browsingscoverVirtual Memories Show #127:
Michael Dirda –
The Meandering Reflections of a Literary Sybarite

“I enjoy going back to Lorain, Ohio because I’m reminded that the world of Washington and the East Coast literary establishment is a very narrow, special one that’s parochial in its own way. The rest of the world has other concerns: family, job and life in general. Whereas we get all up in arms about very minor things.”

Pulitzer Prize-winning book reviewer Michael Dirda rejoins the show to talk about his new collection, Browsings: A Year of Reading, Collecting, and Living with Books (Pegasus Books). We discuss the importance of reading for pleasure, the difference between book-collecting and shopping, the role of the book reviewer (and how it differs from that of the critic), a recent negative review he didn’t want to write, why he doesn’t read reviews of his work, what his mother said when he won the Pulitzer Prize, and more! Give it a listen!

“The books that you don’t grasp immediately, the ones that leave you off-kilter . . . those are often the books that really last, and matter.”

Our first three-time guest also talks about the democratization of book reviewing, the problems of storing books in his basement, what he wants an author to think upon reading his book review of a book, his affinity for Clive James’ work, whether his reviews have a coded autobiographical element to them, how the limitations of the book review form shaped his style, why he disagrees with John Clute’s philosophy on spoilers, and more! Go listen!

We talk about a lot 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):

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

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About our Guest

dirdaheadMichael Dirda is a weekly book columnist for The Washington Post, and he received the 1993 Pulitzer Prize for criticism. He is the author of the memoir, An Open Book: Chapters fom a Reader’s Life, and of four previous collections of essays: Readings: Essays and Literary Entertainments, Bound to Please, Book by Book: Notes on Reading and Life, and Classics for Pleasure, in addition to his newest collection, Browsings. His previous book, On Conan Doyle: Or, The Whole Art of Storytelling, received a 2012 Edgar Award for best critical/biographical work of the year. Michael Dirda graduated with Highest Honors in English from Oberlin College and earned a Ph.D. in comparative literature (medieval studies and European romanticism) from Cornell University. He is a contributor to The New York Review of Books, The Times Literary Supplement, the online Barnes & Noble Review, The American Spectator, and several other periodicals, as well as a frequent lecturer and an occasional college teacher.

Credits: This episode’s music is Ah, Putrefaction by Jaristo, from Hans Zimmer’s film music for Sherlock Holmes. The conversation was recorded at the Boston Marriott Burlington 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. Dirda by me.

wyldingVirtual Memories Show #126:
Liz Hand – People From Away

“When I was young, I always wanted to be a writer, but I thought that one could write science fiction and then also write ‘serious’ literature . . . that I could be Samuel R. Delany, but I could also be F. Scott Fitzgerald. That I could be Dorothy Parker, and I could be Angela Carter. But I found that you tend to get pigeonholed.”

Award-winning author Elizabeth Hand joins the Virtual Memories Show to talk about her latest novel, Wylding Hall! We also talk about her need to try different genres, that pigeonholing process, how abandoning the supernatural for her Cass Neary novels was like working without a net, how her success at writing may be attributable to the Helsinki Bus Syndrome, what it was like to be at the punk scene in the mid-’70s, how she learned to strip down her prose for her recent (and excellent) noir crime novels, just how she ended up in coastal Maine, and more! Give it a listen!

“In the ’70s, I really wanted to be a photographer. I wanted to be a lot of things that I wasn’t. I wanted to be Lester Bangs. I wanted to be Patti Smith. I wanted to be all these things, but I had no talent for any of them. I was in the position of being the fan, the participant observer.”

The conversation also covers the changing models and markets of genre writing, the importance of fan interaction, why she loves coming to Readercon (where we recorded this episode), why it ultimately paid off to opt in favor of experience over college classes, and why her protagonist Cass Neary is like her “if my brake lines had been cut when I was 20 years old and I’d never been able to come back.”
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We talk about a lot of books in this episode. Here’s a list of ’em:

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

Follow The Virtual Memories Show on iTunes, Twitter, Facebook, Tumblr, and RSS!

