vheffVirtual Memories Show #182:
Virginia Heffernan

“It’s very, very weird to do something along with three billion other people.”

Cultural critic Virginia Heffernan joins the show to talk about her new book, Magic and Loss: The Internet as Art (Simon & Schuster)! We talk about what’s behind the screen, why the internet is bigger than the Industrial Revolution, her first experience online in 1979, what it’s like to be in a piece of performance art with half the world’s population, her crushing defeat at meeting Joan Didion, why she’s nostalgic for landline phones, the motive motive of Pokemon Go, asking The New York Times to host a shred-guitar competition, and why there’s value in Reading The Comments! Give it a listen! And buy Magic and Loss!

“The Magic is the part of the internet that is delightful, that moves you to a new space, that is the Mystery of existence. The Loss is that sick feeling you have when you’ve been online all the time.”

magic-and-loss-9781439191705_hrWe also get into the karmic hassle of filing expense reports, the necessity of having an online avatar, balancing her virtual and physical presences, the Talmudic ferocity of language-correctors online, the long history of selfies, what goes wrong every time she tries to write fiction, being a fiction fact-checker for The New Yorker, why people should read upthread, and the miracle of her author picture and the uncanny valley. Now go listen to the show!

“Absolute banality is not good, but babbling eccentricity is dangerous, too.”

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

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About our Guest

Virginia Heffernan (a.k.a. @page88) is a journalist, critic and author, most recently, of Magic and Loss: The Internet as Art (Simon & Schuster, 2016). Heffernan has been called “America’s preeminent cultural critic,” “a public intellectual for the 21st century,” and among the “finest living writers of English prose.” Edward Mendelson in The New York Review of Books called Magic and Loss, “surprisingly moving…an ecstatic narrative of submission.” Kevin Kelly, the co-founder of WIRED, writes, “Heffernan is a new species of wizard. It is a joy and a revelation to be under her spell.”

From 2008 to 2012, Heffernan wrote “The Medium,” a weekly column about Internet culture, for The New York Times Magazine. Before introducing the column, Heffernan spent four years as a television critic at the daily New York Times, where, in addition to writing reviews and features, she chronicled the convergence of television and the Internet. In 2002, she received a Ph.D. in English and American literature from Harvard, where her dissertation was on financial dynamics in American novels. Before that, she served as articles editor at Talk Magazine, senior editor at Harper’s Magazine, and television critic for Slate. From 2012 to 2014, she was the national correspondent at Yahoo! News. From 2015-2016, she was a Visiting Scholar in the department of Media, Culture and Communications at NYU, and editorial director of West, a venture-capital firm in San Francisco. She still consults with VCs and startups.

Heffernan has also written for The New Yorker, Mother Jones, New York Magazine, Salon, MTV, Politico, VICE, WIRED, The Wall Street Journal, Marie Claire, Glamour, The Message, Matter, and many other publications. She has appeared on The Open Mind, 20/20, CNBC, MSNBC, and regularly on NPR. As an academic and a journalist, Heffernan has lectured and keynoted at Google, The Library of Congress, The New York Public Library, Princeton, Dartmouth, Ohio University, Harvard, Union College, NYU, The Savannah College of Art and Design, The National Gallery of the Arts, and Boston College, among many other institutions, universities, and corporations. Her essays have been widely anthologized, including in Extreme Exposure (1999), Unholy Ghost (2002), and Prime Times (2004), Is the Internet Changing the Way You Think?: The Net’s Impact on Our Minds and Future (2014), What to Think About Machines That Think: Today’s Leading Thinkers on the Age of Machine Intelligence (2015). In 2005, Heffernan (with co-writer Mike Albo) published the comic novel, The Underminer (Bloomsbury).

Credits: This episode’s music is Nothing’s Gonna Bring Me Down by David Baerwald, used with permission of the artist. The conversation was recorded Ms. Heffernan’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 Blue enCORE 200 Microphone feeding into a Mackie Onyx Blackjack 2×2 USB Recording Interface. Photo of Ms. Heffernan by Francis Hill.

33_0Virtual Memories Show #178:
Arthur Lubow

“Photography has never been made coequal to the other arts. Yet, you might say it’s superior, because it’s more dangerous.”

Arthur Lubow‘s fantastic new book, Diane Arbus: Portrait of a Photographer (Ecco), explores the life and death of a key figure in the history of photography-as-art. We talk about the evolution of photography from documentation to expression, the role Diane Arbus played in that transformation, her sensibility and intellect and how she expressed them both in her photography and her writing, Arbus’ collaborative method of portraiture, her fascination with and sympathy for “freaks”, why it’s counterproductive to look to Arbus’ photos for clues to her suicide, and more! Give it a listen! And buy Diane Arbus: Portrait of a Photographer!

“What’s important is why and how she was able to produce these amazing photographs, not why she took her own life.”

