Virtual Memories Show 315: David Shields

“We’ll all be dead quite soon. This is our one chance to learn something about life on earth. I’m imbued with the question of, ‘Why all these masks?'”

With his new book, The Trouble with Men: Reflections on Sex, Love, Marriage, Porn, and Power (Mad Creek Books), essayist David Shields applies the literary microscope to his own marriage and explores — through a collage of perspectives — the subtle psychological game of S/M it’s grown into over the decades. David & I get into the challenge of writing about his marriage without destroying it, what his family thinks of the book, whether he finds it funny to be blurbed as “the most honest writer alive”, his ‘nothing but epiphanies’ approach to the personal essay, the obsessive personae he adopts for his books and the influence of (twotime pod-guest) Phillip Lopate on his work. We also talk about the difference between vulnerability and weakness, the taboo about male submission, the limits of disclosure, the lessons of parenting, our mutual sports-fixation and our love for Ichiro, and plenty more! BONUS: My all-important advice about what not to do in your hotel room. Give it a listen! And go buy The Trouble with Men: Reflections on Sex, Love, Marriage, Porn, and Power!

“I think a writer carves a swath through some part of their psyche, and phrases themselves as the whole world turning on this subject. That gives you a book.”

“Stripped-nakedness is my go-to, my writing strategy.”

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

Lots of ways to follow The Virtual Memories Show! iTunes, Spotify, Twitter, Instagram, YouTube, TuneIn, Tumblr, and RSS!

About our Guest

David Shields is the internationally best-selling author of twenty-two books, including Reality Hunger: A Manifesto (named one of the best books of 2010 by more than thirty publications), The Thing About Life Is That One Day You’ll Be Dead (New York Times bestseller), Black Planet (finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award), and Other People: Takes & Mistakes (NYTBR Editors’ Choice selection). The film adaptation of I Think You’re Totally Wrong: A Quarrel was released by First Pond Entertainment in 2017. A recipient of Guggenheim and NEA fellowships and a senior contributing editor of Conjunctions, Shields has published essays and stories in the New York Times Magazine, Harper’s, Esquire, Yale Review, Salon, Slate, McSweeney’s, and Believer. His work has been translated into two dozen languages. His new book is The Trouble with Men: Reflections on Sex, Love, Marriage, Porn, and Power.

Credits: This episode’s music is Fella by Hal Mayforth, used with permission from the artist. The conversation was recorded at the Lexington Hotel in NYC 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 Cloudlifter CL-1 and a Mackie Onyx Blackjack 2×2 USB Recording Interface. All processing and editing done in Adobe Audition CC. Photos of Mr. Shields by me. It’s on my instagram.

Virtual Memories Show 313:
Nathan Englander

“Why I like writing is: it always feels like the first book.”

On the eve of his fifth book, the wonderful kaddish.com: A novel (Knopf), Nathan Englander looks back on 20 years of publishing. We get into how he wrote this novel at a breakneck pace compared to his previous work, the great advice he got from Philip Roth (I’m not jealous!), the chemistry of creativity, the importance of process, his need to push borders and examine boundaries, and making his bones on the sacred and the profane. Nathan also talks about the therapeutic aspects of teaching writing, being more appreciative of his yeshiva upbringing, treating books like religion, and getting into thrillers while working on his political novel Dinner at the Center of the Earth. We also discuss his foray into playwriting, how he knows when a story or book is done, and the challenges of being friends with other writers, among plenty of other topics. Give it a listen! And go buy kaddish.com: A novel!

“It’s lovely to live in New York as a writer, but you have to avoid static, as both reader and writer.”

“I replaced therapy with teaching. I find it really nice to have to put things into words for students.”

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

Lots of ways to follow The Virtual Memories Show! iTunes, Spotify, Twitter, Instagram, YouTube, TuneIn,
Tumblr, and RSS!

