J.D.McClatchy_NewBioImage_Credit-GeoffSpearVirtual Memories Show #136:
J.D. McClatchy – A Forest of Things

“I’m now older than the two most important men in my life were when they died: my father and James Merrill.”

The great poet, essayist, librettist and bon vivant J.D. McClatchy (Sandy, to his friends) joins the show to talk about outliving his idols, adapting my favorite novel (The Leopard!) to opera, having his life changed by a course with Harold Bloom, collecting letters from the likes of Proust and Housman, and marrying Chip Kidd! We also get into his friendship with James Merrill, pop culture’s triumph over high culture, his genetic inability to read comics, why he loathed Ezra Pound as a person and as an artist, how sexual politics has replaced social politics, the experience of teaching the first gay literature course at Yale in 1978 (and getting dropped from the university because of it), how a serious poet writes for the dead, not the living, and more! Give it a listen!

“I think the problem of all young poets — which I shared — was that at the age of 20, 25, I didn’t have anything to write about.”

We also talk about the unique challenges of his various genres (poetry, prose, libretti), the benefits of a career in academia, the notion that the great treasures of western civilization have created us and are needed to sustain us, the true stakes of writing poetry, his commonplace book (being published next spring), his Ouija experience with Anne Sexton, sailing the Atlantic for his 70th birthday, how three Ring cycles equals one San Diego Comic-Con, and why it took him four years to begin writing in a new home. This one’s a great conversation, so go listen!

“The experience of watching kids grow up imaginatively, and grow out of themselves — rather than into themselves — in the first shedding of a false skin, is something I take very seriously in my responsibility as a teacher.”

We mention a few books in this episode. Here they are:

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

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Also, during the episode I promised to show you the official image of What Your Host Feels Like When He’s Reading Poetry, as illustrated by Roger Langridge. Whoomp, here it is:

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About our Guest

J.D. McClatchy is the author Plundered Hearts: New and Selected Poems (Knopf, 2014), as well as seven previous collections of poetry and of three collections of prose. He has edited numerous other books, including The Vintage Book of Contemporary American Poetry, and has written a number of opera libretti that have been performed at the Metropolitan Opera, Covent Garden, La Scala, and elsewhere. He is a member of the American Academy of Arts and Letters, where he served as president from 2009 to 2012. McClatchy teaches at Yale University and is the editor of the Yale Review.

Credits: This episode’s music is Nothing’s Gonna Bring Me Down by David Baerwald, used with permission of the artist. The conversation was recorded at Mr. McClatchy’s Stonington, CT home 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. B/W photo of Mr. McClatchy by Geoff Spears; color photo by me.

41X6zxtIM4L._SX327_BO1,204,203,200_Virtual Memories Show #130:
Elizabeth Samet –
The Cult of Experience and the Tyranny of Relevance

“How do you learn things? How do you acquire the patience to admit when you don’t know things? I think those are really important things for an Army officer to know.”

Elizabeth D. Samet has been a professor of English at West Point since 1997. We talk about the tension between education and training at the military academy, the importance of books to soldiers and officers serving overseas, learning West Point’s unique argot, preparing her students to be unprepared, trying (and failing) to convince Robert Fagles that Hector is the moral center of the Iliad, why she doesn’t teach Henry V to plebes, how not to get caught up in the tyranny of relevance, why she balked at learning the fine art of parachuting, and more! Give it a listen!

“The question I’m endlessly fascinated with is, what do we call war and what do we call peace and can we draw these nice distinctions? It seems to me right now that we can’t.”

NOTE: The opinions Elizabeth Samet expresses in this interview are her own and do not necessarily reflect those of West Point, the Department of the Army, or the Department of Defense.

We also talk about teaching students who are both future Army officers and 18-year-old kids, how West Point and the student body changed after 9/11, her new anthology (Leadership) and her first two books (Soldier’s Heart and No Man’s Land), her house-on-fire list of books to save, her quarrel with Plato, and her adoration of Simeon’s Maigret novels. Bonus: I tell a long, awful and emotional story from last weekend (it starts around the 75:00 mark, so feel free to stop long before that).

“I have this idea about Plato: no one loves Plato who does not already think himself a guardian.”

We talk about a lot of 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!
Follow The Virtual Memories Show on iTunes, Twitter, Facebook, Tumblr, and RSS!

About our Guest

Samet_0044F PUB-Bachrach©Elizabeth D. Samet is the author of No Man’s Land: Preparing for War and Peace in Post-9/11 America (FSG). Her first book, Soldier’s Heart: Reading Literature Through Peace and War at West Point (Picador), won the Los Angeles Times Book Prize for Current Interest and was named one of the 100 Notable Books of the Year by The New York Times. Samet’s work has appeared in various publications, including the The New York Times, The New Republic, and Bloomberg View. She is also the editor of Leadership: Essential Writings by Our Greatest Thinkers, which is out this month from Norton. Samet won the 2012 Hiett Prize in the Humanities and is also the recipient of a Guggenheim Fellowship. She is a professor of English at West Point.