We also talk about the perils of anhedonia, the missing pages of Arbus’ datebook, Arbus’ anxiety about commercial and critical success, the new sources that Arthur uncovered, who Arbus might have become had she not killed herself, the challenge of writing a biography about an artist, and whether Arbus “exploited” her subjects. It’s a fascinating conversation about a major artistic figure, so give it a listen!

“It was Arbus more than anyone else who helped instigate the change in the artistic status of photography.”

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

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About our Guest

03BOOK2-master315Arthur Lubow is a journalist who writes mainly about culture. He has been a contributing writer at the New York Times Magazine, a staff writer at The New Yorker, and a contributing editor at Vanity Fair. About his previous biography, The Reporter Who Would Be King, on the turn-of-the-century war correspondent and novelist Richard Harding Davis, Naomi Bliven wrote in The New Yorker that “the biographer uses his documentation deftly and thoughtfully; we feel we know Davis intimately….Lubow’s work is impressive in every way, but his most impressive achievement is getting Davis’s charm on paper. Charm is always impalpable, and it’s highly perishable when the charmer has vanished. You don’t find Davis’s charm on every page of Davis, but you find it everywhere in Lubow.” The recipient of fellowships from the National Endowment for the Humanities and from the Dorothy and Lewis B. Cullman Center for Writers and Scholars at the New York Public Library, Lubow is the winner of a James Beard Award and a fellow of the New York Institute for the Humanities. He lives in New York City and East Haddam, CT.

Credits: This episode’s music is Nothing’s Gonna Bring Me Down by David Baerwald, used with permission of the artist. The conversation was recorded at Arthur’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 Blue enCORE 200 Microphone feeding into a Mackie Onyx Blackjack 2×2 USB Recording Interface. Processing was done in Audacity and Logic Pro. Photo of Mr. Lubow by me, portrait of him by Stephen Salmieri.

27483422071_a13f85bb59_zThis is one of those Must-Hear episodes of The Virtual Memories Show, people! I know I love all my kids, but I admit this one’s pretty special; give it a few minutes and you’ll understand why.

Virtual Memories Show #176:
Malcolm Margolin

“What I’m passing on to people is . . . the capacity to have fun. To have a life that you can build around. Not branding, and not the demands of the marketplace, but what you really think and what you want.”

After a remarkable 40-year career, publisher Malcolm Margolin is retiring from Heyday Books in Berkeley. He joins the show to talk about the liberation of being unimportant, building a roundhouse to fall apart, the “dress code” necessary to make things palatable to a mainstream audience, his efforts to chronicle California Indian culture, his next act(s), and more! Give it a listen!

“In some ways I feel regret; the irony is that I was so active in preserving other people’s cultures and languages, but I let mine go.”

We also talk about the craziest golf foursome ever, the two-week-plus run of LSD that may have changed his life, his hatred of salesmanship (and environmentalists), the publishing revolution of the ‘70s, how we learn to live in a world bigger than our capacity to understand it, the inscription he’d want on his headphone e’d what drew him to publishing all those years ago (the beautiful women)! Give it a listen!

And become a patron of this podcast via Patreon or Paypal to get access to bonus conversation with Malcolm and a list of all the books we talked about! (Also, here’s a free bonus page of all the great quotes from our conversation.)

“I’m an emotion junkie. If I can go more than a few hours without breaking into tears, it’s a wasted day.”

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

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About our Guest


HMALcover_web800px-200x299Malcolm Margolin is an author, publisher, and the founder and executive director of Heyday Books, an independent nonprofit publisher and cultural institution in Berkeley, CA. In 1974 he founded Heyday with the publication of his book The East Bay Out: A Personal Guide to the East Bay Regional Parks. Malcolm is the author/editor of eight books including The Ohlone Way: Indian Life in the San Francisco-Monterey Bay Area, named by the San Francisco Chronicle as one of the hundred most important books of the 20th century by a western writer. His essays and articles have appeared in a number of periodicals including The Nation, Small Press, National Parks, the San Francisco Chronicle, and the Los Angeles Times. He retired from his role as publisher at Heyday Books this year.

Credits: This episode’s music is Nothing’s Gonna Bring Me Down by David Baerwald, used with permission of the artist. The conversation was recorded at the offices of Heyday Books on a Zoom H2n digital recorder (because I screwed up with my main recorder). I recorded the intro and outro on a Blue enCORE 200 Microphone feeding into a Mackie Onyx Blackjack 2×2 USB Recording Interface. Processing was done in Audacity and Logic Pro. Photos of Malcolm by me.

9781101980224Virtual Memories Show #174:
Ann Patty

“I’m an enthusiast. I think that’s why I was a good editor. I fall in love with things and I get very enthusiastic and I boost them. Now I’m a Latin enthusiast.”

Why did former publisher and book editor Ann Patty start studying Latin at age 58? Find out in our conversation about her book, Living with a Dead Language: My Romance with Latin (Viking). We talk about her deep dive into a dead language, the “Living Latinist” revival, her unceremonious exit from the NY publishing world, the terror of the blank page, the perils of groupthink, how her pursuit of Latin reconciled her to the memory of her mother, and more! Give it a listen! And go buy Living with a Dead Language!