About our Guest

19636298356_295e44cbc3_mElizabeth Hand is the bestselling author of 13 genre-spanning novels and four collections of short fiction. Her work has received the World Fantasy Award (four times), Nebula Award (twice), Shirley Jackson Award (twice), International Horror Guild Award (three times), the Mythopoeic Award, and the James Tiptree, Jr. Award, among others, and several of her books have been New York Times and Washington Post Notable Books. Her recent, critically acclaimed novels featuring Cass Neary, “one of literature’s great noir anti-heroes” (Katherine Dunn) — Generation Loss, Available Dark, and the forthcoming Hard Light — have been compared to those of Patricia Highsmith. With Paul Witcover, Hand created DC Comic’s early 1990s cult series ANIMA, whose riot grrl superheroine dealt with homeless teenagers, drug abuse, the AIDS epidemic and racial violence, and featured DC Comics’ first openly gay teenager (the series also once guest-starred Conan O’Brien). Her 1999 play “The Have-Nots” was a finalist in London’s Fringe Theater Festival and went on to play at the Battersea Arts Center. She has written numerous novelizations of films, including Terry Gilliam’s Twelve Monkeys, and a popular series of Star Wars books for middle grade children. She is a longtime critic and book reviewer whose work appears regularly in the Los Angeles Times, Washington Post, Salon, the Boston Review, among many others, and writes a regular column for the Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction. Her books and short fiction have been translated into numerous languages and have been optioned for film and television. She teaches at the Stonecoast MFA Program in Creative Writing, and recently joined the faculty of the Maine College of Art. She divides her time between the coast of Maine and North London, and is working on the fourth Cass Neary novel, The Book of Lamps and Banners.

Credits: This episode’s music is Three Hours by Nick Drake. The conversation was recorded at the Boston Marriott Burlington 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. Hand by me.

brothersseaVirtual Memories Show #124:
Jonathan David Kranz – Don’t Fall

“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 makes the Jersey Shore different from any other seaside amusement region, what he learned while writing for the YA category, 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), what he had to unlearn from that career in order to write fiction, and what it was like when he came face to face with the Jungian nature of Tilly the clown.

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

Follow The Virtual Memories Show on iTunes, Twitter, Facebook, Tumblr, and RSS!

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.

merrillcoverVirtual Memories Show #123:
Langdon Hammer –
The Hidden Wish of Words

“What I really cared about most, what drew me, was the relationship between lives and work, between how we live and what we do, and what we do with it. And that’s one of James Merrill’s major subjects.”

Langdon Hammer, Chair of the Yale English department, joins the show to talk about his new biography, James Merrill: Life and Art (Knopf) (and one of the best books I’ve read this year). We discuss Merrill’s allure as a poet and the alchemy that allowed him to turn base wealth into artistic gold. He also talks about learning the art of literary biography on the fly, the challenge of recreating Merrill’s life in Greece, Merrill’s silence over AIDS, how we can understand the Ouija board-derived poems of Merrill’s masterwork, and more! Give it a listen!

“Alchemy is a theme in Merrill’s writing. How is he going to make his own gold, how is he going to transform the lead of his father’s money into a higher value?”

We also learn about Langdon’s decades at Yale and how students have changed during his time there, what the globalization of English poetry means for the form, why he considers The Book of Ephraim to be James Merrill’s greatest poem, and the farthest he traveled to research the book.

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

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About our Guest

langdonpicLangdon Hammer is chair of the English Department at Yale and the poetry editor of The American Scholar. His books include Hart Crane and Allen Tate: Janus-Faced Modernism and, as editor for the Library of America, Hart Crane: Complete Poems and Selected Letters and May Swenson: Collected Poems. His lectures on modern poetry are available free online at Yale Open Courses. There’s a more extensive bio at JamesMerrillWeb, if you’d like to check that out. (Photo by Michael Marsland)

Credits: This episode’s music is Lust for Life by Iggy Pop. The conversation was recorded at Prof. Hammer’s office at Yale 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.

look-whos-backcVirtual Memories Show LIVE:
Timur Vermes, Gavriel Rosenfeld and Liesl Schillinger – Table Talk

“[Reading Mein Kampf] I expected to find something totally crazy and full of poison, so disgusting you couldn’t stand reading it. And what I found was something you could bear: sometimes pragmatic, sometimes logical. I was expecting a “wrong Hitler”, as most people in Germany would expect: a monster, yelling at the reader. Not someone it would be easy to follow. That’s what I found out: it was easy to go along with him.”

