Podcast: Reading Maketh a Full Man

Note: DG Myers died on Sept. 26, 2014, about 6 months after we recorded this episode. You can read my contribution to his festscrhift here.

DG Myers on The Virtual Memories Show

Virtual Memories – season 4 episode 13 – Reading Maketh a Full Man,
or, “Where is the Lesbian on This List?”

“I would take an evil delight in asking my colleagues what they were reading, and watching the look of panic on their faces. Because everyone reads scholarship now, and very few primary materials. Our academic specialties are an inch wide and a mile deep.”

Literature professor and book critic DG Myers is dying of cancer, but that doesn’t mean he’s planning to go gentle into that good night. In a far-ranging conversation, we talk about why he believes university English departments will barely outlast him, how he made the move from Southern Baptist to Orthodox Judaism (getting recircumcised a few times along the way), what he’d like to be remembered for, why the idea of The Western Canon is a canard, which books and authors he’s trying to get to before he dies, who he regrets not reading before now, and the identity of the one author he’d like to hear from. Give it a listen!

“Every Shabbos I thank Hashem for my cancer, because it has focused me on what’s good and enabled me to ignore what’s not.”

We also talk about his plans to dispose of his library, the joys of studying under Stanley Elkin, the relation of books to moral life, the things that cease to matter in the face of a terminal diagnosis, the failure of English departments in the age of Theory, the thorny question of whether creative writing can be taught, and what writers and readers should do to save the humanities. Also, check out the list of books that came up in our conversation.

Enjoy the conversation! Then check out the archives for more great episodes! Related conversations:

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About our Guest

DG Myers is the author of The Elephants Teach: Creative Writing Since 1880, a work of literary scholarship. He has been a critic and literary historian for nearly a quarter of a century at Texas A&M and Ohio State universities, and was formerly the fiction critic for Commentary. He has written for Jewish Ideas Daily, the New York Times Book Review, the Weekly Standard, Philosophy and Literature, the Sewanee Review, First Things, the Daily Beast, the Barnes & Noble Review, the Journal of the History of Ideas, American Literary History, and other journals. He is working on a memoir, Life on Planet Cancer, and lives in Columbus, OH, with his wife Naomi and their four children: Dov, Saul, Isaac, and Miriam (“Mimi”). He writes at A Commonplace Blog.

Credits: This episode’s music is First We Take Manhattan by Jennifer Warnes. The conversation was recorded at Prof. Myers’ 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 Prof. Myers by me.

What It Is: 9/14/09

What I’m reading: This note about the 400th anniversary of the death of Rabbi Loew inspired me to re-read Introducing Kafka (mainly for R. Crumb’s drawings & strips). I also read Locas II, a huge collection of Jaime Hernandez’s comics. Occasionally I forget how wonderful it is to live in an era when artists like Xaime are doing such fantastic work (and making great illustrations).

What I’m listening to: A great B.S. Report podcast with Patton Oswalt, and an okay one with Bill Hader.

What I’m watching: The Basketball Hall of Fame class of 2009 induction ceremony, in which I learned that John Stockton can be kinda funny, Vivian Stringer had a tough life, Jerry Sloan has enormous hands, and Michael Jordan cannot handle retirement. Also watched a ton of NFL, and the Vandy-LSU game.

What I’m drinking: Cascade Mountain & Q Tonic.

What Rufus is up to: Meeting a ton of greyhounds at the annual grey-picnic in Bridgewater, NJ on Sunday. Pictures to come. (Here’s one from my wife!)

Where I’m going: No plans! Got any ideas?

What I’m happy about: Writing those Gary Panter & Gillian Welch posts last week.

What I’m sad about: Norman Borlaug’s death. He did have a full life, reaching 95 years and saving countless lives, but still.

What I’m worried about: Not my conference next week. At least, not as much as past years. We’ve already taken care of a lot of the things that usually get taken care of late in the game — the USB drives are much better than last year, for example — and our attendee count is surprisingly good, esp. given the economy. I’m sure something crazy will happen that throws everything askew, but I’m less nerve-wracked about things. Now I just gotta hope all 11 speakers actually show up for their sessions.

What I’m pondering: Whether I’m too old to start a band called Umvelt of the Dog.