“This is going to sound grandiose, but I’m going to say it: I identified with Aeneas because I had to find a new homeland just like he did. My homeland was the publishing world and I was exiled.”

We also talk about where mainstream book publishing has gone wrong, what it was like to be the oldest student in the room by 40 years, how her experience as a publisher and editor helped and hurt her as a first-time author, how Abigail Thomas tricked her into writing a book, the benefits of inflection, her new career goal of Girl Latin Reporter, and more! Give it a listen! And become a patron of this podcast via Patreon or Paypal to get access to bonus conversation with Ann and a big ol’ list of all the books we talked about.

“Editors have been disempowered in favor of groupthink, and there’s nothing more horrible than groupthink. Any book I was ever successful with would not have been bought if it had been subject to groupthink. I include Life of Pi.”

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

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About our Guest

Ann Patty worked in New York trade publishing for more than 30 years. She was the founder and publisher of The Poseidon Press and an executive editor at Crown Publishers and Harcourt. Her first discovery as an editor was V. C. Andrews’ Flowers in the Attic. Other highlights of her career include the US hardcover debuts of: George R. R. Martin, Graham Swift, Mary Gaitskill, Patrick McGrath, Clive Barker, Frank Zappa, Michael Moore, Siri Hustvedt, and Kristin Hannah. She was the editor of Steven Millhauser’s Pulitzer Prize-winning Martin Dressler, and Yann Martel’s Booker Prize-winning Life of Pi. In 2008 she became a freelance editor and began studying Latin, which she continues to do. She teaches Latin to teenagers at her local library in Red Hook, New York. Living with a Dead Language: My Romance with Latin is her first memoir.

Credits: This episode’s music is Nothing’s Gonna Bring Me Down by David Baerwald, used with permission of the artist. The conversation was recorded at Ann’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 Blue enCORE 200 Microphone feeding into a Mackie Onyx Blackjack 2×2 USB Recording Interface. Processing was done in Audacity and Logic Pro. Photo of Ann by me.

st-johns-college-md_416x416Virtual Memories Show #173:
Christopher Nelson

“If virtue can be taught, it’s only by learning to ask the types of questions that make you a thoughtful person.”

My two-year term at St. John’s College’s Graduate Institute was the most important part of my life. During my recent trip back to Annapolis, I sat down with outgoing president Christopher Nelson to talk about lessons learned during his 26-year tenure, the books that guided him to the college, the ones he returns to, and the ones that gave him the most trouble as an undergrad, what he’ll miss and what he hopes to do next, his key advice for his successor, and more! Give it a listen!

“Running an institution and reading a budget were second nature to me. . . . Being able to participate in the life of the college so I could make good and deep judgements about what’s important around here; that was going to come from spending time in the classroom and with the faculty.”

We also talk about the unique situation of being the only president in the college’s 300+ years who is also an alumnus, why math and philosophy are for the young, while big novels are for middle age, how he grew into The Aeneid, the use of literature in understanding Japanese morality, why he returns to Middlemarch every few years, what he’d add to the St. John’s curriculum (even if he can’t bring himself to drop something to make room for it), and a lot more! Give it a listen! (and become a supporter via Patreon or Paypal so you can check out the big list of all the books we talked about this episode!)

“The commodification of higher education — like the monetization of every good in life — is deeply disturbing. It’s certainly something that’s always been in America. You read de Tocqueville and you see that it’s part of the American spirit to do that.”

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

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About our Guest

27562111401_3c8353e5c4_zChristopher B. Nelson has been president of St. John’s College in Annapolis, MD, since June 1991. He is an alumnus of St. John’s (B.A. 1970) and a graduate of the University of Utah College of Law (J.D. 1973), where he founded and directed the university’s student legal services program. He practiced law in Chicago for 18 years and was chairman of his law firm when he left the practice to take his current position at St. John’s College. Christopher Nelson is a national spokesperson for the liberal arts, participating actively in the national conversation about higher education. Frequently a panelist and speaker on state, regional, and national programs, he has addressed issues of institutional autonomy in the face of government regulatory intrusion and changes proposed in the accrediting system. His current focus is making clear the value of liberal education – in providing excellent grounding for career and professional development and, most importantly, for an open-minded  pursuit of lifelong learning.

Credits: This episode’s music is Nothing’s Gonna Bring Me Down by David Baerwald, used with permission of the artist. The conversation was recorded at the office of Christopher Nelson at the Annapolis campus of St. John’s College on a pair of Blue enCORE 200 Microphones feeding into a Zoom H5 digital recorder. I recorded the intro and outro on a Blue enCORE 200 Microphone feeding into a Mackie Onyx Blackjack 2×2 USB Recording Interface. Processing was done in Audacity and Logic Pro. Photos of President Nelson by me. Not sure who to credit with the color pic at the top.