Virtual Memories Show 403:
Merrill Markoe (+ Emily Flake)

“What you find when you look at your old writings is that you’re a completely different person until you’re about 13 or 14.”

Comedy legend Merrill Markoe returns to the show to celebrate her new graphic memoir, We Saw Scenery: The Early Diaries of Merrill Markoe (Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill)! We talk about how it felt to spend time with her childhood self over the course of the book, the decision to illustrate it and what that process taught her about cartooning, what contemporary Merrill has to say to her younger self, and how she owns up to having a crush on a junior high boy who made Heil Hitler salutes at her. We also get into the influence of Lynda Barry on her work, why she’s considering leaving Malibu for the Pacific Northwest, her decision to auction off her Late Night with David Letterman gear to contribute to charities (like this one!), her love for Pen15, the joy of the Undo button, and how the world has changed for funny women. And speaking of, Emily Flake also joins the show to talk about the Kickstarter for St. Nell’s Humor Writing Residency for Ladies (expiring Oct. 30, so go check it out)! Give it a listen! And go read We Saw Scenery!

(& check out Merrill’s first Virtual Memories Show appearance in 2014)

“Everybody I know who’s compulsively funny for a living, it comes to them young.”

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 Guests

Merrill Markoe was the head writer for the original The David Letterman Show (the live NBC morning show that was recognized with a Daytime Emmy Award) and the co-creator and first head writer of NBC’s groundbreaking Late Night with David Letterman, for which she won three additional Emmy Awards. She engineered the majority of the show’s original concepts and created the segments “Stupid Pet Tricks,” “Stupid Human Tricks,” and “Viewer Mail.” Merrill also won a Writer’s Guild award for her writing/performing work on HBO’s Not Necessarily the News. She has written for television shows such as Sex and the City, Newhart, and Moonlighting and has written for many periodicals, including Rolling Stone, Time, US Weekly, People, Esquire, The New York Times, and The Los Angeles Times, and her cartoon work has appeared in The New Yorker. She was recently awarded the Paddy Chayefsky Laurel Award for Television Writing Achievement.

Follow Merrill on Twitter, and Instagram.

Emily Flake‘s cartoons and humorous essays run regularly in The New Yorker, The Nib, and many other publications. Her weekly strip, Lulu Eightball, ran in alt-weeklies for many years. She’s written and illustrated two books: These Things Ain’t Gonna Smoke Themselves and Mama Tried. Her illustrations and cartoons appear in publications all over the world, including the New York Times, Newsweek, the Globe and Mail, The Onion, The New Statesman, and Forbes. She lives in Brooklyn, New York, with her husband, daughter, and a new cat. Her new book is That Was Awkward: The Art and Etiquette of the Awkward Hug (Viking Books).

Follow Emily on Twitter 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 Merrill by . . . someone else. It’s on my instagram.

Virtual Memories Show 402:
Darryl Pinckney

“The vote has to be rethought in our American hearts as a radical act, because so many people don’t want you to vote. We have to think about the vote as the center of American culture and American purpose, that cuts across lines of identity that people have drawn so vividly.”

Writer and cultural critic Darryl Pinckney joins the show to celebrate the new edition of Blackballed: The Black Vote and US Democracy (NYRB) and the paperback of Busted in New York and Other Essays (Picador). We talk about revisiting his Obama-era writings in the post-2016 world, the importance of the vote and the question of whether there’s a Black vote, or Black voters. We discuss his surprise at the persistence of makeup of the BLM protests, his place in the historical chain and the moment he felt out of touch, and his history at the New York Review of Books and its roots in the anti-Vietnam War movement. We also get into the fractured relationship between Jews and Blacks (following their close ties during the civil rights movement), the companionship of books during the pandemic, the commodification of the arts, the memoir he’s working on about Elizabeth Hardwick and 1970s NYC, and more, including an image I’ve pondered for years: Jesse Jackson’s tears the night of Obama’s election in 2008. Give it a listen! And go read Blackballed and Busted in New York!

“Our generation didn’t think we were getting older the way we saw the previous generation get older. People made the mistake of thinking their children were their friends. They’re not; they’re your judges.”

“The past is so case by case, there’s no one rule for confronting it. Because there’s no end to what you can find out.”

“We have a lot of books, most of which I’ve not read. Now that I’m aware time is running out, I’m more enchanted by the book as an object than ever. The companionship of a book at a time like this means a lot to me.”

“None of this was ever certain. That things worked out the way they did is the surprise.”

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

Darryl Pinckney, a longtime contributor to The New York Review of Books, is the author of the novel High Cotton (winner of a Los Angeles Times Book Prize), and the works of nonfiction, Blackballed: The Black Vote and US Democracy, Out There: Mavericks of Black Literature, and Busted in New York and Other Essays. He is a recipient of the Harold D. Vursell Memorial Award for Distinguished Prose from the American Academy of Arts and Letters. He lives in New York.