On May 6, 2015, the Goethe-Institut New York and the German Book Office brought in Timur Vermes, Gavriel Rosenfeld and Liesl Schillinger to discuss “Satirical Representations of Hitler in Contemporary Culture,” and they invited me to moderate the panel! Timur Vermes’ new satiric novel, Look Who’s Back (Maclehose Press), imagines Hitler mysteriously awakening in modern Berlin and trying to make sense of the world since 1945, and prompts us to explore what it means to laugh at Hitler (and to laugh with him)! Give this live episode of the Virtual Memories Show a listen!

“If you have too many funny Hitlers, you don’t think there’s anything to be afraid of.”

The panel discusses whether Germany will ever be “normal”, the perils of using Hitler as the symbol of anything we don’t like, whether it’s okay for some ethnic groups (okay, Jews) to make fun of Nazis but not for other ethnic groups to do so, what Timur Vermes learned in the process of writing a novel in Hitler’s voice, whether Mein Kampf should be published freely in Germany, and more!

From left: me, Timur Vermes, Gavriel Rosenfeld, Liesl Schillinger.
Photo © Goethe-Institut New York / Jacobia Dahm

Enjoy the conversation!

Follow The Virtual Memories Show on iTunes, Twitter, Facebook, Tumblr, and RSS!

About our Guests

The son of a German mother and a Hungarian father who fled that country in 1956. Timur Vermes was born in Nuremberg in 1967. He studied history and politics and went on to become a journalist. He was written for the Abendzeitung and the Cologne Express and worked for various magazines. He has ghostwritten several books since 2009. Look Who’s Back (Maclehose Press) is his first novel. It has been translated into 42 languages and a film version will be released in Germany this fall.

Liesl Schillinger is a New York–based critic, translator, and moderator. She grew up in Midwestern college towns, studied comparative literature at Yale, worked at The New Yorker for more than a decade and became a regular critic for The New York Times Book Review in 2004. Her articles and essays have appeared in The New Yorker, The New York Times, New York, The New Republic, The Washington Post, Vogue, Foreign Policy, The London Independent on Sunday, and many other publications. Her recent translations include the novels Every Day, Every Hour, by Natasa Dragnic, and The Lady of the Camellias, by Alexandre Dumas, fils. Wordbirds: An Irreverent Lexicon for the 21st Century, came out in 2013.

Gavriel D. Rosenfeld is Professor of History and Director of the Undergraduate Program in Judaic Studies at Fairfield University. He received his B.A. in History and Judaic Studies from Brown University in 1989 and his Ph.D. in History from UCLA in 1996. His area of specialization is the history and memory of Nazi Germany and the Holocaust. He has written a wide range of books, including the newly released monograph, Hi Hitler!: How the Nazi Past is Being Normalized in Contemporary Culture (Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2015) and the forthcoming edited collection, “If Only We Had Died in Egypt!” What Ifs of Jewish History From Abraham to Zionism (Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2015). He has also written numerous articles, is a frequent contributor to the Forward newspaper, and runs the blog, The Counterfactual History Review.

Credits: This episode’s music is O Just Suppose by Ute Lemper. The conversation was recorded at the Goethe-Institut New York on what looked like wireless Shure M-58s. I recorded the intro and outro on a Blue Yeti USB Microphone. Processing was done in Audacity and Logic Pro. Photo of the panel (l-r): me, Timur Vermes, Gavriel Rosenfeld, Liesl Schillinger – © Goethe-Institut New York / Jacobia Dahm.