Stefan ZweigSeason 4 Episode 20
George Prochnik –
Bildung Stories

“Zweig was immersed in the problem of the disjunction between our grand desires for the kind of life we dream we should be living and the actual circumscribed canvas on which we must operate.”

At his peak, Viennese author Stefan Zweig was one of the most widely read authors in the world. How did he and his wife end up in a double-suicide in a bungalow in Petropolis, Brazil? George Prochnik joins us to talk about his new biography, The Impossible Exile: Stefan Zweig at the End of the World (Other Press). We discuss the arc of Zweig’s exile, why Zweig remains important to our age (both in his writing and in his character), how he lost his belief in the power of bildung, the fleetingness of fame and the accident of survival, the role of education in changing political dynamics, the contemporary revival of Viennese culture, the reason why Zweig fled New York City, and more!

“I think he felt that the more we have to produce official documents to indicate who we are, the more we are reduced to that strip of paper.”

We also talk about our respective introductions to Zweig’s work, the ways that his final novella may be an allegory for Vienna, the danger of looking for clues to Zweig’s suicide in his writing, and how he may have been the inspiration for Woody Allen’s ZeligGive it a listen! Go pick up a copy of The Impossible Exile: Stefan Zweig at the End of the World! And check out my Zweig-shelf!

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

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About our Guest

George Prochnik’s essays, poetry, and fiction have appeared in numerous journals. He has taught English and American literature at Hebrew University in Jerusalem, is editor-at-large for Cabinet magazine, and is also the author of In Pursuit of Silence: Listening for Meaning in a World of Noise and Putnam Camp: Sigmund Freud, James Jackson Putnam and the Purpose of American Psychology. He lives in New York City.

Credits: This episode’s music is Brazil by The Coasters. The conversation was recorded at Mr. Prochnik’s home on a pair of Blue enCORE 200 microphones, feeding into a Zoom H4n recorder. The intro and outro were recorded on Blue Yeti USB Microphone. Processing was done in Audacity and Garage Band. Photo of Mr. Prochnik by me.

dgmyersSeason 4 episode 13
Reading Maketh a Full Man,
or, “Where is the Lesbian on This List?”

“I would take an evil delight in asking my colleagues what they were reading, and watching the look of panic on their faces. Because everyone reads scholarship now, and very few primary materials. Our academic specialties are an inch wide and a mile deep.”

Literature professor and book critic DG Myers is dying of cancer, but that doesn’t mean he’s planning to go gentle into that good night. In a far-ranging conversation, we talk about why he believes university English departments will barely outlast him, how he made the move from Southern Baptist to Orthodox Judaism (getting recircumcised a few times along the way), what he’d like to be remembered for, why the idea of The Western Canon is a canard, which books and authors he’s trying to get to before he dies, who he regrets not reading before now, and the identity of the one author he’d like to hear from. Give it a listen!

“Every Shabbos I thank Hashem for my cancer, because it has focused me on what’s good and enabled me to ignore what’s not.”

We also talk about his plans to dispose of his library, the joys of studying under Stanley Elkin, the relation of books to moral life, the things that cease to matter in the face of a terminal diagnosis, the failure of English departments in the age of Theory, the thorny question of whether creative writing can be taught, and what writers and readers should do to save the humanities. Also, check out the list of books that came up in our conversation.

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

DG Myers is the author of The Elephants Teach: Creative Writing Since 1880, a work of literary scholarship. He has been a critic and literary historian for nearly a quarter of a century at Texas A&M and Ohio State universities, and was formerly the fiction critic for Commentary. He has written for Jewish Ideas Daily, the New York Times Book Review, the Weekly Standard, Philosophy and Literature, the Sewanee Review, First Things, the Daily Beast, the Barnes & Noble Review, the Journal of the History of Ideas, American Literary History, and other journals. He is working on a memoir, Life on Planet Cancer, and lives in Columbus, OH, with his wife Naomi and their four children: Dov, Saul, Isaac, and Miriam (“Mimi”). He writes at A Commonplace Blog.

