Virtual Memories Show 418:
Sven Birkerts

“Rather than try to think of a book to write about, why don’t I try to think about where I am in the world, in my life, and my preoccupations, and see if an author announces him- or herself?”

Is it unhip to search for a meaningful pattern in life? Sven Birkerts rejoins the show to talk about his new book, Vladimir Nabokov’s Speak, Memory: Bookmarked (IG Publishing), which explores time, memory, and those aforementioned meaningful patterns. We get into Sven’s history with Nabokov’s memoir, his own impulse toward memoir as he approached 50, and the challenge of writing about someone whose prose is as incandescent as Nabokov’s. We talk about larger questions of literary greatness, the nature of individuality in an age of distributed social networks, whether Nabokov’s best-known book will survive, and what other books and authors have become “unsafe” for undergrad readers. We also gab about packing one’s library, finding the perfect notebook, and what the post-pandemic world may look like. Give it a listen! And go read Vladimir Nabokov’s Speak, Memory: Bookmarked!

“Rather than try to think of a book to write about, why don’t I try to think about where I am in the world, in my life, and my preoccupations, and see if an author announces him- or herself?”

“If you start to press down on Nabokov’s prose, that really begins to reveal that it’s not just, ‘Oh, that’s a nice sentence,’ but the sentence has an architecture, that many things come together to give it form and create that response.”

“Approaching 50, I isolated a very specific image that captured the impulse to memoir. Things no longer happened singly, for themselves; they resonated against things in the past. . . . Approaching 70, I’m more interested in memory, but I’m hardly interested in anything that happened after 50.”

“I believe if you find the absolute right paper and notebook, and pen, anyone can become Tolstoy. It’s just a matter of those two things.”

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

Sven Birkerts has been co-editor of the literary magazine AGNI since July 2002. Among his previous books are Changing the Subject: Art and Attention in the Internet Age; The Other Walk; Art of Time in Memoir: Then, Again; Reading Life: Books for the Ages; American Energies: Essays on Fiction; The Gutenberg Elegies: The Fate of Reading in an Electronic Age; Readings; and My Sky Blue Trades: Growing Up Counter in a Contrary Time. He was winner of the Citation for Excellence in Reviewing from the National Book Critics Circle and the Spielvogel-Diamonstein Award from PEN for the best book of essays. He was the director of the Bennington Writing Seminars from 2007-2017 and has been a member of the core faculty since its founding in 1994. His new book is Vladimir Nabokov’s Speak, Memory: Bookmarked.

Follow Sven on Twitter and Instagram.

Credits: This episode’s music is Fella by Hal Mayforth, used with permission from the artist. The conversation was recorded remotely via Zencastr. I used 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 Sven by Mara Birkerts, photo of typerwriter & such by Sven. It’s on my instagram.

Virtual Memories Show 417:
Mark Wunderlich

“Is poetry a place where you want to be restrained, or is a poem where you actually get to exercise some freedom?”

A series of deaths and personal losses in 2018 hang over Mark Wunderlich‘s poems in his new collection, God of Nothingness (Graywolf Press). We talk about that writing, how living through it unwittingly prepared him for the past year in Pandemia, and how the current situation compares with his arrival in NYC at the height of AIDS. We get into the uses of autobiography in poetry (his editor refers to his poems as “fiercely autobiographical”), Mark’s queerness being tied to his poetic-self, the inspiration of James Merrill and his mentorship by JD McClatchy, the notion of a poem as a created environment permitting freedom, why his poems go from longhand to typewriter to computer, his experience conducting a Rilke course by snail-mail in 2020, his pandemic-adjustments as director of the Bennington Writing Seminars MFA program, and more. Give it a listen! And go read God of Nothingness !

“The thing that I love about poems is that they felt like worlds I could enter into. Reading a poem like Rilke’s First Elegy is like going into a house and knowing where everything is. They seem so alive still, but speak about things that are eternal.”

“It’s hard for me to think of any writing as being anything other than some sort of fiction. When we’re constructing a version of ourselves in print, how can the first person pronouns stand in as a representative of selfhood, with all that we are, all that we know, all that we have done and experienced?”

“There was certainly mentorship when I arrived in New York, and a bridge to another world, but it was a bridge that was on fire. That really marked my experience.”

“A poem is trying to fix something in time, along a kind of axis of the self’s movement through the world.”

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

Mark Wunderlich is the author of The Anchorage, which received the Lambda Literary Award, Voluntary Servitude, and The Earth Avails, which received the Rilke Prize. He is the recipient of fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts, the Massachusetts Cultural Council, the Civitella Ranieri Foundation, and elsewhere. He is the director of the Bennington Writing Seminars graduate writing program and lives in New York’s Hudson Valley. His new book is God of Nothingness.

Follow Mark on Twitter and Instagram, and check out his more extensive bio at his site.

Credits: This episode’s music is Fella by Hal Mayforth, used with permission from the artist. The conversation was recorded remotely via Zencastr. I used 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 Mark by Nicholas Kahn. It’s on my instagram.

