“Almost all of the things that I say the evil geniuses did — discredit the idea of government, discredit the idea of progress, disbelieve science, make short-term profits and stock prices the lodestar of American society — all of that we see in how this administration and the right in general reacted to this pandemic.”
With his fantastic new book, Evil Geniuses: The Unmaking of America (Random House), Kurt Andersen explores how rich conservatives responded to the 1960s by pushing America on a pro-business trajectory that has led to record income inequality and a nation unequipped to handle a pandemic. We get into the one-two punch of this book and Kurt’s previous history of America, Fantasyland, the over-exaggeration of individualism and how puts us on the precipice of disaster, post-’80s cultural stasis and nostalgia, the way “if it feels good, do it” led to “profits over all”, the long-term impact of the Occupy movement, and how his kids give him optimism that this can all be fixed. We also get into his first New York City moment, the lessons learned from his 20-year tenure hosting Studio 360 on PRI, pandemic life and his re-integration into NYC, how we both treat our interviews like first dates, why he wants to get back to writing novels, and plenty more. Give it a listen! And go read Evil Geniuses (and Fantasyland)!
“I’m not without hope. As eye-opening and appalling as some of my discoveries were as I wrote this book, I find myself more hopeful than I did at the end of my last book.”
“My life when I did Studio 360 for 20 years was divided blissfully between spending mornings writing, and then going to the office and collaborating and making radio with smart, great, talented people.”
“We lost the defining American taste of embracing the new. Out of this terrible moment, could come the moment where we say, ‘We didn’t have to do it that way, we can do it this way.'”
About our Guest
Kurt Andersen is author of Heyday, Turn of the Century, and Fantasyland: How America Went Haywire: A 500-Year History, and frequently writes for New York and Vanity Fair. He is host and cocreator of the Peabody Award–winning public radio program Studio 360. In 2006, he founded Very Short List, an email service for connoisseurs of culture who would never call themselves “connoisseurs.” He was cofounder of Spy magazine, and has been a columnist and critic for the New Yorker and Time. Andersen lives with his wife and daughters in Brooklyn. His new book is Evil Geniuses: The Unmaking of America – A Recent History (Random House).
Credits: This episode’s music is Fella by Hal Mayforth, used with permission from the artist. The conversation was recorded remotely via Zencastr. I used 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. Photo of Kurt by Marco Antonio. It’s on my instagram.
“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.
It’s our Hanukkah edition of Unrequired Reading! Lots of Jewish posts for you to check out!
What I’m reading: Re-read The Great Gatsby on the flight down to New Orleans, then started Kurt Andersen‘s second novel, Heyday. It’s a fun novel, rolling across America in 1848-9, but it makes the exact same idiotic decision as Michael Clayton (and a bazillion other books and movies): Part 1 opens in April 1848, and then flashes back 2 months and spends the next hundred or so pages catching up to that opening scene. And here’s the kicker: there’s nothing about that scene that necessitated putting it at the front of book. DON’T USE FLASHBACK UNLESS IT’S INTEGRAL TO THE STRUCTURE OF THE STORY!
What I’m watching: A bunch of Bowl games, and some Cajun cooking shows.
What I’m drinking: Nothing until my last night in Louisiana, when Amy & I met up with her cousin Wade & his wife Robin for dinner at Restaurant August in New Orleans. Then I rocked a Hendrick’s & tonic.
What Rufus is up to: Being a perfect houseguest with my pals Jay & Kristy and their two greys, Ruby & Willow.
Where I’m going: Nowhere! Not even the office!
What I’m happy about: Being home. And not having any snow to shovel.
What I’m sad about: Oh, another year, etc. . . .
What I’m pondering: Whether my GPS unit has a “no ghettoes” setting for calculating routes.