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!

Follow The Virtual Memories Show on iTunes, Twitter, Facebook, Tumblr, and RSS!

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!

Follow The Virtual Memories Show on iTunes, Twitter, Facebook, Tumblr, and RSS!

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.

WhenAmericaMetChina5 J2.inddVirtual Memories Show:
Prue Shaw –
Time, Memory, Friendship, Poetry, Art

“It’s a cliche to say that the whole of medieval civilization is there in one book, but that’s true, and you get to understand that more and more as you read it.”

Scholar Prue Shaw joins the show to discuss Reading Dante: From Here to Eternity (Liveright Press). We talk about our favorite parts of the Dante’s Commedia, the poem’s transformation for her over the decades, Dante’s challenge of expressing the inexpressible (especially in Paradiso, the fate of Jews in Dante’s afterworld, and the reasons why we all — poets and non-poets, believers and non-believers — should be reading Dante. Give it a listen!

“I think it’s very indicative that our strongest word of disapprobation in the present moment is ‘inappropriate’. We don’t say anything is wrong or bad, but inappropriate.”

We also talk about readers’ reticence toward starting the Commedia, why the Paradiso is the most difficult of the three books, the strange role of Ulysses in the poem, Dante’s “mercy rule,” why she chose the structure and themes for Reading Dante, the perfect epigraph to her book, which she discovered too late for inclusion, and why I need to get to the Uffizi!

 

pruesofa500

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

Prue Shaw is Emeritus Reader in Italian Studies at University College London, and the editor of the edizione nationale of Dante’s Monarchia and of a digital edition of the Commedia. Her latest book is Reading Dante: From Here to Eternity (Liveright Press). She lives in Cambridge, England. You can find her extensive bio at her site, PrueShaw.com.

Credits: This episode’s music is Hell by Squirrel Nut Zippers. The conversation was recorded at Ms. Shaw’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 Yeti USB Microphone. Processing was done in Audacity and Logic Pro. Photo of Ms. Shaw by me.

ph-bc-bloodwillout

Virtual Memories Show:
Walter Kirn – The Confidence Man

“He could not imagine what went on in other people’s hearts and minds any more than you and I could imagine what it’s like to live on Jupiter.”

Author and journalist Walter Kirn joins the show to discuss his latest book, Blood Will Out: The True Story of a Murder, a Mystery, and a Masquerade (Liveright Press), which chronicles his relationship with con artist/sociopath “Clark Rockefeller”. We talk about how Clark hacked the social software, how attending Princeton and Oxford prepared Walt to be fooled by Clark’s lies, why he thinks Clark was actually a progenitor of the social media age, whether writing his best book was worth losing his faith in humanity, what it felt like to be the Nick Carraway to Rockefeller’s Gatsby, and more! Give it a listen!

“One thing I learned is that I might never have found out about Clark’s lies if he hadn’t made a mistake.”

16481866937_cfb3fbe682_zWe also talk about the three things that are most often smuggled into California prisons, what (if anything) can be done to pre-empt sociopaths, the experience of getting trolled by a convicted murderer, the advice he gleaned from Joan Didion before starting up his Great American Novel, what he thinks of New York under DeBlasio, what brought him to Montana and what keeps him there, and where the name “Virtual Memories” comes from!

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

Walter Kirn is the author of eight books and an e-book. His most recent is Blood Will Out: The True Story of a Murder, a Mystery, and a Masquerade, a memoir of his friendship with the con artist and murderer, Clark Rockefeller. His other books include Up in the Air, Thumbsucker (both of which have been made in to feature films), Mission to America, My Mother’s Bible (e-book), The Unbinding, She Needed Me, My Hard Bargain, and Lost in the Meritocracy. His work has appeared in The New Yorker, The New York Times Magazine, The New York Times Book Review, The New Republic, GQ, New York, and Esquire, among other publications.

Credits: This episode’s music is The Secret Silken World by David Baerwald. The conversation was recorded at Mr. Kirn’s apartment on a Zoom H2n digital recorder, because the XLR cables I bought from Monoprice turned out to be crap. I recorded the intro and outro on a Blue Yeti USB Microphone. Processing was done in Audacity and Logic Pro. Photos of Mr. Kirn by me.

Virtual Memories Show:
Anthea Bell – From Asterix to Zweig

“There were a lot of books in the school library, and they weren’t in English, and I was mad keen to get at them.”

Renowned literary translator Anthea Bell joins the show to talk about getting her start in foreign languages, the schisms in the world of literary translation, the most challenging authors she’s worked on, the one language she’d love to learn, translating everything from Asterix to Zweig, and more! Give it a listen!

“Heinrich Heine goes into English with almost suspicious ease, but Goethe is very, very difficult.”

Anthea Bell on The Virtual Memories Show
We also talk about where she thinks WG Sebald’s fiction would have gone had he not died so early, why Asterix has never gotten over in America, the one word that’s the bane of her existence for U.S./UK split editions, her worries for the future of translation, her family’s history during the War, and her theory for why Asterix’s druid-pal should keep the name “Getafix”!

“If we had to have the Romantic period — and I do say we did, although I like the Enlightenment a lot better — I say the Germans did it better than anyone.”

We talk about a ton of books in this episode, so here’s a handy guide!

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

Anthea Bell is a freelance translator from German and French. Her translations include works of non-fiction; modern literary and popular fiction; books for young people including the Asterix the Gaul strip cartoon series; and classics by E.T.A. Hoffmann, Freud, Kafka and Stefan Zweig. She has won several translation awards.

Credits: This episode’s music is Where Are We Now? by David Bowie. The conversation was recorded at Ms. Bell’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 Yeti USB Microphone. Processing was done in Audacity and Logic Pro. Photo of Ms. Bell by me.