Credits: This episode’s music is First We Take Manhattan by Jennifer Warnes. The conversation was recorded at Prof. Myers’ home on a pair of Blue enCORE 200 microphones, feeding into a Zoom H4n recorder. The intro and outro were recorded on Blue Yeti USB Microphone. Processing was done in Audacity and Garage Band. Photo of Prof. Myers by me.

tovamirvispostSeason 4 episode 12
Window, Pain

“I set up a scenario where all of my characters were unhappy in one way or another, and they were all watching other people, as opposed to looking inward at their own lives. I didn’t know what people do about that. I was writing a realistic novel, but part of me believed that no one actually acts on their unhappiness.”

Tova Mirvis joins The Virtual Memories Show to talk about her brand-new novel, Visible City and how she learned to act on her unhappiness, as well as the lifelong advice she got from Mary Gordon, the ways that writing a book is like building a stained-glass window, why being an orthodox Jew in Memphis wasn’t just like Designing Women with better wigs, and the advantages of being offline for a week when the New York Times publishes your op-ed about getting divorced. Give it a listen!

“Orthodox Judaism and southern culture meld beautifully. In the south, there’s a way we do things and a way we don’t do things. And it’s the same in orthodox Judaism. They’re both very well-structured worlds. I grew up as a sort of cocktail of those two worlds.”

We also talk about how one person’s urge to freedom is another person’s betrayal, why Visible City took her 10 years to write, what you can discover about yourself in your 40s and what you can leave behind, and the varieties of religious experience (ours, not William James’). BONUS! You also get my essay/monologue about Jews & Geordies! Enjoy the conversation! Then check out the archives for more great episodes!

About our Guest

Tova Mirvis is the author of three novels, Visible City, The Outside World and The Ladies Auxiliary, which was a national bestseller. Her essays have appeared in various anthologies and newspapers including The New York Times Book Review, The Boston Globe Magazine, Commentary, Good Housekeeping, and Poets and Writers, and her fiction has been broadcast on National Public Radio. She has been a Scholar in Residence at the Hadassah-Brandeis Institute at Brandeis University, and Visiting Scholar at The Brandeis Women’s Studies Research Center. She lives in Newton, MA with her three children. Credits: This episode’s music is NYC USA by Serge Gainsbourg. The conversation was recorded at the Houghton Mifflin Harcourt offices on a pair of Blue enCORE 200 microphones, feeding into a Zoom H4n recorder. The intro and monologue were recorded on the same setup in a hotel in Columbus, OH. Processing was done in Audacity and Garage Band. Photo of Ms. Mirvis by me.

bjfriedmanSeason 4 episode 8
The Slippery Animal

“I’m always in the middle of a struggle with a short story. You’d think I’d have the hang of it by now. It’s a slippery animal.”

Literary legend Bruce Jay Friedman joins the Virtual Memories Show for a fun conversation about his literary career, which encompasses six decades of short stories, novels, plays and Oscar®-nominated screenwriting. We talk about his newest projects, how both the writing and the sale of short stories have changed over the course of his career, and why he’s happier in that form than the novel. Why was he successful in Hollywood when F. Scott Fitzgerald and Anthony Powell crapped out there? Listen in to find out!

“Hollywood to me was fun. Like a boy being let loose in a candy store. I was offended when I’d get called in off the tennis court to write a few scenes. I can tell you: there is no one who had more fun than I did in Hollywood.”

We also talk about how stories begin, where he sees himself in the continuum of Jewish American writers, why Dustin Hoffman hates him, how he found his home at Elaine’s, whether he’s ever been tempted to write The Big Novel, why he’s getting more Jewish as he gets older, why he prefers the Franco-Prussian war over other wars, and how to find the right kind of pistachio nuts.

“I always feel guilty about being entertained. I feel like I should be reading Suetonius.”