About our Guest

Nathan Englander is the author of the story collections For the Relief of Unbearable Urges: Stories, an international best seller, and What We Talk About When We Talk About Anne Frank: Stories, and the novels The Ministry of Special Cases and Dinner at the Center of the Earth. His books have been translated into twenty-two languages, and he is the recipient of a Guggenheim Fellowship, a PEN/Malamud Award, the Frank O’Connor Award, the Sue Kaufman Prize from the American Academy of Arts & Letters and was a Finalist for the Pulitzer Prize in 2013. His play The Twenty-Seventh Man premiered at the Public Theater in 2012. He is Distinguished Writer in Residence at New York University and lives in Brooklyn, New York, with his wife and daughter. His new novel is kaddish.com: A novel

Credits: This episode’s music is Fella by Hal Mayforth, used with permission from the artist. 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 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 Nathan by me. It’s on my instagram.

Virtual Memories Show 312:
Bram Presser

“To me, this is a book about how we tell stories, and how we come to understand stories.”

What sort of person breaks into Auschwitz? An author — and semi-reformed punk rocker, recovering academic and occasional criminal lawyer — in search of answers. Bram Presser joins the show to talk about his award-winning, fantastic debut novel The Book of Dirt, a memoir-fiction hybrid about his family’s experience in the Shoah. We get into the myths of how his grandfather survived the concentration camps and what they meant for his family and his book, the years of detective work (and the lucky breaks) researching his grandparents’ stories and records and the limits of knowing anyone else’s life, the exceptionalist vibe of Czech Jews, the stories he was afraid to learn and the heroism that redeemed his great-grandmother and her family, the challenges of researching an unheard-of story of survival when archivists are already put off by your punk-rock appearance, and how Bram avoided Holocaust cliches while giving agency, dignity and social dynamics to the prisoners in the camps. We also get into Bram’s worries about feedback from his mentor Dasa Drndic, the value of documentary fiction, the aspects of his other careers that supported his ability to write The Book of Dirt, that Auschwitz break-in, and why Talmudkommando would have been a better name for his Jewish punk band than Yidcore. Give it a listen! And go buy The Book of Dirt!

“One thing I took from writing this book is that we really don’t know much about the people we love. We accept an idea of who they are, but that’s all we have.”

“Every time I talk about the book and about my grandparents, I feel like I’m spending more time with them. It’s a way for me to get to know them and understand them.”


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

Lots of ways to follow The Virtual Memories Show! iTunes, Spotify, Twitter, Instagram, YouTube, TuneIn,
Tumblr, and RSS!

About our Guest

Scruffy scrivener. Semi-reformed punk rocker. Recovering academic. Occasional criminal lawyer. Two-time cartoon character. After schlepping around the world for 10 years in the acclaimed punk band Yidcore, Bram Presser realized he was getting too old to sleep on concrete floors and smear hummus over himself every night. Swapping the rubber chicken for a fountain pen, he has since dedicated himself to writing. In 2011, Bram won The Age Short Story Award and since then his stories have appeared in Best Australian Stories, Award-Winning Australian Writing, The Sleepers Almanac, and Higher Arc. His debut novel, The Book of Dirt, was published in Australia in 2017 by Text Publishing to wide acclaim and went on to the New South Wales Premier’s Literary Award for Fiction, Best New Writer and People’s Choice Awards in 2018, as well as the prestigious Voss Literary Prize. The novel was published in the U.S. in 2018 and recently won the Goldberg Prize for Debut Fiction at the National Jewish Book Awards.

Credits: This episode’s music is Fella by Hal Mayforth, used with permission from the artist. The conversation was recorded at AKA Central Park 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 Cloudlifter CL-1 and a Mackie Onyx Blackjack 2×2 USB Recording Interface. All processing and editing done in Adobe Audition CC. Photo of Mr. Presser by me. It’s on my instagram.

Virtual Memories Show 311:
Martin Hägglund

“Only a being who is finite and anxious about their finitude can lead a spiritual life.”

What if we treated our finite lives as a feature instead of a bug? How would we revalue our time and how could that shape our society? In his new book, This Life: Secular Faith and Spiritual Freedom (Pantheon Books), Professor Martin Hagglund explores how life becomes enriched when we discard the eternal in favor of seeing the lives we live together as the highest good. We talk about how the notion of an afterlife devalues the life we live, the ways our implicit experiences are rendered explicit by philosophy and literature, and how a rethinking of the value of our time can lead to a revaluing of labor and a critique of capital (no, really!). We get into my favorite topic — anxiety! — as well as the inextricability of existential and economic questions, the invisible labor that makes our lives possible/comfortable, the conceptions of time and memory captured by Proust and Knausgaard, the all-important difference between valuing socially necessary labor time and socially available free time, and how the life of Martin Luther King, Jr. embodies a lot of Martin’s arguments about finitude and a better world. Give it a listen! And go buy This Life: Secular Faith and Spiritual Freedom!

