18202859605_ac210bf763_zVirtual Memories Show:
Christie Watson – The Limits of Love

“I wanted to explore the idea in this novel that despite love, some families simply cannot survive.”

British author Christie Watson joins the show to talk about her new novel Where Women Are Kings (Other Press). We talk about the process of adoption, her history with Nigeria (and why she loves its literary scene), the trick of balancing cultural differences and societal norms, and how she became a published writer in her 30s, after years of planning her book tour outfits. We also discuss the growth of writing programs in the UK, choosing her secondary school on whether they required uniforms, and her take on New York vs. London. Give it a listen!

“When you write a book, it’s going to be sitting next to Salman Rushdie’s book on the shelf, so by the time you publish, you have to be at the top of your game.”

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

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About our Guest

Christie Watson is a British novelist. Her novels, Tiny Sunbirds, Far Away, and Where Women Are Kings have been widely translated. Christie won the Costa First Novel Award, the Waverton Good Read Award and was named Red Magazine’s Hot Woman of the Year (Creative).

Credits: This episode’s music is Will My Mother Know Me There? by The Carter Family. The conversation was recorded at the Other Press offices on a pair of Blue enCORE 200 microphones feeding into a Zoom H5 digital recorder. I recorded the intro and outro on a Blue Yeti USB Microphone. Processing was done in Audacity and Logic Pro. Photo of Ms. Watson by me.

moral-agents200Virtual Memories Show:
Edward Mendelson – Idlers and Belgians

“I have a private test for whether I’m an individual person or whether I’m part of the culture: I go to the supermarket and I look at the supermarket weeklies, and if I recognize the names, then I’m not a person, I’m a product of collective culture.”

Professor Edward Mendelson joins the show to talk about his new book, Moral Agents: Eight Twentieth-Century American Writers (New York Review Books), which profiles Lionel Triling, Dwight Macdonald, Alfred Kazin, William Maxwell, Saul Bellow, Norman Mailer, WH Auden, Frank O’Hara. We discuss the role of individuals in mass culture, the intellectual’s temptation to be a leader, the outdated figure of the Beloved Professor, Orwell’s misinterpretation of Auden, the writer he was terrified to meet, the failures of identity politics, the purpose of Columbia University’s Core Curriculum, his lack of nostalgia for the era of public intellectuals, the way certain books need a year off from teaching in order to recharge, and more. Give it a listen!

“All these writers were tempted by the way they were taken seriously.”

We also talk about why he hates one of my favorite novels, why he agrees with my take on Achilles’ uncanniness in the Iliad, why professors think students are getting dumber year after year, how the economic collapse of the ’70s led to improved colleges across the country, why he thinks Stoner is a study in self-pity, and more! Go listen!

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

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About our Guest

At Columbia since 1981, Professor Edward Mendelson has also taught at Yale and Harvard. A recipient of American Council of Learned Societies, NEH, and Guggenheim fellowships, he is chiefly interested in 19th-and 20th-century literature, formal and social aspects of poetry and narrative, and biographical criticism. He is Auden’s literary executor; his book Later Auden (1999) is a sequel to his Early Auden (1981). His book, The Things That Matter: What Seven Classic Novels Have to Say About the Stages of Life, was published by Pantheon in 2006. His new book is Moral Agents: Eight Twentieth-Century American Writers, from New York Review Books. He has edited a volume of essays on Thomas Pynchon and, with Michael Seidel, Homer to Brecht: The European Epic & Dramatic Traditions. He has prepared editions of novels by Hardy, Bennett, Meredith, Wells, and Trollope, the first five volumes of a complete edition of Auden, and selections of Auden’s poems and prose. His essays and reviews have appeared in the New York Review of Books, London Review of Books, TLS, the New York Times Book Review, and many other journals and collections, and he wrote an introduction for a new edition of Gravity’s Rainbow. He has also written about computers, music, and the visual arts. He is a Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature and was the first Isabel Dalhousie Fellow at the Institute for Advanced Studies in the Humanities at the University of Edinburgh.

Credits: This episode’s music is Homesickness by Tsegue-Maryam Guebrou. The conversation was recorded at Mr. Mendelson’s office on a pair of Blue enCORE 200 microphones feeding into a Zoom H5 digital recorder. I recorded the intro and outro on a Blue Yeti USB Microphone. Processing was done in Audacity and Logic Pro. Photo of Mr. Mendelson by me.