Bonus: I rant about leaving my job and ask you for money!

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

Novelist, playwright, short story writer and Oscar-nominated screenwriter Bruce Jay Friedman was born in New York City. Friedman published his first novel Stern in 1962 and established himself as a writer and playwright, most famously known for his off-Broadway hit Steambath (1973) (TV) and his 1978 novel The Lonely Guy’s Book of Life. In addition to short stories and plays, Mr. Friedman has also published seven other novels, and has written numerous screenplays, including the Oscar-nominated Splash (1984). His memoir, Lucky Bruce, came out in 2011. He resides in New York City with his second wife, educator Patricia J. O’Donohue. Check out his Amazon page for info on his books and plays.

Credits: This episode’s music is Frenesi by Artie Shaw. The conversation was recorded at Mr. Friedman’s home on a pair of Blue enCORE 200 microphones feeding into a Zoom H4n recorder. The intro and outro were recorded on Blue Yeti USB Microphone. Processing was done in Audacity and Garage Band. Photo of Mr. Friedman by me.

joshalanfriedmanSeason 4 episode 4
Crackers and Bagels

“Among the many things that writing does, it gives you the chance for revenge, clarification; there are a lot of basic human emotions that you can address by being able to write about them.”

Josh Alan Friedman, author of Black Cracker, is the third Friedman brother I’ve interviewed, as part of my “Capturing the (Other) Friedmans” series of podcasts. (I really gotta rename that.) Josh is an accomplished author and guitarist, and has plenty of stories of New York at its most sordid. We met up at a cafe in Times Square to talk about his old days writing for Al Goldstein’s Screw magazine, why it took him more than 30 years to write Black Cracker, his “Lewis & Martin” theory about his estrangement from his brother Drew, his parents’ successful divorce, and more!

“I want my list of works to be lean and mean and everything was urgent and had to be done. Nothing to play the market. My family’s had to suffer for that, that I haven’t done commercial jobs just to bring home the bacon.”

Along the way, we also develop an idea for a high-concept movie, talk lewdly in front of some tourists, pay homage to his literary idols, and figure out that therapy just gets in the way of making good art. If you’ve got a problem with any of that (especially the coarse language) then you should skip this episode.

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

In 1987, writer-guitarist Josh Alan Friedman sold his soul to the devil at the crossroads (the Crossroads of the World: Broadway & 42nd Street) and moved to Texas. He’d just written Tales of Times Square, a cult classic. Josh’s latest book is Black Cracker, the story of his tumultuous childhood as the only white boy at Long Island’s last segregated school. In 2008, he wrote Tell the Truth Until They Bleed: Coming Clean in the Dirty World of Blues and Rock ‘n’ Roll. He has also written When Sex Was Dirty, and I, Goldstein: My Screwed Life (with Al Goldstein), and co-edited Now Dig This: The Unspeakable Writings of Terry Southern, 1950-1995. Josh also set off satirical fires and lawsuits as writer-half of the Friedman Bros, the most feared cartooning duo of the late ’70s and ’80s. Two anthologies remain in print, featuring the art of Josh’s brother, Drew Friedman: Warts and All, and Any Similarity to Persons Living or Dead is Purely Coincidental (Two). On the music front, as “Josh Alan,” he barnstormed the state of Texas for 20 years, rocking whole arenas with his Guild D-40. Copping three Dallas Observer Music Awards for Best Acoustic Act, he released four albums: Famous & Poor, The Worst!, Blacks ‘N’ Jews (the title of which became a documentary on Josh’s life) and Josh Alan Band.

Credits: This episode’s music is Jeff’s Boogie by Josh Alan (Friedman). The conversation was recorded at the Cafe Edison on a pair of Blue enCORE 200 microphones feeding into a Zoom H4n recorder. The intro and outro were recorded in a hotel room in London on the same gear. Processing was done in Audacity and Garage Band. Photo of Josh Alan Friedman by me.