“These days, we tend to think of identity as something chosen; we put on certain masks or we identify as this or that, culturally, ethnically or politically. Bellow is interested in something much more basic: who we really are.”
David Mikics joins the show to talk about his wonderful new book, Bellow’s People: How Saul Bellow Made Life Into Art (Norton). We get into Bellow’s legacy, his fall from academic favor, his transmutations of life into art, David’s humorously accidental introduction to his work, what Jewishness meant to Bellow, whether Philip Roth was right when he told Bruce Jay Friedman, “Saul Bellow am de daddy of us all,” and more! Give it a listen! And go read Bellow’s People: How Saul Bellow Made Life Into Art.
“Bellow once said that the reason writers had such messy personal lives is because they didn’t know what to do with the afternoon.”
We also talk about David’s experience as a professor, why writing is harder for today’s students, what it’s like to teach course called, “Is Life Worth Living?” and “The Human Situation”, which science fiction novels warped him as a youth, why we need Slow Reading in a Hurried Age, what contemporary books look like they’ll last, and why he eventually came around on Faulkner. Go listen!
“Canonicity is not where you find it, but where you make it.”
- Rachel Hadas (2014 and 2016)
- Bruce Jay Friedman
- Jules Feiffer
- Harold Bloom
- Langdon Hammer
- Edward Mendelson
- Willard Spiegelman
About our Guest
David Mikics grew up in Carteret, New Jersey and Atlanta. He went to college at NYU and earned a Ph.D. at Yale. He lives in Brooklyn with his wife Victoria and son Ariel, and teaches every year at the University of Houston, where he is John and Rebecca Moores Professor of English. He is the author of six books, including Slow Reading in a Hurried Age (Belknap/Harvard) and Bellow’s People: How Saul Bellow Made Life Into Art (Norton), and is a columnist at Tablet magazine.
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 David’s home on a pair of Blue enCORE 200 microphones feeding into a Zoom H5 digital recorder. Intro was recorded on the same setup. Photo of Mr. Mikics by me.
“The reality of this marketplace is that true professional writers aren’t being recognized.”
Dan Cafaro, publisher of Atticus Books and the Atticus Review, joins the show to talk about indy publishing, building a writers’ community, taking on the diversity challenge, making the transition from sportswriter to bookseller to book-blogger to publisher, the importance of a supportive spouse, the trick of balancing print and digital (and publishing and a day job), making the investment in a book designer, and more! Give it a listen, and go check out the great catalog of Atticus Books!
“It can be easier to get a good review than to understand how it may translate into sales.”
BONUS: You get to hear me lament about my days as a small press publisher (1998-2004), while Dan & I try to figure out how to market books effectively in This Distracted Age. We also reminisce about a long-gone bookstore in Hackensack, NJ, and make somewhat oblique sports references. We recorded this show at Short Stories Community Book Hub, in Madison, NJ (photo below). It’s a wonderful space, and a neat bookstore, so go visit if you’re in the area!
“Building a writers community is my dream.”
Also, if you want to find out who Dan is reading nowadays (non-Atticus titles) and get a list of the books we talked about in this episode, join our Patreon and become a monthly contributor to The Virtual Memories Show! At the end of March, the new episode of our patron-only podcast, Fear of a Square Planet, will go up with a bonus segment about who Dan is reading and why.
About our Guest
Dan Cafaro is the founder and publisher of award-winning independent press Atticus Books and the Atticus Review, a weekly digital literary magazine. Dan founded Atticus in 2010 after working as a sportswriter, bookseller, editor, and publications manager. He is currently at work on his first novel, The Next Activist, and swears that it has all the makings of a really great reality TV show.
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 wonderful Short Stories Community Book Hub, in Madison, NJ, 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. Cafaro by . . . somebody . . .
It’s the ONE-HUNDREDTH EPISODE of The Virtual Memories Show! And they said it would never last! To celebrate hitting the century mark, I asked past guests, upcoming guests and friends of the show to interview me this time around!
This special episode includes questions and recorded segments with Maria Alexander, Ashton Applewhite, John Bertagnolli, Lori Carson, Sarah Deming, Paul Di Filippo, Michael Dirda, Robert Drake, Aaron K. Finkelstein, Mary Fleener, Drew Friedman, Josh Alan Friedman, Kipp Friedman, Richard Gehr, Ben Katchor, Sara Lippmann, Brett Martin, Zach Martin, Seth, Jesse Sheidlower, Ron Slate, Tom Spurgeon, Levi Stahl, Maya Stein, Rupert Thomson, Peter Trachtenberg, Wallis Wilde-Menozzi, Frank Wilson, and Claudia Young.