Credits: This episode’s music is On, Brave Old Army Team by West Point Marching Band. The conversation was recorded at Prof. Samet’s apartment 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 Prof. Samet by Bachrach.

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!

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

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.

sweetcoverVirtual Memories Show:
Thane Rosenbaum – Magic City

“I’m starting to think that the essays, the fiction, the long non-fiction are all coming from the same place, tapping the same resources, the same human experience, the same fears: all the things that built me, built me to write all of those things, not just one piece of it.”

Thane Rosenbaum rejoins the show to talk about his new novel, How Sweet It Is!, the debut book from the new publisher Mandel Vilar Press! We talk about Thane’s family history from the concentration camps to ’70s Miami, his path to becoming a novelist and human rights lawyer, the relative lunacy of First and Second Amendment absolutists, the allure of print, growing up in a city without a bookstore, the fate of European Jewry, and more! Give it a listen!

“There’s a marketplace of ideas, and there’s a marketplace of assholes. It turns out they’re different marketplaces.”

We also talk about balancing fiction, non-fiction and op-ed pieces, what brought Isaac Bashevis Singer to Miami, the days when publishing was a way of life, the ways the “slippery slope” argument prevents people from taking righteous positions, why I should interview Ayaan Hirsi Ali, and more! Go listen!

 

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

Thane Rosenbaum is an essayist, law professor, and author of the novels, How Sweet It Is!, The Stranger Within Sarah Stein, The Golems of Gotham, Second Hand Smoke, and Elijah Visible. His articles, reviews and essays appear frequently in the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Washington Post, Haaretz, Huffington Post and Daily Beast, among other national publications. He moderates an annual series of discussions on culture, world events and politics at the 92nd Street Y called The Talk Show. He is a Senior Fellow at New York University School of Law where he directs the Forum on Law, Culture & Society. He is the author of Payback: The Case for Revenge and The Myth of Moral Justice: Why Our Legal System Fails to Do What’s Right. He is the editor of the anthology, Law Lit: From Atticus Finch to the Practice: A Collection of Great Writing About the Law. His forthcoming book is entitled The High Cost of Free Speech: Rethinking the First Amendment.

Credits: This episode’s music is Goin’ Back to Florida by Lightnin’ Hopkins. The conversation was recorded at Mr. Rosenbaum’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 Blue Yeti USB Microphone. Processing was done in Audacity and Logic Pro. Photo of Mr. Rosenbaum by me.

moral-agents200Virtual Memories Show:
Edward Mendelson – Idlers and Belgians

“I have a private test for whether I’m an individual person or whether I’m part of the culture: I go to the supermarket and I look at the supermarket weeklies, and if I recognize the names, then I’m not a person, I’m a product of collective culture.”

Professor Edward Mendelson joins the show to talk about his new book, Moral Agents: Eight Twentieth-Century American Writers (New York Review Books), which profiles Lionel Triling, Dwight Macdonald, Alfred Kazin, William Maxwell, Saul Bellow, Norman Mailer, WH Auden, Frank O’Hara. We discuss the role of individuals in mass culture, the intellectual’s temptation to be a leader, the outdated figure of the Beloved Professor, Orwell’s misinterpretation of Auden, the writer he was terrified to meet, the failures of identity politics, the purpose of Columbia University’s Core Curriculum, his lack of nostalgia for the era of public intellectuals, the way certain books need a year off from teaching in order to recharge, and more. Give it a listen!

“All these writers were tempted by the way they were taken seriously.”

We also talk about why he hates one of my favorite novels, why he agrees with my take on Achilles’ uncanniness in the Iliad, why professors think students are getting dumber year after year, how the economic collapse of the ’70s led to improved colleges across the country, why he thinks Stoner is a study in self-pity, and more! Go listen!

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

At Columbia since 1981, Professor Edward Mendelson has also taught at Yale and Harvard. A recipient of American Council of Learned Societies, NEH, and Guggenheim fellowships, he is chiefly interested in 19th-and 20th-century literature, formal and social aspects of poetry and narrative, and biographical criticism. He is Auden’s literary executor; his book Later Auden (1999) is a sequel to his Early Auden (1981). His book, The Things That Matter: What Seven Classic Novels Have to Say About the Stages of Life, was published by Pantheon in 2006. His new book is Moral Agents: Eight Twentieth-Century American Writers, from New York Review Books. He has edited a volume of essays on Thomas Pynchon and, with Michael Seidel, Homer to Brecht: The European Epic & Dramatic Traditions. He has prepared editions of novels by Hardy, Bennett, Meredith, Wells, and Trollope, the first five volumes of a complete edition of Auden, and selections of Auden’s poems and prose. His essays and reviews have appeared in the New York Review of Books, London Review of Books, TLS, the New York Times Book Review, and many other journals and collections, and he wrote an introduction for a new edition of Gravity’s Rainbow. He has also written about computers, music, and the visual arts. He is a Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature and was the first Isabel Dalhousie Fellow at the Institute for Advanced Studies in the Humanities at the University of Edinburgh.

Credits: This episode’s music is Homesickness by Tsegue-Maryam Guebrou. The conversation was recorded at Mr. Mendelson’s office 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. Mendelson by me.