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.

Luz & NJ PoetSeason 4 Episode 33
Charles Bivona –
The Peace Poet

“I think people are experiencing a lot of things in America that they just don’t have the words for. If I’m going to run around and wave this POET flag, then my job is to jump into the difficult situations and try to put them into words.”

Charles Bivona‘s business card reads, “Poet, Writer, Professor,” but he’s a lot more than that. Over the course of an hour, we talked about what it means to be known as NJPoet, his theory on the transmissibility of PTSD (based on the first-hand evidence of his father’s Vietnam War trauma being visited on his family), the value of building a massive Twitter network, the lessons of growing up poor, how Walt Whitman saved him on one of the worst days of his life, the virtues of a gift economy, and why getting bumped out of academia for blogging may have been the best thing for him. Give it a listen!

“I think the core of my project is asking you, ‘What do you think your children think about what you’re doing right now?'”

We also discuss the role of poetry in America today and the poets who saved him in his youth, why he doesn’t publish poetry online, whether Twitter is more like The Matrix or The Watchmen, how his responses to Occupy Wall Street and Hurricane Sandy elevated his online presence, and why it’s important not to put yourself in an ideological cocoon.

“If you relax your ego, and say, ‘I’m here as a student and a teacher,’ you’ll get a lot out of social media.”

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

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About our Guest

Charles Bivona (pictured at the  with his wife, Luz Costa), has the following on his About page:

Charles Bivona would tell you that he’s just trying to help his creative friends figure out ways to reach their goals, to help them in any way he can—writing letters, Twitter endorsements, all-out social media campaigns, word-of-mouth networking. Whatever helps. Otherwise, he’s reading, tweeting, listening to alternative news media, producing blog posts, and writing the first of hopefully several Kindle books and paperback poetry collections.

If you push him to be more philosophical, to talk more specifically about the social media strategy that built his audience, he frames his work as a Zen Buddhist approach to engagement based on mindfulness and honesty. With this in mind, he’s gathered an artistic social network that simmers with creativity, compassion, and humor. The writing itself, the poetic prose on his website, is also clearly informed by a Buddhist literary theory, rooted in practical teaching, mindfulness, and a vivid social reporting.

“It’s more of a life philosophy and a daily practice than a marketing plan,” Charles often says. “I’m using the web to make an attempt at Buddhist Right Livelihood, to try to make a living as a working poet in the United States.”

Credits: This episode’s music is Ladder of Success by Ted Hawkins. The conversation was recorded at Charles’ home on a pair of Blue enCORE 200 microphones feeding into a Zoom H5 digital recorder. The intro and outro were recorded on a Blue Yeti USB Microphone. Processing was done in Audacity and Garage Band. Photo of Charles Bivona and me by Luz Costa. Photo of Charles and Luz Costa by me.

rosebwSeason 4 Episode 32
Jonathan Rose –
The War Poet

“Churchill was one of the last members of the Aesthetic Movement, except he applied his aestheticism to war.”

Professor Jonathan Rose joins the show to talk about his new book, The Literary Churchill: Author, Reader, Actor (Yale University Press). It’s a fascinating work about the books and plays that influenced one of the 20th century’s greatest statesmen, drawing connections from Churchill’s literary interests (and aspirations) to his policy decisions. Prof. Rose tells us about the most surprising literary influence he discovered, Churchill’s roots in Victorian melodrama, his love of the coup de theatre, his no-brow approach to art, how Hitler was like a photo-negative of Churchill, and why a politician like him would never survive in today’s party-line system.

“Just as Oscar Wilde was a public performer who created a persona, I think Churchill did something very similar in his life. His greatest creation was Winston Churchill. It was his greatest work of art.”

Along the way, Prof. Rose also tells us about the one book he wishes Churchill had read, why Churchill would love the internet, why so many politicians cite him as an influence but fail to live up to his example, what it’s like teaching history to students who weren’t alive during the Cold War, and why we need more literary biographies of political figures (at least, for those who read).

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

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About our Guest

Jonathan Rose is William R. Kenan Professor of History at Drew University. He was the founding president of the Society for the History of Authorship, Reading and Publishing, and he is coeditor of that organization’s journal, Book History. His book The Intellectual Life of the British Working Classes: Second Edition won the Longman-History Today Historical Book of the Year Prize, the American Philosophical Society Jacques Barzun Prize in Cultural History, the British Council Prize of the North American Conference on British Studies, the SHARP Book History Prize, and the New Jersey Council for the Humanities Book Prize. It was shortlisted for the Duff Cooper Award and the British Academy Book Prize, and named a Book of the Year by the Economist magazine. His other publications include The Edwardian Temperament, 1895-1919, The Holocaust and the Book: Destruction and Preservation (Studies in Print Culture and the History of the Book), and A Companion to the History of the Book (with Simon Eliot). His latest book is The Literary Churchill: Author, Reader, Actor (Yale University Press).

