Virtual Memories Show 325:
Boris Fishman

“Cooking is the only thing in my life that creates the same exalted transport that writing does.”

With his new memoir, Savage Feast: Three Generations, Two Continents, and a Dinner Table (a Memoir with Recipes), author Boris Fishman explores his family’s Soviet Jewish legacy, his arc as a writer, and the glorious and varied meals that kept his family together from Minsk to Brighton Beach. We get into why creative nonfiction is his first passion (after publishing two novels), how he guaranteed his family’s disapproval by writing about them throughout his career, how he couldn’t leave Sovietness behind until he moved out of his parents’ home at 24 (despite emigrating from the USSR at 9), what he’d do if he quit the writing game, and why the recipes were the toughest part of Savage Feast. We also talk smack about certain books and authors, compare Malamud to Roth and Bellow, discuss the first (very not Jewish/not Russian) writer Boris became friends with, and explore the use of fiction to imagine alternate lives for oneself. Along the way, we make a life-changing pact, decide whether an MFA is worth pursuing, share book tour best practices, and conclude that Soviet Jewish guilt is exponentially more severe than Jewish guilt. It’s a whole lot of talk about books, food, and deracinated Jews! Give it a listen! And go buy Savage Feast!

“What makes me Soviet is not having spent my first 9 years in that country, but how many years I spent under my parents’ roof.”

“We read novels trying to sniff out what really happened, and we read memoirs what didn’t really happen.”

“I had this very smug idea that the recipes would be easy, because they didn’t involve creating sentences. I couldn’t have been more wrong.”

“The finality of one’s self can be devastating.”

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

Boris Fishman was born in Minsk, Belarus, and emigrated to the United States in 1988. His work has appeared in the New Yorker, the New York Times Magazine, the New York Times Book Review, Travel + Leisure, the London Review of Books, New York magazine, the Wall Street Journal, and the Guardian, among other publications. He is the author of the novels A Replacement Life, which was a New York Times Notable Book of the Year and winner of the VCU Cabell First Novelist Award and the American Library Association’s Sophie Brody Medal, and Don’t Let My Baby Do Rodeo, which was also a New York Times Notable Book of the Year. He teaches in Princeton University’s Creative Writing Program and lives in New York City. His new book is the memoir, Savage Feast: Three Generations, Two Continents, and a Dinner Table (a Memoir with Recipes).

Credits: This episode’s music is Fella by Hal Mayforth, used with permission from the artist. The conversation was recorded at my house 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 me & Boris and b/w photo of Boris by me. It’s on my instagram. Nicer pic with brick wall by Stephanie Kaltsas.

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 307:
Mort Gerberg

“People submitting comics to the New Yorker could expect a 98% rejection rate. What kind of a sane person would go into that field?! You have to have some sort of personality aberration to do this!”

On the eve of his exhibition at the New-York Historical Society (Feb. 15 to May 5, 2019), legendary cartoonist Mort Gerberg reflects on more than five decades of cartooning and art. We talk about his new collection, Mort Gerberg On The Scene: A 50-Year Cartoon Chronicle (Fantagraphics Underground), and what he learned in the process of culling the selection of his work for the show. We get into the roots of his groundbreaking civil rights cartoons (and how he got away with making weed jokes in the Saturday Evening Post in 1965), his pioneering comics reportage, how his spontaneity and energy secretly come from laziness, the challenge of drawing people on NYC subways, his intense focus on the business side of cartooning (and how it might be tied into his late start as a cartoonist), and how he tied vacations and even his honeymoon into work assignments. Give it a listen! And go buy Mort Gerberg On The Scene and check out the new exhibition of Mort’s work at the New-York Historical Society!

“When I would see something that looked like an injustice, I had to do something.”

“The first day I walked into the Saturday Evening Post, they told me the cartooning business was dying. That was 1962, and it’s been dying ever since.”

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

Mort Gerberg is an award-winning, multi-genre cartoonist and author best known for his cartoons in The New Yorker, Playboy and many other magazines, and for Cartooning: The Art and the Business, considered “the most comprehensive, authoritative book on the subject.”

He has drawn three nationally-syndicated newspaper comic strips and has written, edited and/or illustrated 43 books for adults and children, including the best-selling More Spaghetti, I Say!.

