It’s time for our year-end Virtual Memories Show tradition: The Guest List! I reached out to 2020’s pod-guests and asked them about the favorite book(s) they read in the past year, as well as the books or authors they’re hoping to read in 2021! Thirty guests responded with a a fantastic array of books. (I participated, too, in my rambling way!) The Virtual Memories Show offers up a huge list of books that you’re going to want to read in the new year! Give it a listen, and get ready to update your wish lists!
“There’s nothing as intoxicating as knowing the truth (quote-unquote), and that’s what cults offer. It’s the best drug ever. Walking away from that is terrifying.”
In her debut memoir, To The Moon And Back: A Childhood Under The Influence (Heliotrope Books), Lisa Kohn tells the tale of how her mother brought her up in the Unification Church (that is, the Moonies), while her hippie dad exposed her to the drugs and decay of the East Village in the 1970s. We talk about how she survived both of those experiences to become a successful executive coach, and how the tools she used to heal herself turned out to be mighty useful for coaching others. We get into the allure of cults and how she managed to transition away from the Moonies, her work in the Second Gen community (people born or raised in a cult), what raising her own kids taught her about her parents’ behavior, the perils of telling her kids about her life story (including her extensive drug history), her reaction to the current crop of documentaries about cults, the influence of Mary Karr on her writing, and how long it took her to find out who she actually is. Give it a listen! And go read To The Moon And Back!
“This book is like a tracing of American history through the essay. The essay is way to process ideas. All these problems we face in America I came to realize we had cycled through again and again: immigration, racism, sexism, disabilities. All of these questions of inclusion and exclusion have been tackled by the essay.”
Essayist and editor Phillip Lopate rejoins the show to celebrate the publication of The Glorious American Essay: One Hundred Essays From Colonial Times To The Present (Pantheon). We talk about the origins of this anthology & how it transformed into a three-part series (two more coming next year!), Phillip’s self-admitted megalomania about the essay form, how the essay both paralleled and helped change American thought over the centuries, and just what’s so Glorious about The Glorious American Essay. We get into the challenge of limiting the collection to 100 essays, the value of canons and the need to revise them, the postwar golden age of the essay, the challenge of compiling work from the 21st century, and Emerson’s role as the key to the American essay (and how Phillip came to understand him through reading his notebooks). We also get into how his pandemic is going, how his students’ essays about lockdown life are better than some of the ones he’s read from older writers, his take on the Mets’ new ownership and why he’s glad sports came back during COVID, and what it was like to read so deeply in the history of American essays and thought during the Trump presidency. Give it a listen! And go read The Glorious American Essay: One Hundred Essays From Colonial Times To The Present!
“One of the plights of the anthologist is that, no matter how many pages they give you, if you just had 200 or 300 more pages, you could really nail that sucker.”
“When someone asked me about this project, ‘What about your own work?’, I said, ‘This IS my own work.’ I’m giving four or five years of my life to being the keeper of the essay.”
“My limitation as an anthologist, and perhaps as a teacher, is that I’m always looking for a spark of humor or irony. Solemnity turns me off.”
“The great thing about writing is that sometimes you write something and then you lose it as a living memory, because now you’re remembering what you wrote about it. Writing replaces the memory.”
“The way I see my own work is connected to tradition, connected to the past, connected to Montaigne, and Hazlitt, and Lamb.”
“In graphic design, if you define the problem clearly, the solution is almost immediately apparent. And if you can’t find a solution, it’s likely because you haven’t defined the problem well.”
With his amazing new book XX (Overlook Press), Rian Hughes gets to add “novelist” to his titles of graphic designer, typographer, illustrator, comics writer & artist, and photographer. We get into how he wrote a science fiction narrative using graphic design as a tool & mode of storytelling (& why more writers should consider graphic design as a part of their work), how technology had to catch up to his vision of the novel, his stab at going a step beyond Arthur C. Clarke, and why he’s so interested in semiotics and how ideas get into our heads. We talk about his childhood entré into type and graphic design, the boredom of illustration and marketing, the ways design involves defining problems and solutions and how that does and doesn’t apply to fiction, and his affection for science fiction pulps. We also discuss whether he can turn off his design eye, the new frontiers in technology and the plasticity of the digital realm, the perils of cultural conflict, how we grow into certain artists & genres, and why everything for him comes down to colors, shapes, actions and language and what they mean. Give it a listen! And go read XX!
