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 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 381:
Zena Hitz

“The forms of learning for its own sake that happen in ordinary life are more fundamental than the professional versions.”

Author & St. John’s College tutor Zena Hitz joins the show to talk about her wonderful new book, Lost in Thought: The Hidden Pleasures of an Intellectual Life (Princeton University Press). We get into the nature of learning for its own sake, the corruption of academia and its potential reform, how St. John’s prepared us for the world by not preparing us, and why the Newton’s Principia is the toughest thing on the SJC curriculum. We also talk about the joy of autodidacts and our shared love of The Peregrine, why she disagrees with the notion that learning-for-its-own-sake is a privilege of the elite, the challenges of leading seminars by Zoom, and how bureaucracy creeps into every system. We also tackle my lightning round of questions for SJC tutors, what she’d add to the curriculum and what she’d subtract, and answer the long-standing question: What is virtue and can it be taught? Give it a listen! And go read Lost in Thought: The Hidden Pleasures of an Intellectual Life!

“St. John’s is a different place. It has different values, and you don’t want the rest of the world to be like that, but it changes the way you interact with the world.”

“Casual interaction really matters. During the pandemic, it’s a burden to have everything be done with real intention: ‘Who would I like to see, who would I like to talk to?'”

“Sometimes young people don’t get that these books are real. That what Thucydides wrote about was what he lived through. They don’t always understand the books are about life.”

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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

Zena Hitz is a Tutor in the great books program at St. John’s College in Annapolis, MD. She has a Ph.D. in ancient philosophy from Princeton University and studies and teaches across the liberal arts. Her new book is Lost in Thought: The Hidden Pleasures of an Intellectual Life, from Princeton University Press.

Follow Zena on Twitter. There’s a more extensive bio at her site.

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

Virtual Memories Show 375:
Arthur Hoyle

“What really was hammered home by the stories in my book was the persistence of injustice in our society, the ongoing struggle make this country live up to its ideals.”

Author Arthur Hoyle joins the show to talk about his new book, Mavericks, Mystics, and Misfits: Americans Against the Grain (Sunbury Press), in which profiles of American figures help illustrate the paradoxes and aspirations of a nation. We get into how the book grew out of the concept of the exemplar put forth by Henry Miller (the subject of Arthur’s first book), his vision of America and how the florid language of the founding fathers is like PR for a damaging product, and how his selection of biographical subjects in MM&M represents the diversity of America in its ethnicity and geographic spread. We also get into climate change and rampant capitalism, his practice of “first draft, best draft”, the fascist seed of the Massachusetts Bay Colony, how the pandemic scrambled his trip to Patagonia and led to an odyssey to get back to Southern California, his next book about the tension artists face between the muse & the mundane, our various ideas of how to treat Henry Miller in film & fiction, and more! Give it a listen! And go read Mavericks, Mystics, and Misfits!

“To Henry Miller, exemplars were larger-than-life figures who lived well, pushed their potential, challenged the circumstances they were born into, and stood out as models.”

“What makes good prose nonfiction writing is extreme clarity and finding the true relationship between the subject of your sentence and the words you use to make that subject. Then I look for a verb that will bring that subject to life, that will put it in motion, animate it.”

“You find that all mystical traditions, if you follow them to the core, take you to the same place. They all lead to the same conclusion of what God is, and how one can experience that God, contact with which we’re closed off by because of our ego.”

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

Arthur Hoyle is a writer, educator, and independent filmmaker. His documentary films have won numerous awards and have aired on PBS, and he received a media grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities. Before becoming an author, he produced corporate communications materials in print and video for a broad array of clients. He received Bachelors and Masters Degrees in English from the University of California, Los Angeles, and taught English, coached tennis, and served as an administrator in independent schools. He currently volunteers as a naturalist in the Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area, leading interpretive walks on Chumash Indian culture. His biography of Henry Miller, The Unknown Henry Miller: A Seeker in Big Sur, was published in March 2014 by Skyhorse/Arcade. He has also published essays in Huffington Post, Empty Mirror, Across the Margin, Counterpunch, and AIOTB: As It Ought To Be. He lives in Pacific Palisades, California. His new book is Mavericks, Mystics, and Misfits: Americans Against the Grain, from Sunbury Press.

Credits: This episode’s music is Fella by Hal Mayforth, used with permission from the artist. The conversation was recorded at remotely. I was using 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 Arthur by Peter Register (the portrait) and Arthur’s wife (the piano). It’s on my instagram.

Virtual Memories Show 367:
Whitney Matheson

“Music, film, TV, books: those are the things that tell you when you’re a kid that there’s a world out there.”

It’s the end of the world as we know it, and we feel fine! A few weeks before the COVID-19 lockdowns began, pop culture writer and REM maniac Whitney Matheson joined the show to talk about how she managed to blaze her own journalistic trail by writing about the music, movies, TV and books that she loved. We get into how pop culture writing and blogging have changed since she launched Pop Candy at USA Today in 1999, why she left NYC and why she had to come back, the importance of having great content on her Patreon, what it’s like being defined by work in her early 20s, how a post about a KFC sandwich remains her most-read piece, and how she has to do triage to figure out what to keep up with. We also get into her upcoming kid’s book about the Loch Ness monster, her most recent celebrity freakout, how she taught interviewing skills to students who are unused to talking on the phone, the importance of having a career plan (and trying to stick to it), and how parenthood introduced her to a different world of pop. Oh, and because she’s all about lists, we find out her top three American rock bands (including REM, of course). Give it a listen! And go support Whitney via Patreon!

“I just wrote about the things that I loved, and the things that I loved happened to be very different from what was being covered in a very large, mainstream publication.”

“The comics industry has the most kindness and camaraderie of any entertainment-industry I’ve worked in.”

“I love the things that aren’t getting much attention.”

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

Whitney Matheson is a New York-based writer best known for creating Pop Candy (1999-2014), USA Today’s award-winning pop-culture blog. She has appeared on MSNBC, VH1, BBC America, E! and Turner Classic Movies, and her work has appeared in a variety of publications, including Playboy, Mental Floss, Slate and The Hollywood Reporter. Her first children’s book, We Make Comics!, was released in May 2019. Subscribe to Whitney’s weekly pop-culture newsletter and get exclusive content like comics, short stories and more at patreon.com/whitneymatheson.

Credits: This episode’s music is Fella by Hal Mayforth, used with permission from the artist. The conversation was recorded at a cartooning studio in Gowanus 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 Whitney by me. It’s on my instagram. Except for the one in the Automatic For The People T-shirt. That’s probably by her.