Mort has been a content provider for television and online sites, posted daily topical cartoons, and performed a weekly on-camera-drawing feature. He also wrote and drew animated fables and did live cartoon election coverage. He has done on-the-scene sketch reportage for magazines and newspapers, covering national and international politics, sports and travel.

He taught cartooning for 15 years at Parsons School of Design, was a founder and president of the Cartoonists Guild, and is a member of the National Cartoonists Society. He was voted as Best Magazine Cartoonist of 2007 and 2008 by the National Cartoonists Society, and was a CCNY Commuications Hall of Fame Honoree in 2010.

Mort lives in New York Cit with his wife, Judith. He pitches for the New Yorker softball team, plays tennis and the piano, and sings in a choir.

He’s on Twitter and Instagram as mortgerberg.

Credits: This episode’s music is Fella by Hal Mayforth, used with permission from the artist. The conversation was recorded at Mort’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. Photos of Mr. Gerberg by me. It’s on my instagram.

 Virtual Memories Show 302:
Jerome Charyn

“In most historical novels, you’re dealing with events, and I’m really dealing with trauma and wounds.”

On the latest stop on his blog tour, author Jerome Charyn joins the show to talk about his new novel, The Perilous Adventures of the Cowboy King: A Novel of Teddy Roosevelt and His Times (Liveright Publishing). We get into the image that inspired the book, the challenges & rewards of historical fiction, and the quest to separate Teddy Roosevelt’s myth from his story. Along the way, we get into ping pong, whether LeBron James should have gone somewhere besides LA, the magic of Allegra Kent & Balanchine’s ballet, the loneliness of Van Gogh’s garret, the joy of collaborating on graphic novels, and the miracle of Jerome becoming a writer. Leave a comment about this episode below to enter a raffle to win Jerome’s new book & a his earlier novel, I Am Abraham: A Novel of Lincoln and the Civil War! Check out the rest of the blog tour in support of The Perilous Adventures of the Cowboy King! Give it a listen! And go buy The Perilous Adventures of the Cowboy King: A Novel of Teddy Roosevelt and His Times!

”I’m afraid of everything, but I’m fearless on the page. Everything frightens me, but writing doesn’t frighten me.”

“In America today, everything is monetized, and nothing has value.”


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

Jerome Charyn is an award-winning American author. With more than 50 published works, Charyn has earned a long-standing reputation as an inventive and prolific chronicler of real and imagined American life.

Pulitzer Prize-winning novelist Michael Chabon calls him “one of the most important writers in American literature.” New York Newsday hailed Charyn as “a contemporary American Balzac,” and the Los Angeles Times described him as “absolutely unique among American writers.”

Since the 1964 release of Charyn’s first novel, Once Upon a Droshky, he has published thirty novels, three memoirs, eight graphic novels, two books about film, short stories, plays, and works of non-fiction. Two of his memoirs were named New York TimesBook of the Year.

Charyn has been a finalist for the PEN/Faulkner Award for Fiction. He received the Rosenthal Award from the American Academy of Arts and Letters and was named Commander of Arts and Letters by the French Minister of Culture. Charyn is Distinguished Professor Emeritus of Film Studies at the American University of Paris.

In addition to writing and teaching, Charyn is a tournament table tennis player, once ranked in the top ten percent of players in France. Noted novelist Don DeLillo called Charyn’s book on table tennis, Sizzling Chops & Devilish Spins, “The Sun Also Rises of ping-pong.”

Charyn’s most recent novel, Jerzy, was described by The New Yorker as a “fictional fantasia” about the life of Jerzy Kosinski, the controversial author of The Painted Bird.  In 2010, Charyn wrote The Secret Life of Emily Dickinson, an imagined autobiography of the renowned poet, a book characterized by Joyce Carol Oates as a “fever-dream picaresque.”

Charyn lives in New York City.  He’s currently working with artists Asaf and Tomer Hanuka on an animated television series based on his Isaac Sidel crime novels.

Credits: This episode’s music is Fella by Hal Mayforth, used with permission from the artist. The conversation was recorded at Jerome’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 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 Jerome & racket by me. It’s on my instagram.