IMG_1973Season 4 Episode 34
Roz Chast –
Parental Guidance

“Starting out at The New Yorker at 23, I thought, ‘If I draw really small, this won’t bother people too much.’ My editor told me it wasn’t just readers, but some of the older cartoonists really hated my stuff. One of them asked him if he owed my family money.”

Roz Chast is one of the best-known cartoonists around, famed for her New Yorker gag panels and comic strips about anxiety, neurosis, phobia, parental insanity, and a ton of other symptoms of our worried age. This year, she published her first long-form book, a 240-page graphic memoir about her parents’ final years called Can’t We Talk about Something More Pleasant?: A Memoir (Bloomsbury). We talk about her parents, the joy of doing a book-length project, whether her folks ever got her humor, how her shrink enabled her to structure the book, and her two biggest pieces of advice for people with elderly parents. Along, the way, we try to answer the question, “Why do old people hold onto decades-old checkbooks?”

“My mother didn’t read books about child-rearing. She was an educator, so it was sort of surprising. Maybe she felt she knew it all. And she did . . . as an assistant principal. But being an assistant principal is not the same as being a parent. It’s really, REALLY different. They almost have nothing in common.”

We also talk about her history in cartooning, why drawing chops aren’t the be-all and end-all, what makes her laugh, the best advice she ever got (from Sam Gross), and her love of Disco, the talking parakeet. Bonus: We bond over our neuroses and I talk a lot! Maybe that’s more like a minus than a bonus. Whatever.

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

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About our Guest

Roz Chast has loved to draw cartoons since she was a child growing up in Brooklyn. She attended Rhode Island School of Design, majoring in Painting because it seemed more artistic. However, soon after graduating, she reverted to type and began drawing cartoons once again.

She’s best known for her work in The New Yorker, but her cartoons have also been published in many other magazines, including Scientific American, the Harvard Business Review, Redbook, and Mother Jones. Her most recent books are Can’t We Talk about Something More Pleasant?: A Memoir and the comprehensive compilation of her favorite cartoons, called Theories of Everything: Selected, Collected, and Health-Inspected Cartoons, 1978-2006.

Credits: This episode’s music is Mother’s Love by Tsegue-Maryam Guebrou. The conversation was recorded at Ms. Chast’s home on a pair of Blue enCORE 200 microphones feeding into a Zoom H4N digital recorder. The intro and outro were recorded on a Blue Yeti USB Microphone. Processing was done in Audacity and Garage Band. Photo of Ms. Chast by me.

rosenbaum1Season 4 Episode 28
Ron Rosenbaum –
Re-Explaining Hitler

“The choices that an artist makes are not traceable back to a particular set of neurons firing. They’re choices made by the complete consciousness of a person. Art, in a way, validates free will, and thereby validates the notion of evil.”

Ron Rosenbaum returns to the show to talk about the new edition of his great book, Explaining Hitler: The Search for the Origins of His Evil (Da Capo Press)! We talk Hitler, the meaning(s) of evil, determinism and free will, Hitler-as-artist vs. Hitler-as-suicide-bomber, “degenerate art,” the tendency to blame Jews for their misfortune, his search for the “Higgs Boson” of Hitler, and how internet culture has warped the meaning of Hitler in the 16 years since Ron’s book was first published. Go listen!

“I just couldn’t bear being a graduate student, so I dropped out after a year and revolted against academia. I wanted to hang out with cops and criminals and write long form stories about America, about crimes, about strange things.”

Of course, we also get around to some other fun topics, like whether his studies of the Holocaust inspired him to become a “better Jew”, whether it’s possible to knowingly commit evil, how Bleak House changed his life, and just how he managed to become a unique voice in American nonfiction.

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

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About our Guest

Ron Rosenbaum‘s work has appeared in The New York Times, Harper’s, The Atlantic, The New Yorker, Slate, Esquire and other magazines. He is currently the national correspondent for Smithsonian Magazine, and was recently featured in the History Channel documentary, “The World Wars.” His books include The Secret Parts of Fortune: Three Decades of Intense Investigations and Edgy Enthusiasms, Explaining Hitler: The Search for the Origins of His Evil, How the End Begins: The Road to a Nuclear World War III, The Shakespeare Wars: Clashing Scholars, Public Fiascoes, Palace Coups, as well as Those Who Forget the Past: The Question of Anti-Semitism, which he edited. You can find him on twitter at @ronrosenbaum1.

Credits: This episode’s music is Back to Black by Amy Winehouse (see, because Ron’s a fan of her stuff, and the episode is about his returning to the topic of evil, and — oh, never mind). The conversation was recorded in a friend’s apartment 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. (There was a loud air conditioner, so I did some noise removal, which may have tweaked the audio a little.) Photo of Mr. Rosenbaum by me.

246_Ron_Slate_photo_copySeason 4 Episode 27
Ron Slate –
Buddy Rich’s Teeth and
the Corruption of Reality

“It’s said that the sources of writing are mysterious, but the sources of not writing are pathological.”

Ron Slate spent more than two decades in the corporate world before returning to poetry and writing an award-winning collection praised by the likes of Robert Pinsky. We talk about his roots in poetry, how those “lost” years weren’t so lost, what it’s like to be the guy who sees things late, and how his life was forever changed the day he saw Buddy Rich’s teeth. Go listen!

slatecovers“Poetry is always battling invention over assertion, over statement. That’s the tug-of-war. I love poets whose work suggests that tension. I look for that battle between ‘words can do so much’ and ‘words are ineffectual.'”

We also explore why he bailed on his Ph.D., how Ted Leonsis asked him the greatest job interview question ever, what it’s like to get poetry-stalked by Louise Glück, and why he’s trying his hand at fiction. Plus, he reads us a poem from his second book!

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

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About our Guest

Ron Slate was born in Quincy, Massachusetts in 1950. He earned his Masters degree in creative writing from Stanford University in 1973 and did his doctoral work in American literature at the University of Wisconsin, Madison. He started a poetry magazine, The Chowder Review, in 1973 which was published through 1988. In 1978, he left academia and was hired as a corporate speechwriter, beginning his business career in communications and marketing. From 1994-2001 he was vice president of global communications for EMC Corporation. More recently he was chief operating officer of a biotech/life sciences start-up and co-founded a social network for family caregivers. Since 2007 he has been reviewing poetry and prose at his popular homepage called On the Seawall. He lives in Milton, MA.

His poems have appeared in The New Yorker, The Paris Review, Slate, and many other magazines and sites. The Incentive of the Maggot, his first book of poems, was published by Houghton Mifflin in 2005. The collection was nominated for the National Book Critics Circle poetry prize and the Lenore Marshall Prize of the Academy of American Poets. The collection won the Breadloaf Writers Conference Bakeless Poetry Prize and the Larry Levis Reading Prize of Virginia Commonwealth University. The Great Wave, his second book, was published by Houghton in April 2009.

Credits: This episode’s music is Poet by Sly and the Family Stone. The conversation was recorded in Mr. Slate’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. Slate by me.

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.