Virtual Memories Show 231:
Sven Birkerts

“There are thresholds or shelves where we go from having incremental change to systemic moments of transformation.”

In the ’90s, Sven Birkerts cautioned us about the impact of technology on reading with The Gutenberg Elegies. In 2017, we mute our iPhones to talk about his new book, Changing the Subject: Art and Attention in the Internet Age (Graywolf Press). We dive into the impact of digital technology on perception and identity, but also get into the way life becomes a thematic puzzle in middle age, why he stepped down from his role directing the low-residency MFA program at Bennington, the joy of bringing his favorite writers in as instructors (and the ones he regrets not getting), the challenge of interviewing fiction writers, his big literary 0-fer and what I’m missing about Virginia Woolf, how he’s adapting to a year-long sabbatical and how he understands his writing life, what he’s learned editing the literary magazine AGNI, and why the prerequisite for anything he’s reading is that it has to be more interesting to me than whatever it is he’s vaguely brooding about. Give it a listen! And go buy his new essay collection, Changing the Subject!

“When I was your age, I discovered the doubling over of one’s own experience. . . . Themes, recurrences and motifs in my life began to manifest. Then as if on command, the whole sunken continent of memory began to detach from the sea-floor.”

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

Lots of ways to follow The Virtual Memories Show! iTunes, Twitter, Instagram, Soundcloud, Facebook, Tumblr, and RSS!

About our Guest

Sven Birkerts is the author of Changing the Subject: Art and Attention in the Internet Age and nine previous books, including The Other Walk: Essays, The Gutenberg Elegies, The Art of Time in Memoir: Then, Again, and My Sky Blue Trades: Growing Up Counter in a Contrary Time. He recently stepped down as director of the Bennington Writing Seminars, and he also edits the journal AGNI based at Boston University. He lives in Arlington, Massachusetts,, and he’s on Twitter as svenbirkerts and Instagram as cyberbirk.

Credits: This episode’s music is Nothing’s Gonna Bring Me Down by David Baerwald, used with permission from the artist. The conversation was recorded at Mr. Birkerts’ 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. Photo of Mr. Birkerts by me. It’s on my instagram.

Virtual Memories Show 229:
Matt Ruff

“Every one of my novels has had at least a portion where I’ve thought, ‘if I do this badly, it’s going to be terribly embarrassing and I’m going to have to hang my head in shame forever, but if I pull it off, it’ll probably be pretty cool!'”

Novelist Matt Ruff joins the show to talk about how his fantastic novel Lovecraft Country began as a TV pitch 10 years ago, and is now on its way to becoming an HBO series. We get into cultural appropriation issues (Matt’s white and LC‘s about a black family dealing with racism and the supernatural in 1950s Chicago), the pros and cons of genre-hopping, the differences between mid-century racism in the North and the South, growing up over the course of his first three novels and learning to be happy with his voice, becoming friends with one of his favorite authors (past and future pod-guest John Crowley), his ambivalence toward HP Lovecraft and Philip K. Dick and his affinity for their imitators, why he loved the descriptions of late Heinlein novels but was disappointed by the books themselves (when he was 12!), bucking his family’s religious traditions, missing his opportunity to babysit Thomas Pynchon’s kid, and more! Give it a listen! And go buy Lovecraft Country!

“I intended for Lovecraft Country to be a TV series, so I thought, ‘What if I do the literary equivalent of a season that you binge-watch?’ That’s why the novel is structured very much like an 8-episode TV season.”

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

Lots of ways to follow The Virtual Memories Show! iTunes, Twitter, Instagram, Soundcloud, Facebook, Tumblr, and RSS!

About our Guest

Matt Ruff is the author of the novels Fool on The Hill (1988), Sewer, Gas & Electric: The Public Works Trilogy (1997), Set This House in Order: A Romance of Souls (2003), Bad Monkeys (2007), The Mirage (2012), and Lovecraft Country (2016), which was recently greenlit as an HBO series.

Credits: This episode’s music is Nothing’s Gonna Bring Me Down by David Baerwald, used with permission from the artist. The conversation was recorded at Mr. Ruff’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. Photo of Mr. Ruff by me. It’s on my instagram.

Virtual Memories Show 227:
Ben Schwartz

“Twitter is the best source of political humor now. It’s better than any show on TV. It’s hard to compete with a million writers.”

Comedy writer, journalist and screenwriter Ben Schwartz joins the show to talk serious laughs. We discuss his work on American humor between the wars, writing for Billy Crystal on the Oscars and his contributions to David Letterman’s monologues, the profundity of Jack Benny and the importance of Bob Hope, his amazing (but unproduced) screenplay about Bob Hope and Larry Gelbart in Korea, how Jaime Hernandez’ comics prepared him to move to LA, his take on Charlie Hebdo, and what it’s like having the same name as the actor who played Jean-Ralphio on Parks & Rec! Give it a listen!

