“A dairy restaurant feels to me like an urban, walled Garden of Eden, but it’s in this world, so it gets trapped in the doings of this world.”
The great cartoonist Ben Katchor rejoins the show to talk about his brand-new book, The Dairy Restaurant (Schocken), a 500-page illustrated history of, um, dairy restaurants! We get into what drew him to the milekhdike personality, the remnants of Eastern European Jewish culture that call to him, why this book had to be prose-with-pictures rather than comics, the decades of research and interviews he conducted, and why these restaurants came to represent the history of how Jews moved away from their parents’ professions. We also discuss just what went wrong with the world, why his favorite books are old Chicago Yellow Pages directories, why just studying Jewish history can constitute a sort of Judaism, his fascination with interwar Warsaw, his plea for a controlled economy, and why The Dairy Restaurant had to begin in the Garden of Eden. Give it a listen(and check out our past conversations from 2013 and 2016)! And go buy The Dairy Restaurant!
“Text is about time, and pictures are about space.”
‘I miss the restaurants I never went to.”
“I think everybody for a few moments should think about everything they know, and say, ‘What do I know about it and how does it impinge on my life?'”
“I’ve been very fortunate to have an undying inner need to keep expressing myself, in the face of fairly universal indifference. It just doesn’t discourage me; it might be some sort of insanity.”
With his new memoir, Soviet Stamps, artist & writer Dmitry Samarov explores his experience of emigrating from the USSR as a child, finding his way through late-’70s and ’80s America, and becoming an artist. We talk about the book’s winding path to self-publication, how his story does and doesn’t fit in to the history of Soviet Jewry, how he overcame the embarrassment of including his adolescent art in the book, his 4th grade autobiography and how it managed to predict much of his career, and the possible Dmitry-lives that could have resulted from decisions that were out of his hands. We also get into his notion that art requires disengagement, his gauge for the life and death of artworks, the value of the apprentice system over art school, why he’s writing fiction for his next book, and which self-promotional event he hates more: the book reading or the gallery opening. (Oh, and check out our previous conversations: 2014, 2015, and 2018) Give it a listen! And go buy Soviet Stamps!
“It’s mind-blowing to me to think about the chances my parents took, the leap they took into the unknown, and everything they had to give up.”
“I think I’m better at walking away from paintings than I used to be.”
“You can’t really see inside another person no matter how well you know them, and you can’t see what you’re looking at if you’re in the middle of it.”
“Immigration is the central meaning and purpose of the Statue of Liberty.”
In a time where immigration is under attack, Joan Marans Dim and Antonio Masi demonstrate the history and importance of immigration in America with Lady Liberty: An Illustrated History of America’s Most Storied Woman (Fordham University Press). We get into what drew the writer and watercolor painter to the Statue of Liberty, how they came to their previous collaboration on the bridges of New York City, the need to put landmarks into their social, political and economic context, how Emma Lazarus’ New Colossus poem invested the statue with purpose, and how the meaning of liberty has changed in America over the centuries. We also talk about the engineering marvel of the Statue of Liberty, how it was transported from France and assembled in America, the secrets of the hard-hat tour of Ellis Island, and the ways the meaning of liberty has changed in America. But there’s also room to talk about Joan and Antonio’s differences of approach to a topic, how differently writers and painters approach a topic, how the large scale of Masi’s watercolors helps him engage with the work, the E.L. Doctorow piece that Joan turns to before starting any writing project (the intro to this), and more! Give it a listen! And go buy bridges of New York City!
“When I came over at 11, all the Statue of Liberty symbolized was that we’d arrived in America.”
“You cannot get into the rhythm of a painting when you’re sitting at a table and you’re working small and all you’re doing is moving your wrist.”
Antonio Masi is a world-class and award-winning artist often honored for his depictions of bridges; his magnificent paintings are exclusively featured in the book New York’s Golden Age of Bridges. Masi is also president of the American Watercolor Society. His artistry has been featured in Artist’s Magazine, PBS–Sunday Arts, NBCToday, Newsday, and many other venues. He also participated in the New York Times’s video Living City: A Tale of Two Bridges. A sought-after artistic master and scholar, he travels the world as a teacher, demonstrator, and lecturer.
“Achilles is a hero who is mesmerizing without being penetrable, whereas Odysseus I think I understand (perhaps hubristic to say that).”
His wondrous new collection, Ecstasy and Terror: From the Greeks to Game of Thrones (NYRB), brings a dizzying array of Daniel Mendelsohn‘s critical-essayistic-memoir pieces together. We sat down to talk about the work of the critic and the drama that makes for a great critical piece, as well as the temptation to make a name by going after easy targets, his need to criscross genres and categories with personal writing and criticism, and why his negative review of Mad Men got him more pushback than anything else he’s written. We get into his amazing 2017 memoir, An Odyssey: A Father, A Son, and an Epic, its gorgeous structure and its insight into Homer and our present day, while we try to suss out why the great Greek translators have either produced a great Iliad or a great Odyssey, but not both (he’s working on a new translation of The Odyssey). We also discuss the Marvel Cinematic Universe and the nature of contemporary mythmaking, my pet theory about the tragedy of Achilles in the Iliad, Emily Wilson’s question about Odysseus’ true homophrosyne, the role of erudition in criticism, how institutions like The New Yorker, New York Review of Books, Paris Review etc. handle succession, our love of the finale of The Americans, his one conversation with Philip Roth, and SO much more. Give it a listen! And go buy Ecstasy and Terror: From the Greeks to Game of Thrones and An Odyssey: A Father, A Son, and an Epic!
“When you start as a critic, there’s a great drive to make your mark and be noticed.”
“You need to be bothered a little bit by something, in order to want to investigate it.”
“There is no act of intimacy in the world of literature that is greater than translating.”
“Identity becomes more interesting the more multiplex it is.”