51NXKbDyWvL._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_Virtual Memories Show:
Brad Gooch – Roller Coaster

“History and culture are the rooms in which a person is living.”

Brad Gooch joins the show to talk about his new memoir, Smash Cut: A Memoir of Howard & Art & the ’70s & the ’80s (Harper). We discuss his long relationship with director Howard Brookner, his need to chronicle the New York City scene of his youth, the transitory nature of so much of the great art of that era, the Life-During-Wartime aspect of the AIDS era in the city, survivor’s guilt, how he stumbled into becoming a literary biographer, and why 63 is the perfect age to become a dad. Give it a listen!

“One friend told me, ‘Sixty is the perfect age to get married. If I’d known, I wouldn’t have had three divorces.'”

Seriously. This guy is 63. Sheesh.

Anyway, we also talk about the influence of Frank O’Hara’s poetry and life, the many faces of Rumi, why he’s hooked on Knausgaard, the differences between writing biography and memoir, his career as a male model, and how it feels to get retweeted by RuPaul and the Elton John Foundation. Go listen!

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

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About our Guest

Brad Gooch is the author of Smash Cut: A Memoir of Howard & Art & the ’70s & the ’80s (Harper) and Flannery: A Life of Flannery O’Connor (Little, Brown, 2009), which was a National Book Critics Circle Award Finalist, a New York Times Notable Book of the Year, and a New York Times bestseller. His previous books include City Poet: The Life and Times of Frank O’Hara; as well as Godtalk: Travels in Spiritual America; three novels–Scary Kisses, The Golden Age of Promiscuity, Zombie 00; a collection of stories, Jailbait and Other Stories, chosen by Donald Barthelme for a Writer’s Choice Award; a collection of poems, Daily News; and two previous memoirs, Finding the Boyfriend Within and Dating the Greek Gods. His work has been featured in numerous magazines, including The New Republic, The New Yorker, Vanity Fair, New York Magazine, Travel and Leisure, Partisan Review, The Paris Review, The Los Angeles Times Book Review, Art Forum, Harper’s Bazaar, The Nation, and regularly on The Daily Beast. A Guggenheim fellow in Biography, he has received a National Endowment for the Humanities fellowship, and a Furthermore grant in publishing from the J.M. Kaplan Fund. A professor of English at William Paterson University, he earned his Ph.D. at Columbia University, and lives in New York City. He is currently writing a biography of the Sufi mystic poet Rumi.

Credits: This episode’s music is Beautiful Child by Rufus Wainwright. The conversation was recorded at Mr. Gooch’s office on a pair of Blue enCORE 200 microphones feeding into a Zoom H5 digital recorder. I recorded the intro and outro on a Blue Yeti USB Microphone. Processing was done in Audacity and Logic Pro. Photo of Mr. Gooch by me.

meyer-cover200Virtual Memories Show:
Michael Meyer – Palimpsest

“When you look at the history of northeast China, it’s all successive regimes that have tried to import their version of civilization into this area, and they’ve all failed.”

When he was a kid in Minnesota, Michael Meyer papered his walls with National Geographic maps. A Peace Corps stint in 1995 began his 20-year odyssey in China, yielding two books, true love, and a unique perspective on the world’s most populous country. We talk about his latest book, In Manchuria: A Village Called Wasteland and the Transformation of Rural China (Bloomsbury), life in rural China compared to suburban MN, the country’s changes in the past two decades, the flexibility of the Communist party, China’s uses and abuses of history, the tortured history of the Manchuria region, the need to explode Americans’ myths about the country and its people, our favorite jet-lag remedies, and the Chinese use of “uh” as a conversational placeholder. Give it a listen!

“China isn’t a billion-plus people marching in lockstep. Nor is it some mastermind sitting in some opulent room in Beijing and declaring, ‘Now we will do this!'”

We also get into the time the Beijing police took Michael in so he could teach them American curse-words, why it’s safe to be a writer but not to be a journalist, China’s transition from individual farms to an agribusiness model, why the time to write a book is when the book you want to read doesn’t exist, the differences in storytelling modes between Americans and Chinese, his debts to Bruce Chatwin, Pearl S. Buck, and Ian Frazier, and how tens of thousands of Jews wound up in the town of Harbin.

