Virtual Memories Show 341:
Chris Ware

“Something in comics allows the concretization of the weird shifting and changing of our memories and senses of selves. It comes out organically in the drawing of a story.”

With the publication of part 1 of Rusty Brown (Pantheon), Chris Ware joins the show to talk about how he and his art changed over the 18 (on-and-off) years since he began the project. We talk about the nature of memory, the experience of time, and the purpose of empathy (or empathy as the purpose of human life). We get into art and its role in organizing consciousness, the give-and-take of self-doubt, his impact on comics and other cartoonists, the effect of parenthood on his work and life, his midwestern roots & the allure of The New Yorker, and books that changed his life (whether he read them or not). We also discuss that synthetic, sorta artificial style he’s known for and what it permits him to do in his comics, the comic strip diary he keeps and why it can’t be published, how cartooning compares to the origins of American architecture, the alchemical relationship between drawings and type size in his comics, why art schools should get back to teaching figure drawing, and plenty more! Give it a listen! And go buy Rusty Brown!

“You can’t substitute rules for looking.”

“Comics is a language that’s still in development.”

“Friends will say, ‘I can’t believe how much work you get done,’ and I’ll say, ‘I can’t believe how much work I don’t get done.'”

“I try to allow for a constant sense of surprise and — it’ll sound strange — looseness in what I’m doing when I’m composing a page.”

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

Chris Ware is widely acknowledged to be the most gifted and beloved cartoonist of his generation by both his mother and fourteen-year-old daughter. His book Jimmy Corrigan: The Smartest Kid on Earth won the Guardian First Book Award and was listed as one of the 100 Best Books of the Decade by The Times (London) in 2009. Building Stories was named a Top Ten Fiction Book of the Year in 2012 by both The New York Times and Time magazine. Ware is an irregular contributor to The New Yorker, and his original drawings have been exhibited at the Whitney Biennial, in the Museum of Contemporary Art in Chicago, and in piles behind his worktable in Oak Park, Illinois. In 2016 he was featured in the PBS documentary series Art 21: Art in the 21st Century, and in 2017 an eponymous monograph of his work was published by Rizzoli (“eponymous” means the title is Monograph). His new book is Rusty Brown, published by Pantheon.

Credits: This episode’s music is Fella by Hal Mayforth, used with permission from the artist. The conversation was recorded at the Bethesda North Marriott during Small Press Expo weekend 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. Photos of Mr. Ware by me. It’s on my instagram.

Virtual Memories Show 339:
Simon Critchley

“What are the plays telling us that philosophy is not telling us, and that we need to attend to?”

In his amazing new book, Tragedy, the Greeks, and Us (Pantheon), Simon Critchley explores how Ancient Greek tragedy captures the eternal crises and tensions of human life, and how philosophy went wrong in trying to tame it. We dive into how Critchley learned to appreciate the drama of the tragedies, how it led to his critique of Plato and Aristotle and much of what comes after them, and how we continue to wrestle with the central question of the tragedies: “What shall I do?” Along the way, we talk about the perils of moral monotheism, Wallace Stevens’ philosophy-as-poetry, what it means to treat Plato’s dialogues as drama, the role of women in Greek tragedy, the allure of the antiquity’s lacunae, the difference between reading plays and being at the theater, why he thinks philosophy begins in disappointment, not wonder, and how he’s dealing with recently losing his heavily marked-up copy of The Peregrine. We also explore his various obsessions, including medieval cathedrals, the possibility of change, 19th century America, soccer, and most importantly, David Bowie! Give it a listen! And go buy Tragedy, the Greeks, and Us!

“This book is my quiet — or maybe not so quiet — critique of the profession that I’ve been associated with my whole career: philosophy.”

“I’ve always been attracted to the idea of thought being articulated in non-propositional, non-philosophical forms: music, poetry, even soccer.”

“You always felt like David Bowie was talking to you, and you alone.”

“I’m really grateful to get paid to think. It’s great!”