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. Banner photo of Darryl by Dominique Pinckney; office photo by by Rich Gilligan. It’s on my instagram.

Virtual Memories Show 397:
Daniel Mendelsohn

“Each of my four books is secretly exploring a genre: lyric, epic, novel, and I’m not even sure what this one is, but I wrote it entirely to please myself.”

With Three Rings: A Tale of Exile, Narrative, and Fate (UVA Press), Daniel Mendelsohn has written one of my favorite books of 2020. We get into Homer’s use of Ring Composition and how it shapes Three Rings, how this book grew out of his experience writing An Odyssey, why he chose François Fénelon, Eric Auerbach, and WG Sebald as the three exiled subjects of his book, and how we understand the relationship between “what happened” and “the story of what happened” (that is, how narration changes the nature of facts). We also get into how he managed to compress and capture just about all of his major themes in his briefest book, why Auerbach disliked ring composition, and what it says about Homeric vs. Hebrew — or optimistic vs. pessimistic — styles of story, how every story has more stories embedded in it, and why Istanbul may serve as the fusion of Athens & Jerusalem. We also get into Daniel’s pandemic experience and coping mechanisms for anxiety and dread, his mom’s involvement in Ken Burns’ upcoming documentary about the Holocaust in America, why translation is like a crossword puzzle for him, the negatives of focusing on STEM to the detriment of the liberal arts, and how we can both relate to Auerbach’s comment, “If it had been possible for me to acquaint myself with all the work that has been done on so many subjects, I might have never reached the point of writing.” Give it a listen! And go read Three Rings! (& check out our previous conversation!)

“I was very attracted to the idea of the way in which their own wandering lives ended up being analogs for the narratives they ended up being interested in.”

“For the writer, anything is a subject. Even nothing is a subject, so to speak.”

“Colleges are going to abandon the humanities and go for more STEM stuff than ever, because it’s ’employable’. The irony is that NEVER have we needed the humanities more, because that’s the stuff that tells you how to deal with these crises.”

TUNEIN LINK TK

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

Daniel Mendelsohn teaches at Bard and is Editor-at-Large at The New York Review of Books. His books include An Odyssey: A Father, A Son, and an Epic; The Lost: A Search for Six of Six Million; How Beautiful It Is And How Easily It Can Be Broken: Essays, and, from New York Review Books, Waiting for the Barbarians: Essays from the Classics to Pop Culture, and Ecstasy and Terror: From the Greeks to Game of Thrones. His new book is Three Rings: A Tale of Exile, Narrative, and Fate

There’s a longer version at his website.

Follow Daniel on Twitter 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. Photos of Daniel by me. It’s on my instagram.

Virtual Memories Show 392:
David Mikics

“The thing about Kubrick is that the more you see the movies — they’re tantalizing, they entice you to come back to them again and again — the more you come back, the more you see.”

With his new book, Stanley Kubrick: American Filmmaker (Yale University Press), David Mikics explores the life and movies of one of cinema’s greatest directors. We talk about David’s intro to his work (seeing 2001 at the age of 12 (!)) and the research that went into this concise and wonderful biography, why Kubrick’s movies work as literary experiences, which of his movies speaks most to This Whole Situation we’re in, and Kubrick’s Jewishness and the holocaust movie he could never make. We get into the director’s perfectionism, right down to his movies’ newspaper advertising, how he balanced being control-freak in a collaborative medium like film, the role of masculinity and the lack of women in many of his movies, and the unmade projects we wish he had gotten around to (he wanted to adapt Chess Story, my favorite Stefan Zweig story!). We also get into David’s experiences with the late Harold Bloom, how he’s adapted to teaching via Zoom, whether Lolita (the novel, not Kubrick’s adaptation) survives the ‘cancel culture’ era, and why The Shining is his comfort movie, disturbing as that sounds. Give it a listen! And go read Stanley Kubrick: American Filmmaker!

“I was always inspired by how Harold Bloom combined his interest in books with his interest in people. He once said the reason we read books is that we don’t have enough time to meet all the interesting people.”

“His movies are a kind of excavation of the male psyche.”

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 Mikics is Moores Distinguished Professor of English at the University of Houston, as well as a columnist for Tablet magazine. His most recent books are Bellow’s People and Slow Reading in a Hurried Age. He also edited the Library of America edition of Harold Bloom’s essays, The American Canon: Literary Genius from Emerson to Pynchon. He lives in Brooklyn, NY and Houston, TX. His new book is Stanley Kubrick: American Filmmaker.

Follow David on Facebook and listen to our 2016 conversation.

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 David by me. 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.”

TUNEIN LINK TK

“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.