“Part of being able to sell stories is having an idea that other people don’t have, having a point of view or knowledge that other people don’t have.”

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

Lots of ways to follow The Virtual Memories Show! iTunes, Twitter, Instagram, Soundcloud, Facebook, Tumblr, and RSS!

About our Guest

Ben Schwartz is a comedy writer and journalist whose work began appearing at Suck.com (as Bertolt Blecht) and has appeared since in The New Yorker, Vanity Fair, Letterman monologues, the 84th Oscars, The Baffler, The New York Times, on the radio show Wits, and with comics collaborators like Ivan Brunetti, Peter Bagge, and Drew Friedman. To what degree the work is considered journalism or satire depends on the legal circumstances of the moment and how serious your libel suit looks. He is currently on assignment for Vanity Fair and working on a history of American humor set between the two world wars, set to come out from Fantagraphics. He’s on Twitter as @benschwartzy.

Credits: This episode’s music is Nothing’s Gonna Bring Me Down by David Baerwald, used with permission from the artist. The conversation was recorded at Mr. Schwartz’s home on a pair of Blue enCORE 200 Microphones feeding into a Zoom H5 digital recorder. I recorded the intro and outro on the same equipment in a hotel room in Quincy, MA. All processing and editing done in Adobe Audition CC. Photo of Mr. Schwartz by me. It’s on my instagram.

Virtual Memories Show 225: Howard Chaykin

“I want to be loved; I just don’t work too hard at it.”

Comics legend Howard Chaykin joins the show to talk about his career, the early assignment he’ll never live down, getting clean and being boringly sober, how Gil Kane taught him how to behave as a cartoonist, why he’s never gone to a strip club, what it’s like to be a brand but not a fan-favorite, his love of television and his hatred of writing for television, the reason he brought Jewish leads (and reformed shitheels) to mainstream comics, the narrative values that led to his innovative page designs, discovering his bastardy in his 40s, the role of music and musicality in his work, why Jersey Boys makes him cry, and the influence of American Flagg! on multiple generations of cartoonists (for better and worse). Give it a listen! And go buy a whole ton of his work!

“Comic-book fans don’t like to hear about the money aspect of it, but the fact is that it’s a calling, but it’s also a career.”

“People who are successful in southern California for the most part are people who have experienced actual travail. By which I mean weather.”

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

Lots of ways to follow The Virtual Memories Show! iTunes, Twitter, Instagram, Soundcloud, Facebook, Tumblr, and RSS!

About our Guest

Howard Chaykin is a longtime veteran of the comic book business, serving as an artist and writer for nearly every publisher of comics in the past four decades, and counting. He took the ’90s off to work on mostly unwatchable television, so he missed the money and dreck that was comics in that execrable decade. He is responsible, some might say culpable, for introducing a number of previously unexplored themes to comic books. If you’re not hip to what that’s supposed to mean, there’s always Wikipedia.

Credits: This episode’s music is Nothing’s Gonna Bring Me Down by David Baerwald, used with permission from the artist. The conversation was recorded at Howard’s home on a pair of Blue enCORE 200 Microphones feeding into a Zoom H5 digital recorder. I recorded the intro and outro on the same equipment, because I’m on the road this week. All processing and editing done in Adobe Audition CC. Photo of Mr. Chaykin by me. It’s on my instagram.

Virtual Memories Show 224:
Graham Chaffee

“What I’ve learned about storytelling is that you don’t know what the story’s about until you’re halfway through it. You might have your plot, but plot’s just the vehicle.”

Master tattooist and comics artist Graham Chaffee joins the show to talk about his new graphic noir, To Have & To Hold (Fantagraphics)! We get into the culture(s) of LA and why it’s the quintessential 20th century American city, the way the internet has changed the tattoo business, Graham’s history with comics, the difference between the story and the plot, his lengthy hiatus from making comics and what brought him back to it, the joys of drawing a good dog, the accidental portrayal of race in his comics, and the time he did a full-back tattoo portraying the dark night of Lisa Simpson’s soul! Give it a listen! And go buy To Have And To Hold (along with Graham’s other comics)! And visit his tattoo shop, Purple Panther Tattoo, when you’re in LA!

“I think the dirty, old, crappy version of things was organic, and the newer, cleaner version is manufactured.”

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

Lots of ways to follow The Virtual Memories Show! iTunes, Twitter, Instagram, Soundcloud, Facebook, Tumblr, and RSS!

About our Guest

Graham Chaffee is a professional tattoo artist and cartoonist. His previous books are The Big Wheels (1993), The Most Important Thing and Other Stories (1995), and Good Dog (2013). He lives and works in Los Angeles. You can find him on instagram at graham_chaffee

Credits: This episode’s music is Nothing’s Gonna Bring Me Down by David Baerwald, used with permission from the artist. The conversation was recorded at Purple Panther Tattoos 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 Graham by me. They’re on my instagram.