classroom and with the faculty.”
We also talk about the unique situation of being the only president in the college’s 300+ years who is also an alumnus, why math and philosophy are for the young, while big novels are for middle age, how he grew into The Aeneid, the use of literature in understanding Japanese morality, why he returns to Middlemarch every few years, what he’d add to the St. John’s curriculum (even if he can’t bring himself to drop something to make room for it), and a lot more! Give it a listen! (and become a supporter via Patreon or Paypal so you can check out the big list of all the books we talked about this episode!)
“The commodification of higher education — like the monetization of every good in life — is deeply disturbing. It’s certainly something that’s always been in America. You read de Tocqueville and you see that it’s part of the American spirit to do that.”
About our Guest
Christopher B. Nelson has been president of St. John’s College in Annapolis, MD, since June 1991. He is an alumnus of St. John’s (B.A. 1970) and a graduate of the University of Utah College of Law (J.D. 1973), where he founded and directed the university’s student legal services program. He practiced law in Chicago for 18 years and was chairman of his law firm when he left the practice to take his current position at St. John’s College. Christopher Nelson is a national spokesperson for the liberal arts, participating actively in the national conversation about higher education. Frequently a panelist and speaker on state, regional, and national programs, he has addressed issues of institutional autonomy in the face of government regulatory intrusion and changes proposed in the accrediting system. His current focus is making clear the value of liberal education – in providing excellent grounding for career and professional development and, most importantly, for an open-minded pursuit of lifelong learning.
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 the office of Christopher Nelson at the Annapolis campus of St. John’s College on a pair of Blue enCORE 200 Microphones feeding into a Zoom H5 digital recorder. I recorded the intro and outro on a Blue enCORE 200 Microphone feeding into a Mackie Onyx Blackjack 2×2 USB Recording Interface. Processing was done in Audacity and Logic Pro. B/w photo of President Nelson by me. Photo of Annapolis campus 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.
“I feel some frustration with contemporary literary fiction: there’s stuff that’s well written without really being good writing. Lovely prose, but stories that feel flat and empty.”
Jonathan David Kranz joins the show to talk about his new novel, Our Brothers at the Bottom of the Bottom of the Sea (Henry Holt).We talk about what it means to miss New Jersey, what makes The Shore different from any other seaside amusement region, what he learned while writing for the YA category, what he unlearned from his copywriting day-job, the value of Grub Street writing courses vs. an MFA, and more! Give it a listen!
“New Jersey has two urban centers: New York and Philadelphia. And what they have in common is that neither one is in New Jersey.”
We also compare our New Jerseys (I go on at length; sorry), then talk about his history with the Society for Industrial Archeology, what it’s like to celebrate 20 years as a freelance commercial copywriter (and it is cause to celebrate), and what it was like when he came face to face with the Jungian nature of Tillie the clown.
About our Guest
On his blog, Jonathan David Kranz writes, “I was born on an island, Manhattan, but grew up in New Jersey, where I did not go to the beach as often as I would have liked. I studied painting in college (Rutgers), then framed pictures, installed kitchen cabinets, and worked as a backstage theater go-fer before pursuing my MFA in creative writing. True to form, I bummed around again—this time with a family in tow, making my living as a marketing copywriter—before a vacation in Ocean City gave me the inspiration for my first novel, Our Brothers at the Bottom of the Bottom of the Sea. Today, I live with family (and an annoying little dog) in a suburb north of Boston.”
Credits: This episode’s music is 4th of July by Lori Carson. The conversation was recorded at the Virtual Memories Studio 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.
“The literary writer still needs someone to have a dialogue with, to help shape their book, understand it and make it as presentable to the world as possible.”
FSG president Jonathan Galassi has been a literary editor and publisher for more than four decades, so how did that experience prepare him for publishing his first novel? Find out in this week’s show, as we talk with Mr. Galassi about Muse (Knopf)! We talk about his history (and future) in publishing, how he wound up a publisher-hybrid of Roger Straus and James Laughlin, how he learned to shut off his editor-self in order to get in touch with writer-self, why he took the challenge of writing a character’s world-changing poetry, and more. Give it a listen!
“The most important thing an editor has is taste. And how do you get taste? By reading a lot of books, and coming to understand what makes them good. Having a visceral love or detestation is important.”
We also talk about Muse‘s affectionate satire of the New York publishing world (okay: he calls it a “revenge fantasy” in our conversation), why he enjoys the rough-and-tumble aspects of the biz, the degree to which authors’ expectations have changed over the decades, the degree to which publishing relies on luck, the best training for an editor, our favorite Philip Roth novels, the value of big advances, where he falls on MFA vs. NYC, why the better literary writers should shouldn’t self-publish, and whether it was a taboo for him to venture into fiction writing after spending so many years editing fiction writers. (Photo: Yvonne Albinowski/New York Observer)
“You go into publishing because you love literature, and you end up reading a lot of crap.”
About our Guest
Jonathan Galassi is a lifelong veteran of the publishing world and the author of three collections of poetry, Morning Run, North Street and Other Poems and Left-handed, as well as translations of the Italian poets Eugenio Montale and Giacomo Leopardi. He has served as a senior editor at Houghton Mifflin, and as executive editor and later president of Farrar, Straus & Giroux. In 2008 he received the Maxwell E. Perkins Award, which recognizes an editor, publisher, or agent who “has discovered, nurtured and championed writers of fiction in the U.S.” A former Guggenheim Fellow and poetry editor of the Paris Review, he also writes for the New York Review of Books and other publications. He lives in New York City. His new novel is Muse.