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

Simon Critchley is Hans Jonas Professor of Philosophy at the New School for Social Research. His many books include Very Little . . . Almost Nothing: Death, Philosophy and Literature, The Book of Dead Philosophers, The Faith of the Faithless: Experiments In Political Theology, and Memory Theater: A Novel. He is the series moderator of The Stone, a philosophy column in The New York Times, to which he is a frequent contributor. His new book is Tragedy, the Greeks, and Us.

Credits: This episode’s music is Fella by Hal Mayforth, used with permission from the artist. The conversation was recorded at Simon’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. Photos of Mr. Critchley by me. It’s on my instagram. Photo of bust of Euripides by Marie-Lan Nguyen.

Virtual Memories Show 338:
Simon Doonan

“Drag has been the wallpaper in my life forever.”

Author, fashionista, creative ambassador, and recovering window-dresser Simon Doonan takes us on a guided tour of gender non-conformity with his latest book, Drag: The Complete Story (Laurence King)! Simon & I talked through his personal history with drag, how drag has evolved over the millennia, how the current moment is pushing drag in new directions, and why male British comics were so comfortable performing in it (a long-standing question of mine). We also get into his love of craft and how dressing windows at Barneys New York was the perfect venue for him, the value of having a day job and not making art the center of one’s life, how a kid who failed his 11+ wound up writing a shelfload of books, the joy of his crafting reality show, Making It, why he didn’t get through the auditions for Queer Eye, the TV skill he had to learn, his love of history and his abhorrence at the idea of being anyone’s role model, why it’s life-affirming to wear some color, what sort of drag I’d be able to pull off, and plenty more! Give it a listen (conversation begins at 7:35)! And go buy Drag: The Complete Story!

(NOTE: All of Simon’s proceeds from this book go to the Ali Forney Center for LGBTQ youth at risk for homelessness)

“I think it’s good for writers to get out and work. Like Simone Weil: she used to work in a car factory.”

“The message I got from my parents was that life’s just not that complicated. The idea that they’d have been involved in my college application is absurd!”

“I have the ability get very interested in things that are outside of myself. My windows were often based around that.”

“I thought about being an Artist, but realized how much more fun it was to be a window-display designer.”

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

Writer, Fashionista and Author Simon Doonan is the Creative Ambassador for Barneys New York. His books include Saturday Night Fever Pitch: The Magic and Madness of Football Style, Eccentric Glamour: Creating an Insanely More Fabulous You, Confessions of a Window Dresser, and Gay Men Don’t Get Fat. Simon appears as a judge on the NBC television show, Making It, co-hosted by Amy Poehler and Nick Offerman. His new book is Drag: The Complete Story.

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. Photos of Mr. Doonan by me. It’s on my instagram.

Virtual Memories Show 337:
Amor Towles

“In the back of my mind I knew that if I didn’t write a book that I felt proud of by the time I was 50, I’d probably end up bitter in my old age.”

After a 20-year sojourn in the investment world, Amor Towles returned to his first love by writing the bestselling novels Rules of Civility and A Gentleman In Moscow. We get into how he managed that jump, the lessons he learned from his first failed novel, and the advantages of making a later start in publishing (and whether he could’ve written either of his books when he was young). We talk about his intense outlining and planning process for novels and how it allows for more creativity within the writing itself, his relief at showing his writing teacher (Peter Matthiessen) his books before it was too late, the symphonic model he applies to novels, his best practices for book tours (writing short stories and getting out and seeing the cities he was visiting), the perpetual nostalgia that is New York, his use of recurring characters in his fiction and whether it means he’s creating a Towlesiverse, and more! Give it a listen! And go buy A Gentleman In Moscow and Rules of Civility!

“For a young artist, you don’t need a chorus of support; you need one person.”

“History is not very good at capturing all that is of quality in art. However, history is very good at filtering out all that is mediocre in art.”

“People are always attracted to a New York that’s gone.”

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

Born and raised in the Boston area, Amor Towles graduated from Yale College and received an MA in English from Stanford University. Mr. Towles’s first novel, Rules of Civility, which was published in 2011, was a New York Times bestseller and was named by the Wall Street Journal as one of the best books of 2011. The book has been translated into over 20 languages, its French translation receiving the 2012 Prix Fitzgerald.