Virtual Memories Show 416:
Wendung

“At 50, everyone has the face he deserves,” said George Orwell, but he died at 47, so what does he know? To celebrate turning 50, I use an obscure Woody Allen movie to talk about why I can’t take stock of my life. Then the good part: I ask nearly 40 guests of the podcast one question, “What do you wish you’d done before the pandemic?” (You can skip right to that at 18:45.) Participants include Witold Rybczynski, Kathe Koja, John Holl, Emily Flake, Wallis Wilde-Menozzi, Ian Kelley, David Townsend, John Bertagnolli, Jennifer Hayden, Richard Kadrey, Joan Marans Dim, Liniers, Sven Birkerts, Barbara Nessim, David Leopold, Tess Lewis, Ken Krimstein, Michael Shaw, Dmitry Samarov, Maria Alexander, Paul C. Tumey, Kyle Cassidy, Henry Wessells, Warren Woodfin, ES Glenn, Philip Boehm, Woodrow Phoenix, Rian Hughes, Alta L. Price, Derf Backderf, Frank Santoro, Boaz Roth, Carol Tyler, David Mikics, Michael Gerber, Walter Bernard, Whitney Matheson and Dean Haspiel! Help me celebrate, commemorate, commiserate, or whatever, and give it a listen!

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

I’m just this guy, you know?

Credits: This episode’s music is Fella by Hal Mayforth, used with permission from the artist. Respondents either recorded their own segments and e-mailed them to me or called my Google Voice # and left a message. I used a Heil PR-40 Dynamic Studio Recording Microphone feeding into a Cloudlifter CL-1 and a Mackie Onyx Blackjack 2×2 USB Recording Interface to record my prattling. All processing and editing done in Adobe Audition CC. Photo of me with this morning’s sunrise by me. It’s on my instagram.

Virtual Memories Show 415:
Jerome Charyn

“Any great work is a shove to the incomprehensible, but it’s JUST on our side instead of the other side. You have to take tremendous risks in order to find your language.”

With his amazing new novel, Sergeant Salinger (Bellevue Literary Press), Jerome Charyn evokes and explores J.D. Salinger’s WWII experience in the Counter Intelligence Corps. We talk about Jerome’s history with Salinger’s work, his disdain for The Catcher in the Rye and his love of Nine Stories and their depiction of NYC of the 1940s and early ’50s, the range of meanings and misunderstandings of Salinger’s later silence, and Jerome’s own terror of writing. Along the way, we get into Jerome’s ventriloquism in his historical fiction, the limits of his artistic audacity, falling in love with Maria Callas, and whether he’d write a pastiche of Hemingway now that Hem’s in public domain. Jerome being Jerome, we also discuss ping-pong, professional basketball, the older Michael Jordan as a Shakespearean character, and why he’s writing a big essay about Mank. Give it a listen (& check out our 2019 conversation)! And go read Sergeant Salinger!

“I’ve never seen a great difference between fiction and non-fiction. They’re still sculpting sentences, and those sentences have to have a certain kind of music.”

“No novel is easy to write. It’s a kind of death you go through. Sometimes you survive it and sometimes you don’t.”

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

Jerome Charyn is the author of more than fifty works of fiction and nonfiction, including Sergeant Salinger; Cesare: A Novel of War-Torn Berlin; In the Shadow of King Saul: Essays on Silence and Song; Jerzy: A Novel; and A Loaded Gun: Emily Dickinson for the 21st Century. Among other honors, his work has been longlisted for the PEN Award for Biography, shortlisted for the Phi Beta Kappa Christian Gauss Award, and selected as a finalist for the Firecracker Award and PEN/Faulkner Award for Fiction. He has also been named a Commander of Arts and Letters by the French Minister of Culture and received a Guggenheim Fellowship and the Rosenthal Family Foundation Award for Fiction from the American Academy of Arts and Letters. He lives in New York.

Follow Jerome on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram, and listen to our 2019 conversation.

Credits: This episode’s music is Fella by Hal Mayforth, used with permission from the artist. The conversation was recorded remotely via Zencastr. I used 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 Jerome by Philippe Matsas. It’s on my instagram.

Virtual Memories Show 414:
James Oseland

“Mexico is the North American version of Italy, and Mexico City is the North American version of Rome.”

For the final episode of 2020, James Oseland rejoins the show to celebrate the launch of his World Food series of cookbooks, beginning with World Food: Mexico City (Ten Speed Press). We talk about his first experience with Mexico City, why he makes it his home, why he considers it North America’s version of Rome, what it was like to treat it as though he was visiting it anew for this book (here’s a video), and his love of capturing places through local cooks and the dishes that they make. We get into the food-writing he loves and his broader literary influences, the changes in the food magazine industry, his disinterest in food travel TV, and Mexican cuisine’s propensity for incorporating other culture’s ingredients and foods. We also discuss subtle flavor of chapulinas in guacamole, why James had a pretty good 2020, all things considered, and why I have to make his charred tomato salsa recipe (in hopes that it’ll release my inner cook). Give it a listen! (& check out our 2019 conversation) And go read World Food: Mexico City!

“I’m starting World Food with Mexico City and Paris because they’re equivalents in age and cuisine.”

“I’ve been dreaming of a cookbook series since I was young. I want to recapture that feeling from the Time Life Foods of the World series.”

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 Oseland travels extensively in search of the world’s best restaurants, street food stalls, markets, and home cooks. He has been writing about international cultures and their cuisines for decades and was editor in chief of Saveur for eight years, where his work garnered many accolades, including from the James Beard Foundation, the International Association of Culinary Professionals, and the American Society of Magazine Editors. His cookbook Cradle of Flavor was named one of the best books of the year by the New York Times and Good Morning America. He was also a judge for five years on Bravo’s Top Chef Masters. His new book is World Food: Mexico City.

Follow James on Twitter and Instagram.

Credits: This episode’s music is Fella by Hal Mayforth, used with permission from the artist. The conversation was recorded remotely via Zencastr. I used 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 elote preparado by James Roper. Photo of James by Michael Loccisano/Getty Images. Photo of me & James from our 2019 podcast by me. It’s on my instagram.