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

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About our Guest

16842769440_72b7202f10_nMichael Meyer is the author of the acclaimed nonfiction book The Last Days of Old Beijing: Life in the Vanishing Backstreets of a City Transformed. He first came to China in 1995 with the Peace Corps, and for over a decade has contributed from there to The New York Times, Time, the Financial Times, Los Angeles Times, Chicago Tribune, Architectural Record, Reader’s Digest, Slate, Smithsonian, This American Life and many other outlets.He is the recipient of a Whiting Writers’ Award, a Guggenheim Fellowship, and a Lowell Thomas Award for travel writing, as well as residencies at the New York Public Library’s Cullman Center for Scholars and Writers, and the Rockefeller Foundation’s Bellagio Center. He recently taught Literary Journalism at Hong Kong University’s Journalism and Media Studies Center, and wrote the foreword to The Inmost Shrine: A Photographic Odyssey of China, 1873, a collection of Scottish explorer John Thomson’s early images. He is a current member of the National Committee on United States-China Relations‘ Public Intellectuals Program, and an Assistant Professor of English at the University of Pittsburgh, where he teaches Nonfiction Writing. Michael’s new book, In Manchuria: A Village Called Wasteland and the Transformation of Rural China, was published by Bloomsbury in February, 2015.

Credits: This episode’s music is Life in a Northern Town by Dream Academy. The conversation was recorded at the Bloomsbury offices on a pair of Blue enCORE 200 microphones feeding into a Zoom H5 digital recorder. I recorded the intro and outro on a Blue Yeti USB Microphone. Processing was done in Audacity and Logic Pro. Photo of Mr. Meyer by me.

sentencedVirtual Memories Show:
Clive James – Remainder

“I should have led a more balanced life, but that’s easy to say at the end of things. When you’re caught up in what you’re doing, it’s very hard to be reasonable. And art isn’t really made out being reasonable.”

Clive James was diagnosed with leukemia and emphysema several years ago, but the poet, essayist, memoirist, novelist, TV host, and charter member of the Virtual Memories Show Dream List hasn’t let his ailments silence him. We got together at his home in Cambridge in February for a wide-ranging conversation about poetry, mortality, binge-watching Veronica Mars, writing Cultural Amnesia (one of my favorite books), being Australian despite 50 years in the UK, the impact of his showbiz career — good and bad — on his literary legacy, and a lot more. We talk about his two new books — Poetry Notebook (Liveright) and Sentenced To Life (Picador, UK only) — and the ones he’s working on, and how he faced two choices after his diagnoses: “Lie back on a couch, admire myself for my achievements, and sign off; or go on as if I had forever.” Give it a listen!

“All that poetry comes in handy when you lie there, contemplating the end. The question is why: Why when your body is about to come apart, is there such appeal in reading such highly organized argument and imagery?”

Clive James on the Virtual Memories Show

We get into the role that culture plays in civilization, the future of the Middle East, his first encounter with a Jew, the books he made a priority of when he realized his time was short, why it’s okay for actors to be shallow, and how he wrote a critique of Daniel Goldhagen while dressed as a mariachi singer for a TV show in Mexico.

“It’s possible to say that if I’d just concentrated on my literary activities [instead of working on TV], I’d have had a less complicated reputation. The question never would have arisen: Is he serious enough to write seriously?”

We talked a lot of books in this one. Here’s a list:

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

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About our Guest

Born in Australia, Clive James lives in Cambridge, England. He is the author of Unreliable Memoirs; a volume of selected poems, Opal Sunset; the best-selling Cultural Amnesia: Necessary Memories from History and the Arts; and the translator of The Divine Comedy by Dante. He has written for the New York Times Book Review, The New Yorker, and The Atlantic. He is an Officer of the Order of Australia (AO) and a Commander of the Order of the British Empire (CBE). You can find a longer version of his bio at his site.

Credits: This episode’s music is El Cholulo by Tosca Tango Orchestra. The conversation was recorded at Mr. James’ home on a pair of Blue enCORE 200 microphones feeding into a Zoom H5 digital recorder. I recorded the intro and outro on a Blue Yeti USB Microphone. Processing was done in Audacity and Logic Pro. Photo of Mr. James by me.