Find out about my reading childhood, my dream list of pod-guests, my best practices for productivity (don’t have kids!), my favorite interview question, my top guest in the afterlife, the book I’d save if my house was on fire, what I’d do if I won a Macarthur Grant. and more! Give it a listen!
About our Guest
Gil Roth is the host of The Virtual Memories Show and the president of the Pharma & Biopharma Outsourcing Association.
Credits: This episode’s music is Stupid Now by Bob Mould. Several of the conversations were recorded on a pair of Blue enCORE 200 microphones feeding into a Zoom H5 digital recorder. I recorded the intro and outro and the self-interview segments on a Blue Yeti USB Microphone. Processing was done in Audacity and Logic Pro. Photo of me by Aaron K. Finkelstein.
“The choices that an artist makes are not traceable back to a particular set of neurons firing. They’re choices made by the complete consciousness of a person. Art, in a way, validates free will, and thereby validates the notion of evil.”
Ron Rosenbaum returns to the show to talk about the new edition of his great book, Explaining Hitler: The Search for the Origins of His Evil (Da Capo Press)! We talk Hitler, the meaning(s) of evil, determinism and free will, Hitler-as-artist vs. Hitler-as-suicide-bomber, “degenerate art,” the tendency to blame Jews for their misfortune, his search for the “Higgs Boson” of Hitler, and how internet culture has warped the meaning of Hitler in the 16 years since Ron’s book was first published.
“I just couldn’t bear being a graduate student, so I dropped out after a year and revolted against academia. I wanted to hang out with cops and criminals and write long form stories about America, about crimes, about strange things.”
Of course, we also get around to some other fun topics, like whether his studies of the Holocaust inspired him to become a “better Jew”, whether it’s possible to knowingly commit evil, how Bleak House changed his life, and just how he managed to become a unique voice in American nonfiction.
About our Guest
Ron Rosenbaum‘s work has appeared in The New York Times, Harper’s, The Atlantic, The New Yorker, Slate, Esquire and other magazines. He is currently the national correspondent for Smithsonian Magazine, and was recently featured in the History Channel documentary, “The World Wars.” His books include The Secret Parts of Fortune: Three Decades of Intense Investigations and Edgy Enthusiasms, Explaining Hitler: The Search for the Origins of His Evil, How the End Begins: The Road to a Nuclear World War III, The Shakespeare Wars: Clashing Scholars, Public Fiascoes, Palace Coups, and he edited Those Who Forget the Past: The Question of Anti-Semitism. You can find him on twitter at @ronrosenbaum1.
Credits: This episode’s music is Back to Black by Amy Winehouse (see, because Ron’s a fan of her stuff, and the episode is about his returning to the topic of evil, and — oh, never mind). The conversation was recorded in a friend’s apartment 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. (There was a loud air conditioner, so I did some noise removal, which may have tweaked the audio a little.) Photo of Mr. Rosenbaum by me.
“Restaurants follow the opposite direction of stories: they’re like finding a book of blank pages and trying to come up with something to fill the space. That’s not how it goes with stories.”
Charles Blackstone, managing editor of Bookslut, joins us to talk about his new novel, Vintage Attraction, out this week from Pegasus Books! We recorded in Chicago last April, so he wasn’t in full book-publicity mode, and I hadn’t read the book. Instead, our conversation veers all over the place, covering his descent into post-grad career madness, the problems with getting mired in literary theory, what he does at Bookslut, how he deals with the sheer volume of books published every day, Chicago’s restaurant culture, the similarities between deconstruction and molecular gastronomy, and how to master the party-throwing art of taking a guest’s coat while handing them a beverage.
But we really do talk about Vintage Attraction (which has great blurbs from Jay McInerney and Gary Shteyngart)! I promise!
About our Guest
Charles Blackstone is the managing editor of Bookslut, as well as the co-editor of the literary anthology The Art of Friction: Where (Non)Fictions Come Together (University of Texas Press, 2008) and the author of the novel, The Week You Weren’t Here (Dzanc and Low Fidelity Press, 2005). His short fiction has appeared in Esquire‘s Napkin Fiction Project (the piece was also selected for the &NOW Awards: The Best Innovative Fiction anthology), Lewis University’s Jet Fuel Review, and the University of Maine’s Stolen Island. His short plays have been produced by Victory Gardens and Lifeline Theaters. He is married to Master Sommelier and television personality Alpana Singh. He currently is a ghostwriter, coach, and editor for clients at all stages of the publication process in private practice. He and his wife live with their pug, Haruki Murakami, in downtown Chicago. His new novel is Vintage Attraction.