“What I’ve learned it, don’t expect too much prior knowledge on the part of your reader or viewer, and give them as many opportunities to get on board as you can, before you take them off to the Wild Blue Yonder at the end.”
“The plasticity of the digital realm means that the only texture it has is the one that we decide to apply to it. The only sound that it has, the only shape or form that it has are the ones we decide it should have.”
“You need to step outside the form to see what the form is. Then you can very quickly understand that a lot of things that people take gospel aren’t at all, and you can mess with them.”
“If I was ruler of the world, the first rule I’d institute is that every shop on every high street would employ a graphic designer for their signs. The world should look more beautiful!”
Rian Hughes is a graphic designer, illustrator, comic artist and typographer who has worked extensively for the British and American advertising, music and comic book industries. He has written and drawn comics for 2000 AD and Batman Black And White, and designed logos for the Avengers, the X-Men, Superman, record label Hedkandi, MTV, and James Bond. He has edited books on mid-century lifestyle illustration and custom typography, and written on semiotics, culture, and collecting vintage science fiction pulps & paperbacks.
“I’ve got rid of paintings I was very pleased with but which I knew needed to go deeper. It’s an extremely painful process; I’ve been kept awake at night, driving myself insane with remembering what I’ve lost. Images that I’ve painted over remorselessly come back to haunt me.”
With her wonderful new memoir, SELF-PORTRAIT (NYRB), celebrated life-painter Celia Paul explores her life as an artist, the evolution of her portraiture, her need for a Virginia Woolf-ian Room of One’s Own, and her 10-year relationship with Lucian Freud (c.1978-88). We get into the influence she and Freud had on each other’s work, how she took control of her life and her art, the moral component of life-painting, the importance of being selfish, the conflict for women artists between being loved and following your own path, her affinity for the artist Gwen John, her antipathy toward the word “muse,” and how much she flat-out hates being called an artist “in her own right”. We talk about the influence of Collette & Duras on her writing, her decision to incorporate her journals in the memoir and the continuity of self they reveal, why she only paints portraits of people she knows well (and why her paintings of her sister Kate as self-portraits), the uses of stillness, how she re-evaluated her life after Lucian Freud’s death in 2011, why letters are like painting, and much more. Give it a listen! And go read SELF-PORTRAIT!
“I think I was deflected from my purpose by being influenced by Lucian Freud in one crucial aspect: he was very interested in the balances of power between people, between lovers particularly.”
“I think my sister Kate & I know each other so well we hardly need to speak. A lot of the portraits I’ve done of Kate here self-portraits by proxy. She expresses what I feel. There’s nobody else in the world I’ve felt that uncanny connection to.”
“It’s so difficult to be ambitious about your own work and also be desirable. There’s a conflict between being loved and following your own path.”
“One of the saddest things about death is losing the particularity of the person: the way the mouth covers over the teeth, the way they talk, and all that. And how can heaven or some kind of Christian notion of the afterlife compare to that kind of intimate knowledge of an individual?”
“The thing about art is there always has to be a certain distance, or it doesn’t have authenticity.”
Celia Paul was born in 1959 and studied at the Slade School of Fine Art. Her work has been exhibited internationally and is in the collections of the British Museum, the National Portrait Gallery (London), and the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Her major solo exhibitions include Celia Paul, curated by Hilton Als, at the Yale Center for British Art (2018) and the Huntington Art Museum, San Marino, California (2019); and Desdemona for Celia by Hilton at Gallery Met, New York (2015–16). Her work was included in the group exhibition All Too Human at Tate Britain (2018). She lives and works in London. Her new book is SELF-PORTRAIT.