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 311:
Martin Hägglund

“Only a being who is finite and anxious about their finitude can lead a spiritual life.”

What if we treated our finite lives as a feature instead of a bug? How would we revalue our time and how could that shape our society? In his new book, This Life: Secular Faith and Spiritual Freedom (Pantheon Books), Professor Martin Hagglund explores how life becomes enriched when we discard the eternal in favor of seeing the lives we live together as the highest good. We talk about how the notion of an afterlife devalues the life we live, the ways our implicit experiences are rendered explicit by philosophy and literature, and how a rethinking of the value of our time can lead to a revaluing of labor and a critique of capital (no, really!). We get into my favorite topic — anxiety! — as well as the inextricability of existential and economic questions, the invisible labor that makes our lives possible/comfortable, the conceptions of time and memory captured by Proust and Knausgaard, the all-important difference between valuing socially necessary labor time and socially available free time, and how the life of Martin Luther King, Jr. embodies a lot of Martin’s arguments about finitude and a better world. Give it a listen! And go buy This Life: Secular Faith and Spiritual Freedom!

“If you’re really going to think about the relation of time and value, you’re going to end up in economics, but not in the modern sense, but the economy as intrinsic to social relations and spiritual life itself.”

“As a kid, I was interested in Bible exegeses, but for philosophical reasons.”

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

Martin Hägglund is a professor of comparative literature and humanities at Yale University. A member of the Society of Fellows at Harvard University, he is the author of three highly acclaimed books, and his work has been translated into eight languages. In his native Sweden, he published his first book, Chronophobia, at the age of twenty-five. His first book in English, Radical Atheism: Derrida and the Time of Life, was the subject of a conference at Cornell University and a colloquium at Oxford University. His most recent book, Dying for Time: Proust, Woolf, Nabokov, was hailed by the Los Angeles Review of Books as a “revolutionary” achievement. He was awarded a Guggenheim Fellowship in 2018. He lives in New York City. His new book is This Life: Secular Faith and Spiritual Freedom.

Credits: This episode’s music is Fella by Hal Mayforth, used with permission from the artist. The conversation was recorded at the Penguin Random House offices 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. Nice photo of Prof Hägglund uncredited. Office photo of Prof. Hägglund by me. It’s on my instagram.

Virtual Memories Show 310:
James Sturm

“I don’t consider myself to be a political cartoonist, but I feel like no one can afford not to be political right now.”

Cartoonist and educator James Sturm joins the show to talk about his new graphic novel, Off Season(Drawn & Quarterly), the story of a disintegrating marriage set against the backdrop of the 2016 election. We get into his artistic choices for this amazing book: using anthropomorphics, designing it in a 2-panel-per-page layout, and writing a story so convincing that friends thought his own marriage was falling apart (it wasn’t). We also talk about James’ experience of starting the Center for Cartoon Studies up in Vermont and what it taught him about cartooning, finding joy in the studio, exploring visions of America in his comics (or not; it’s up for debate), treating the long VT winters as “cartooning season”, his mega-sized graphic novel that will never see the light of day and the liberation of throwing a big project overboard, the comic shops we both frequented in our youth, the revelatory experience of reading Mark Alan Stamaty‘s comics, the Indian ledger books that comprise the first American graphic novels, and a lot more (including a Brink’s heist). Give it a listen! And go buy Off Season!

“The history of comics isn’t just the history of the industry of comics. I think the people who are making comics now are going to help re-evaluate the history.”

“My superpower as a cartoonist is doggedness.”

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

James Sturm is an award-winning cartoonist whose books have been translated widely. His work has appeared on Slate, The New York Times, and on the cover of The New Yorker. He is also the co-founder of the Seattle newspaper, The Stranger, and the Center for Cartoon Studies, a cartooning college. James lives in Hartland, VT, with his family and two dogs. His new book is Off Season.

Credits: This episode’s music is Fella by Hal Mayforth, used with permission from the artist. The conversation was recorded at a pal’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 James & doggo by him. It’s on his instagram, not mine.

Virtual Memories Show 308:
James Oseland

“I think of myself as a journalist first and foremost, someone who’s always reporting, always trying to find out what’s beneath that layer that we think is the final one.”

Before Saveur, before Top Chef Masters, before all the National Magazine and James Beard awards, James Oseland was Jimmy Neurosis. James and I talk about his brand-new book, Jimmy Neurosis: A Memoir (Ecco Press), about his life as a gay teen in the late ’70s. We get into how none of his previous artistic and literary pursuits prepared him for writing this book, the challenges of remove 50-something James’ perspective from the teen narration, the difficult relationship with his mother at the core of the book (which begins with his dad bailing on them), and what it was like to find comfort in the burgeoning punk-music scene of San Francisco. We get into the toughest parts of the book to write about (we both get choked up at different points of that), his growing concern as a teen that (superabundant) sex wasn’t the be-all and end-all, the diversity of the early punk scene and how it got overwhelmed by violent white guys, why he used ads and TV taglines as chapter titles for the book, the fate of his punk record collection, and the wonderful (but admittedly problematic) experience of living with a much older gay lover in NYC when he was 15/16. And I promise, we also talk about food writing and the new World Food book series he’s working on! Give it a listen! And go buy Jimmy Neurosis!

“One of the key messages that I want to convey is that gay is normal; it’s not strange.”

“You can really appreciate the world by what it eats.”

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

James Oseland is the editor-in-chief of World Food, a book series launching from Penguin Random House in 2020. Prior to that, he was the editor-in-chief of Saveur, America’s most critically acclaimed food magazine. He has won multiple National Magazine and James Beard Foundation awards and has been a judge on Celebrity Apprentice, Iron Chef America, and all five seasons of Bravo’s Top Chef Masters. He is also the author of Cradle of Flavor: Home Cooking from the Spice Islands of Indonesia, Singapore, and Malaysia, which was named one of the best books of 2006 by the New York Times and Good Morning America. He lives in Mexico City and New York City. His new book is Jimmy Neurosis: A Memoir

Credits: This episode’s music is Fella by Hal Mayforth, used with permission from the artist. The conversation was recorded at a hotel in midtown Manhattan 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. Oseland by me. It’s on my instagram. Author photo by James Roper.