Credits: This episode’s music is Mr. Churchill Says by The Kinks (duh). The conversation was recorded at Prof. Rose’s home on a pair of Blue enCORE 200 microphones feeding into my brand-new Zoom H5 digital recorder. The intro and outro were recorded on a Blue Yeti USB Microphone. Processing was done in Audacity and Garage Band. Photo of Prof. Rose by me.

fwilsonSeason 4 Episode 31
Frank Wilson –
Critical Mass

“We were taught with the idea that these books meant something, that it was something vital to your life, that if you read these books you could understand what was going on around you better than you could if you didn’t. I don’t know if anyone’s doing that now.”

Time to wrap up our August book critics miniseries! Following our conversations with Michael Dirda and Jessa Crispin, we have Frank Wilson, who’s been reviewing books for FIFTY YEARS. Frank, who launched the Books, Inq. blog in 2005, talks about the changes in book culture over that half-century, the marvel of Tolstoy, his picks for most underrated and most overrated authors, the perils of using big-name writers as book reviewers, and more!

“I think that blogging has wiped out the book reviewing business but it does wonders for the literary business.”

We also talk about his life as a Catholic Taoist, the similarities of poetry and religion, whether Catholics can write good novels, the biggest gap in his literary background, when it’s okay to break the rules of Haiku (and other forms), and why he thinks Willa Cather is truly the Great American Novelist!

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

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About our Guest

Frank Wilson is celebrating his 50th year of book reviewing. His reviews have appeared in a number of newspapers and magazines, but mainly the Philadelphia Inquirer, where he served as book editor until 2008. In 2005, he launched Books, Inq.: The Epilogue, a blog about books and publishing. He has a much more entertaining bio over here.

Credits: This episode’s music is Sinner’s Prayer by Ray Charles (see, because of Frank’s Catholicism and belief in the fallenness of — oh, never mind). The conversation was recorded at Mr. Wilson’s home in Philadelphia on a pair of Blue enCORE 200 microphones feeding into a brand-new Zoom H5 digital recorder. The intro and outro were also recorded on that equipment, in a room at the Courtyard Marriott in Creve Coeur, MO. Processing was done in Audacity and Garage Band. Photo of Mr. Wilson by me.

jessaheadshotSeason 4 Episode 30
Jessa Crispin –
Bookslut’s Holiday

“You would be surprised at the level of craziness and hostility that exists in the literary world if you share a different opinion than somebody.”

Last week’s guest was quintessential bookman Michael Dirda, and this time around we have Jessa Crispin, founder of Bookslut! Ms. Crispin recently stepped down from blogging at Bookslut after a 12-year run, which is like 500 years in internet-time. We talked about that decision, the advice she’d give her 23-year-old self, the downsides of learning to write online, why lack of ambition was key to Bookslut’s success, her take on the state of book reviewing, her upcoming book, The Dead Ladies Project (2015, from University of Chicago Press), how she learned to love Henry James while nursing a breakup, and more!

“It’s been my experience that in your hour of need, the book that you need to read will find you.”

We also discuss how she escaped the Outrage Machine by moving to Berlin, how she pared her library down to 17 books, why joining the National Book Critics Circle was her biggest mistake during the Bookslut era, why Belgrade was her least favorite city to visit, and why she’s more afraid of reading her blog archives than her old margin notes. Bonus: I accidentally mix up William Safire and William Buckley!

“It isn’t the case of ‘I’m only going to review the nice things’; it’s more the case that I can cultivate the world that I want to live in. I can invite people in rather than constantly defend the gates.”

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

Jessa Crispin is the editor and founder of the literary magazines Bookslut.com and Spoliamag.com. Her first book, The Dead Ladies Project, is forthcoming from the University of Chicago Press, fall 2015. Born in Kansas, she has lived in Texas, Ireland, Chicago, and Germany. She has written for many publications, some of which are still in business. Her personal library currently resides in Berlin.

Credits: This episode’s music is No More Words by Berlin (see, because Jessa isn’t writing any more blog posts for Bookslut and she moved to Berlin a while back, and — oh, never mind). The conversation was recorded at a housesit in Brooklyn 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 Ms. Crispin by me.