Credits: This episode’s music is Caçada by Bebel Gilberto. The conversation was recorded at Mr. Galassi’s office at FSG 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. Galassi by Yvonne Albinowski/New York Observer.
“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.
“No one can be deeply affected by this course of study and not want to go beyond it. It gets you excited about ideas, questions and authors. To read one author is to lead you to another.”
How does a man go from being a ne’er-do-well in a Pennsylvania mining town to a tutor at St. John’s College? Peter Kalkavage joins the show to talk about his path to that Great Books institution, what he’s learned going into his 38th year as a tutor, how he fell in love with the college’s music program, what his study of Hegel taught him, what he’d add to the St. John’s curriculum, and more! (Also: Iliad or Odyssey, which offsets the question of “Luther or Calvin?”)
“In my time here, the one change that has irked me the most has been the shift from Luther to Calvin in the sophomore seminar. There were understandable problems with Luther . . . on the other hand, he deals in a blunt and powerful way with questions of freedom, secular authority, and faith-vs.-works. Calvin seems too relentlessly negative and too obsessed with the question of predestination.”
We also discuss his upbringing, The Big Lebowski, the teacher who got him to turn himself around, his favorite area to teach, how Dante taught him the possibilities of poetry, the question of whether we’re ever mature enough to read the curriculum, and the recent move to rebrand St. John’s College.
“We have to be very careful not to present ourselves in what we think might be an attractive way which misrepresents what we most have to offer our students, the country and the world: our curriculum. That’s the most important thing. Not our location, not our extracurricular activities, but the program. ‘The following teachers are returning to St. John’s next year. . . .'”
About our Guest
Peter Kalkavage has been a tutor at St. John’s College in Annapolis, Md., since 1977. He is director of the St. John’s Chorus. Dr. Kalkavage is the author of The Logic of Desire: An Introduction to Hegel’s Phenomenology of Spirit, and has produced translations of Plato’s Timaeus and Statesman for Focus Philosophical Library. He is also author of two texts that have been used in the St. John’s music program, On the Measurement of Tones and Elements: A Workbook for Freshman Music.
Credits: This episode’s music is the opening credits to Miller’s Crossing by Carter Burwell. The conversation was recorded in Peter Kalkavage’s office during the St. John’s College 2014 Piraeus seminar 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 Peter Kalkavage by me.
“One day, I was on the train to work and I had a terrible anxiety attack and a crisis of whatever, and began just scribbling on a yellow legal pad that I had. It was basically my complaints about my own misery. I was terrified that if I even lifted the pen from the page, I would just be carried off that railroad car screaming, past all the commuters.
“I did that for about three days, just a therapeutic venting on the page. In a little while, I began to become cold and calculating and worldly, and I thought, ‘Shit, this is pretty interesting. What if I just gave this a little quarter-turn to the left? Maybe this would be fiction.’ So that was it.
“Having nothing else to do, it was, hey, let’s dedicate the life to this.”
This episode of the Virtual Memories Show features a conversation with one of my favorite contemporary authors! In June, I drove up to Bennington College to talk to David Gates, author of the novels Jernigan and Preston Falls, the short story collection, The Wonders of the Invisible World, about owning his niche (once described as “smart-but-self-destructive-white-American-middle-class-male-in-crisis”), teaching fiction and non-fiction writing, why he left the east coast for Montana, how he feels about the end of Newsweek, what it was like to make his start as a writer in his 30s.
You’ll also find out why he doesn’t want to write another novel, whose books he rereads every year, the status of his next collection of stories, the lineup for his country-rock band of writers and critics, and why he’s not exactly as enamored with Jernigan as its fans are.
As a bonus, our very first guest, Professor Ann Rivera, rejoins us for a quick conversation about what she’s been reading lately and why! (Hint: she’s down on postmodern lit.) Why, here we are at Gina’s Bakery in Montclair, NJ, recording away!
Others conversations with contemporary literary writers and critics:
About our Guests
David Gates is the author of the novels Jernigan and Preston Falls and a collection of stories, The Wonders of the Invisible World. His fiction has appeared in such magazines as The New Yorker, Esquire, GQ, Granta, The Paris Review, Tin House and Ploughshares. His nonfiction has appeared in Newsweek, where he was a longtime writer and editor, The New Yorker, The New York Times Book Review, Bookforum, GQ, Rolling Stone, H.O.W., The Oxford American and the Journal of Country Music. He has been a Guggenheim Fellow, and his books have been finalists for the Pulitzer Prize and the National Book Critics Circle Award. He is an Assistant Professor Fiction and Nonfiction in the Creative Writing Program at University of Montana.
Ann Rivera is a professor of English at Villa Maria College in Buffalo, NY, where she teaches courses in writing, narrative and literary genres. Her current project investigates the influence of digital media on narrative, reading networks and social structures. She attended Hampshire College along with your humble podcast-host in the early ’90s, which may help explain our mutual dislike of postmodernism.
Credits: This episode’s music is Guitar Man by Bread. The conversation with David Gates was recorded in the back yard of the Dog House residence on the Bennington College campus on a pair of Blue enCORE 200 mics feeding into a Zoom H4n recorder. The conversation with Ann Rivera was recorded Gina’s Bakery in Montclair, NJ with the same equipment. (Sorry about all the door opening/closing noises in that segment!) I recorded the intro and outro with that gear, sitting in a comfy chair in my library. File-splitting is done on a Mac Mini using Audacity. All editing and processing was done in Garage Band. Photo of David Gates by me, photo of Ann Rivera and me by Amy Roth.