Mr. Towles’s second novel, A Gentleman in Moscow, which was published in 2016, was on the New York Times bestseller list for over a year in hardcover and was named one of the best books of 2016 by the Chicago Tribune, the Washington Post, the Philadelphia Inquirer, the San Francisco Chronicle, and NPR. The book has been translated into over thirty languages including Russian. In the summer of 2017, the novel was optioned by EOne and the British director, Tom Harper, to be made into a 6-8 hour miniseries starring Kenneth Branagh.

Having worked as an investment professional for over twenty years, Mr. Towles now devotes himself full time to writing in Manhattan, where he lives with his wife and two children.

Credits: This episode’s music is Fella by Hal Mayforth, used with permission from the artist. The conversation was recorded at Mr. Towles’ home 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. Photos of Mr. Towles by me. It’s on my instagram.

Virtual Memories Show 336:
Dawn Raffel

“I think Couney understood that no one else was going to save these children if he didn’t.”

Baby incubators and boardwalk sideshows: not exactly a natural fit nowadays, but once upon a time, the best way to save premature babies in America was to bring them to Dr. Couney’s “INCUBATOR BABIES” exhibits in Coney Island, Atlantic City and other midways. Dawn Raffel untangled his story and tells the stories of the children he saved in her wonderful book, The Strange Case of Dr. Couney: How a Mysterious European Showman Saved Thousands of American Babies (Blue Rider Press, out now in paperback). We get into the mysteries of Dr. Couney’s past, Dawn’s fascinations with Coney Island and with interwar America, the flaws in social care in the first half of 20th century America, the offline research that fueled the book, her relationship with some Couney’s surviving babies (now in their 80s and 90s), the obstetrics field’s resistance to Couney’s work, the missing ledger that would have disclosed the fates of many of the babies Dr. Couney treated, and whether she would’ve brought a premature baby to Dr. Couney. We also get into Dawn’s writing life, the outsized influence of her 13-year-old discovery of War & Peace, her predilection for short chapters, how Topsy the Elephant really died, and plenty more! (BONUS: I prattle on for a few minutes about my first half-marathon) Give it a listen! And go buy The Strange Case of Dr. Couney!

“The ethical questions about who gets to live are as relevant now as they were in Dr. Couney’s time.”

“Couney came to the US for the Omaha World’s Fair and was seized with the desire to relocate: Why? Once you’ve seen Omaha you can never return to Paris? There had to be something more.”

“I keep some bad drafts around as a reminder: ‘This was a mess but eventually it worked out!'”

“When you’re writing about the past, you’re writing about a country you can’t visit.”

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

Dawn Raffel‘s most recent book, The Strange Case of Dr. Couney: How a Mysterious European Showman Saved Thousands of American Babies, was chosen as one of NPR’s best books of 2018 and awarded a 2019 Christopher Award for books that affirm the highest values of the human spirit. Previous books include a memoir, The Secret Life of Objects; a novel, Carrying the Body; and two story collections, Further Adventures in the Restless Universe and In The Year Of The Long Division.

Her writing has been published in O, The Oprah Magazine, BOMB, New Philosopher, The San Francisco Chronicle, Conjunctions, Black Book, Open City, The Anchor Book of New American Short Stories, Arts & Letters, The Quarterly, NOON, and numerous other periodicals and anthologies.

She was a fiction editor for many years, helped launch O, The Oprah Magazine, where she served as Executive Articles Editor for seven years, and subsequently held senior-level “at-large” positions at More magazine and Reader’s Digest. In addition, she served as the Center for Fiction’s web editor.

She currently works as an independent editor for individuals and creative organizations, specializing in memoir, short stories, and narrative nonfiction. She teaches at Columbia University, the Center for Fiction, and Summer Literary Seminars.

Pierre would like you to know he is not named after Bezukhov in War & Peace.

Credits: This episode’s music is Fella by Hal Mayforth, used with permission from the artist. The conversation was recorded at Dawn’s home 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 Ms. Raffel by Clair Holt. Double-selfie by me; it’s on my instagram.