“If you’re really going to think about the relation of time and value, you’re going to end up in economics, but not in the modern sense, but the economy as intrinsic to social relations and spiritual life itself.”

“As a kid, I was interested in Bible exegeses, but for philosophical reasons.”

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

Lots of ways to follow The Virtual Memories Show! iTunes, Spotify, Twitter, Instagram, YouTube, TuneIn,
Tumblr, and RSS!

About our Guest

Martin Hägglund is a professor of comparative literature and humanities at Yale University. A member of the Society of Fellows at Harvard University, he is the author of three highly acclaimed books, and his work has been translated into eight languages. In his native Sweden, he published his first book, Chronophobia, at the age of twenty-five. His first book in English, Radical Atheism: Derrida and the Time of Life, was the subject of a conference at Cornell University and a colloquium at Oxford University. His most recent book, Dying for Time: Proust, Woolf, Nabokov, was hailed by the Los Angeles Review of Books as a “revolutionary” achievement. He was awarded a Guggenheim Fellowship in 2018. He lives in New York City. His new book is This Life: Secular Faith and Spiritual Freedom.

Credits: This episode’s music is Fella by Hal Mayforth, used with permission from the artist. The conversation was recorded at the Penguin Random House offices 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 Cloudlifter CL-1 and a Mackie Onyx Blackjack 2×2 USB Recording Interface. All processing and editing done in Adobe Audition CC. Nice photo of Prof Hägglund uncredited. Office photo of Prof. Hägglund by me. It’s on my instagram.

Virtual Memories Show 304:
Edmund White

“Queerness has become less arty, less intellectual, less cultural, more physical, more gym-oriented, more commercial. Lady Gaga instead of Maria Callas.”

Novelist, memoirist, essayist and queer literary icon Edmund White joins the show to talk about his new memoir, The Unpunished Vice: A Life of Reading (Bloomsbury USA)! We get into how his implied reader has changed identities over the years, the differences between writing memoir, autofiction and imaginative fiction, the boom and bust of the “gay fiction” bookstore category, the challenges of his massive biography of Genet and how he navigated about French attitudes toward gossip, and having the gay version of a shotgun wedding. We also get into his HIV diagnosis in 1985, outliving what he thought was a two-year death sentence, and being crazy enough to take on a long-term writing project in the midst of it. In between, we get to his status as a blurb-slut, what it’s like for him to write on a computer for the first time, the pressure to write for a gay audience and how The Flaneur opened him up to a very different reader, and more! Give it a listen! And go buy The Unpunished Vice: A Life of Reading!

“I hate the term ‘creative nonfiction,’ which always sounds to me like, you know, lying.”

“I felt my Genet biography was political. I wanted to remind people that gays had a history before AIDS and that it didn’t just involve disease.”

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

Lots of ways to follow The Virtual Memories Show! iTunes, Spotify, Twitter, Instagram, Tumblr, and RSS!

About our Guest

Edmund White is the author of many novels, including A Boy’s Own Story: A Novel, The Beautiful Room Is Empty, The Farewell Symphony, and Our Young Man. His nonfiction includes City Boy, Inside a Pearl, and other memoirs; The Flaneur, about Paris; and literary biographies and essays, including Genet: A Biography and Marcel Proust: A Life. He was named winner of the 2018 PEN/Saul Bellow Award for Achievement in American Fiction. He lives in New York. His most recent book is The Unpunished Vice: A Life of Reading.

Credits: This episode’s music is Fella by Hal Mayforth, used with permission from the artist. The conversation was recorded at Mr. White’s 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 Cloudlifter CL-1 and a Mackie Onyx Blackjack 2×2 USB Recording Interface. All processing and editing done in Adobe Audition CC. Photo of Mr. White by me. It’s on my instagram.