Virtual Memories Show 391:
Christopher Brown

“Utopia is not a place; it’s a decision. It’s a decision to try to live a better life, to craft a more wholesome community.”

Can there be economic justice without environmental justice? With his new novel, FAILED STATE (Harper Voyager), Christopher Brown returns to the alternate America of Tropic of Kansas (2017) and Rule of Capture (2019) to explore the possibility of utopia and the catastrophe of man’s disconnect from the land. We talk about how he reprised his great character Donny Kimoe (causing Amazon to categorize this book as “Dystopian Lawyer”), the roots of the world he built in these novels and his drive to publish 3 books in 4 years, and how the pandemic is influencing the choice of his next project, and how he’s been coping since our COVID Check-In a few months ago. We also get into the culture of undocumented people in his area of Texas, the documentary TV episode about his home in east Austin, his current binge of Latin American horror by women writers, the role of resistance when the law is being subverted by politics, the future of his wonderful Field Notes weekly e-mail, and more! Give it a listen! And go read Failed State!

“Decisions about accountability are in the hands of politicians, and politicians are all very terrified of the idea of people being held criminally accountable for things that are at the margins of politics and power.”

“I live in a Hobbit house of the future. It’s about the idea of bringing back the wild in the heart of the city.”

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

Christopher Brown is the author of Tropic of Kansas, a finalist for the 2018 John W. Campbell Award for best science fiction novel of the year, and Rule of Capture, the beginning of a series of speculative legal thrillers. He was a World Fantasy Award nominee for the anthology Three Messages and a Warning: Contemporary Mexican Short Stories of the Fantastic. His short fiction and criticism has appeared in a variety of magazines and anthologies, including MIT Technology Review, LitHib, Tor.com, and The Baffler. He lives in Austin, TX, where he also practices law. His new novel is Failed State, from Harper Voyager.

Follow Chris on Twitter and Instagram and subscribe to the weekly Field Notes e-mail.

(There’s a more comprehensive version at his website.)

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. Photos of Chris by me, from 2018. It’s on my instagram.

Virtual Memories Show 390:
Kurt Andersen

“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.'”

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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

Kurt Andersen is author of HeydayTurn 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).

Follow Kurt on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram.

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.

Virtual Memories Show 388:
Margot Mifflin

“It’s especially odd for Miss AMERICA to have a crown, because if it’s a pageant that represents America and American values, then the symbolism is off, and has been for a long time.”

With her new book, Looking for Miss America: A Pageant’s 100-Year Quest to Define Womanhood (Counterpoint), Margot Mifflin has written a compelling, thoughtful history and exploration of a uniquely American phenomenon. We got together to talk about the story of the Miss America Pageant — sorry, Competition — and its cultural significance (including its racist restrictions), how the pageant has evolved over a century, sometimes reflecting women’s roles in America, sometimes reflecting men’s perspectives of women, the pageant’s heyday of the 1950s and ’60s and its struggles since then, and the 2018 decision to get rid of the swimsuit portion. Along the way, we talk about feminist protests of the pageant, the great life-story of 1951 winner Yolande Betbeze, the history of Atlantic City and its decline, the common elements of most Miss America memoirs, the one winner she wishes she’d interviewed, Philip Roth’s thread throughout her book, and how she’d change Miss America for this era. Give it a listen! And go read Looking for Miss America!

“The feminist protest of 1968 was the point at which second-wave feminism unleashed the phrase ‘women’s liberation’ into the public lexicon.”

“I would keep the scholarships, because that seems to be the real, concrete value of Miss America. . . . It’s benefited lower economic and middle-income women who might not have been able to college if not for these scholarships.”

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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

Margot Mifflin is an author and journalist who writes about women’s history and the arts. She wrote the first history of women’s tattoo culture, Bodies of Subversion: A Secret History of Women and Tattoo, and The Blue Tattoo: The Life of Olive Oatman. Her new book, Looking For Miss America: A Pageant’s 100-Year Quest to Define Womanhood, is the first feminist cultural history of the Miss America pageant. Margot’s writing has appeared in The New York Times, Entertainment Weekly, Vogue, Vice, Elle, ARTnews, Bookforum, The Los Angeles Review of Books, The Believer, O, The Oprah Magazine, The New Yorker.com, The Chronicle of Higher Education, The Washington Post, and other publications.

Margot is an English professor at Lehman College/CUNY and teaches arts journalism at CUNY’s Craig Newmark Graduate School of Journalism. She’s served as a consultant on exhibitions at The Museum of Modern Art, The New York Historical Society, and The Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County, and she curated the exhibition “Body Electric” at Ricco/Maresca Gallery.

Follow Margot on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram.