Credits: This episode’s music is Graceless by The National. The conversation was recorded at the Hyatt Regency in Chicago on a pair of AT2020 cardioid condenser mics feeding into a Zoom H4n recorder. The intro and outro were recorded in the InterCity Hotel in Frankfurt on a Samson Meteor USB Studio mic. File-splitting was done in Audacity and all editing and processing was done in Garage Band on a Macbook Air. Photo of Charles Blackstone by me.
I’m not too sure what the name of the song was that he was playing when I came in, but whatever it was, he was really stinking it up. He was putting all these dumb, show-offy ripples in the high notes, and a lot of other very tricky stuff that gives me a pain in the ass. You should’ve heard the crowd, though, when he was finished. You would’ve puked. They went mad. They were exactly the same morons that laugh like hyenas in the movies at stuff that isn’t funny. I swear to God, if I were a piano player or an actor or something and all those dopes though I was terrific, I’d hate it. I wouldn’t even want them to clap for me. People always clap for the wrong things. If I were a piano player, I’d play it in the goddam closet. Anyway, when he was finished, and everybody was clapping their heads off, old Ernie turned around on his stool and gave this very phony, humble bow. Like as if he was a helluva humble guy, besides being a terrific piano player. It was very phony â€” I mean him being such a big snob and all. In a funny way, though, I felt sort of sorry for him when he was finished. I don’t even think he knows any more when he’s playing right or not. It isn’t all his fault. I partly blame all those dopes that clap their heads off â€” they’d foul up anybody, if you gave them a chance.
Two weeks ago, I mentioned that I read The Catcher in the Rye under some degree of duress as a high school sophomore. (My English teacher insisted I make it the topic of my term paper.) I decided to go back to Catcher this week. (I read Salinger’s Glass-works last year around this time and didn’t feel like going back to them.)
It wasn’t as embarrassing a read as I feared it would be. I loved the pieces of New York he evokes, although I have to admit I simply can’t fathom the chronology of the first night. There just aren’t enough hours in a night to do everything that Holden Caulfield did: stay up late waiting for his roommate, get into a fight with him, hang out with Ackley, pack up, take train from Pennsylvania private school to NYC, find a hotel, dance with ugly girls in a bar, go to Ernie’s club in the East Village, walk 2 miles (“41 gorgeous blocks”) back up to the hotel, get weirded out by a prostitute, get into a fight with her elevator-pimp, take an hour-long bath, sleep “not too long” and wake up at 10 a.m. Tell me if I missed anything.
The bigger problem that I had wasn’t with the book itself, but rather with how we (okay, I) read it. No matter how much I tried to read Catcher as its own book, to get enmeshed in Holden’s deteriorating life, I found that I was looking for clues. I kept noticing little fragments â€” as well as longer passages (see that introductory quote above, from Holden’s experience at Ernie’s) â€” that may have helped predict Salinger’s decision to go into seclusion and cease publishing. Of course, while reading the book, I also re-read Ron Rosenbaum’s 1997 essay about Salinger. I wouldn’t say that my literary sleuthery holds a candle to his, but I admit that I couldn’t not read this book as a phenomenon of Salinger’s silence. (Sleuthery holds candles?)
Sure, Catcher doesn’t have the religious wackiness of his Glass stories, and when he wrote and published it, I doubt he was consciously thinking, “This will be such a huge success that I will abandon NYC and spend the rest of my days in Zen.” But it’s also written in a much more natural voice than that of Salinger stand-in Buddy Glass. Is there any other contemporary-ish writer whom we read with such . . . suspicion? I don’t think Thomas Pynchon’s brand of seclusion evokes the same detective-reading; that is, I don’t think people read his work with an eye to understanding why he avoids the public eye. But that’s because he still publishes (even if I don’t still read him). Even during 17 years of near-total silence, there were rumors that Pynchon was working on something big.
With Salinger, it’s a legitimate question as to whether he fed his post-1965 work into the furnace after it was “finished.” Or did he become like Charles Crumb, obsessively writing the equivalent of wrinkles and drapery and losing sight of everything else?
The answers will come soon, I’m sure, but how will they change the way we read him in the future?
Clip copyright 1994 Superior Pictures, “Crumb“, until they make me take it down.