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 Margot by someone else. It’s on my instagram.

Virtual Memories Show 387:
Benjamin Taylor

“I had a reverent feeling about the writers of that generation. They were little children in the Great Depression, and they saw fear in their parents’ eyes, and it made workhorses of them.”

Author, editor & memoirist Benjamin Taylor joins the show to talk about his wonderful new memoir, Here We Are: My Friendship with Philip Roth (Penguin). We get into how his relationship with Roth evolved over 20 years, how it affected his own writing, and his notion that everything that happened is still happening. We talk about the nature of friendship and how it may differ from literary friendship, Benjamin’s fixation on older friends, why The Human Stain is his favorite of Roth’s novels, the notion of “literary lions” like Roth, Bellow, Oates, Updike, and Ozick, and why this era seems bereft of them. He also fills us in on how long walks with Vivian Gornick have helped him handle Pandemic World, why fiction isn’t the only worthwhile game in town, what it means to be an American and a heartbroken patriot, and plenty more. Give it a listen! And go read Here We Are!

“I think that American writers in general are heartbroken patriots, who see more of the disparities than ordinary citizens. Think of Hawthorne, think of Whitman. This is what makes us an essentially Romantic civilization. We believe that the ideal is what is most real.”

“Did I feel I was in their shadow? No, I felt I was in their light!”

“The grafting of manhood onto his particular childhood was always uneasy and awkward.”

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“There was an amoral streak in Philip. He was also a man of great tenderness.”

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

Benjamin Taylor‘s family memoir, The Hue and Cry at Our House, received the 2018 Los Angeles Times/Christopher Isherwood Prize and was named a New York Times Editors’ Choice; his Proust: The Search was named a Best Book of 2016 by Thomas Mallon in The New York Times Book Review; and his Naples Declared: A Walk Around the Bay was named a Best Book of 2012 by Judith Thurman in The New Yorker. He is also the author of two novels, Tales Out of School, winner of the 1996 Harold Ribalow Prize, and The Book of Getting Even, winner of a Barnes & Noble Discover Award. He edited Saul Bellow: Letters, named a Best Book of 2010 by Michiko Kakutani in The New York Times and Jonathan Yardley in The Washington Post, and Bellow’s There Is Simply Too Much to Think About: Collected Nonfiction, also a New York Times Editors’ Choice. His edition of the collected stories of Susan Sontag, Debriefing, was published by Farrar, Straus & Giroux in 2017. Taylor is a founding faculty member in the New School’s Graduate School of Writing and teaches also in the Columbia University School of the Arts. He is a past fellow and current trustee of the John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation and serves as president of the Edward F. Albee Foundation. His new book is Here We Are: My Friendship with Philip Roth.

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 Benjamin by Alison West. It’s on my instagram.

Virtual Memories Show 386:
Judy Gold

“Don’t tell me what I’m allowed to talk about. There’s no growth without discourse. When you start shutting people up, that’s the end of evolution.”

Comedian, actress and Emmy-winning TV writer Judy Gold joins the show to celebrate her brand new book, Yes, I CAN Say That: When They Come for the Comedians, We Are All in Trouble (Dey St.). We get into the role of comedy in society, the perils of censorship (from the left and the right), and what living through the AIDS crisis taught her about the need to laugh. We get into her history in standup, how audiences have become more offendable, how she got into her IDGAF mode in her 40s, who can take a joke and who can’t (and who can tell a joke and who can’t), the crucible of hanging out with comedians after shows, how she’s dealing with pandemic life and how COVID-19 forced the longest break in her career, what she’s learned from hosting Kill Me Now for 5+ years and who some of her Mount Rushmore guests have been, and plenty more. Give it a listen! And go read Yes, I CAN Say That!

“Every safe space has a door that leads to the real world.”

“Nothing is sacred in a comedy club. And this is the only art form where our work in progress needs an audience.”

“I found that, once you don’t give a shit, you’re much funnier.”

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“A woman in her late 40s in standup is invisible. I’ve been told I can’t get a Netflix special because I don’t ‘fit the algorithm’.”

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

Judy Gold is an American standup comedian, actress, television writer, and producer. She won two Daytime Emmy Awards for her work as a writer and producer on The Rosie O’Donnell Show, and has starred in comedy specials on HBO, Comedy Central, and Logo. She has also written and starred in two critically acclaimed, Off-Broadway hit shows: The Judy Show―My Life as a Sitcom and 25 Questions for a Jewish Mother. She is currently the host of the hit podcast Kill Me Now. Her new book is Yes, I CAN Say That: When They Come for the Comedians, We Are All in Trouble.

There’s a longer version of her bio at her website.

 

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 Judy by Justine Ungaro. It’s on my instagram.