MichaelDirda544[photo credit to Locus Publications -- Amelia Beamer]2009Season 4 Episode 29
Michael Dirda –
Bookman’s Holiday

“I see people walking their dogs and looking down at their phones. When you’re out walking your dog, you should be thinking great thoughts, or reviewing your life’s major blunders, or having some moments alone with yourself.”

It’s a bookman’s life for him! I interrupted Pulitzer Prize-winning book critic Michael Dirda from plundering the book-dealer room at Readercon 2014 for a conversation about culling his books, the great age of storytelling, teaching adventure novels, what he dislikes about the tone of today’s book reviewers, his tendency to fall asleep while reading, and the time Neil Gaiman tried to explain Twitter to him. BONUS! I went back and remastered The Correction of Taste, the episode I recorded with Michael from October 2012! Go listen to that one, too! (It’s on the blog site.)

“I never should have gone into book reviewing. I don’t have the right qualities for it. I read slow, I write slow: but I do love books and I’m dogged about it. I’d rather be involved with them than anything else.”

We also talk about his two early career goals (riverboat gambler or Captain Blood), what brings him back to Readercon each year, and why he’s never read Portrait of a Lady but fell in love with Lud-in-the-Mist, a fantasy novel in which the protagonists are middle-aged.

“My aim always has been to champion things that have been overlooked or neglected or otherwise not given the attention I think they deserve.”

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

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About our Guest

Michael Dirda is a weekly book columnist for The Washington Post, and he received the 1993 Pulitzer Prize for criticism. He is the author of the memoir, An Open Book, and of four collections of essays: Readings, Bound to Please, Book by Book, and Classics for Pleasure. His most recent book, On Conan Doyle, received a 2012 Edgar Award for best critical/biographical work of the year. Mr. Dirda graduated with Highest Honors in English from Oberlin College and earned a Ph.D. in comparative literature (medieval studies and European romanticism) from Cornell University. He is a contributor to The New York Review of Books, The Times Literary Supplement, the online Barnes & Noble Review, The American Scholar, and several other periodicals, as well as a frequent lecturer and an occasional college teacher.

Credits: This episode’s music is A Soldier’s Tale by The Good, The Bad & The Queen (see, because The Good Soldier, by Ford Madox Ford, is one of Dirda’s favorite novels, and — oh, never mind). The conversation was recorded at the Marriott in Burlington Mass on a pair of Blue enCORE 200 microphones feeding into a Zoom H4n recorder. The intro and outro were recorded on Blue Yeti USB Microphone. Processing was done in Audacity and Garage Band. Photo of Mr. Dirda by me.

rosenbaum1Season 4 Episode 28
Ron Rosenbaum –
Re-Explaining Hitler

“The choices that an artist makes are not traceable back to a particular set of neurons firing. They’re choices made by the complete consciousness of a person. Art, in a way, validates free will, and thereby validates the notion of evil.”

Ron Rosenbaum returns to the show to talk about the new edition of his great book, Explaining Hitler: The Search for the Origins of His Evil (Da Capo Press)! We talk Hitler, the meaning(s) of evil, determinism and free will, Hitler-as-artist vs. Hitler-as-suicide-bomber, “degenerate art,” the tendency to blame Jews for their misfortune, his search for the “Higgs Boson” of Hitler, and how internet culture has warped the meaning of Hitler in the 16 years since Ron’s book was first published. Go listen!

“I just couldn’t bear being a graduate student, so I dropped out after a year and revolted against academia. I wanted to hang out with cops and criminals and write long form stories about America, about crimes, about strange things.”

Of course, we also get around to some other fun topics, like whether his studies of the Holocaust inspired him to become a “better Jew”, whether it’s possible to knowingly commit evil, how Bleak House changed his life, and just how he managed to become a unique voice in American nonfiction.

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

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About our Guest

Ron Rosenbaum‘s work has appeared in The New York Times, Harper’s, The Atlantic, The New Yorker, Slate, Esquire and other magazines. He is currently the national correspondent for Smithsonian Magazine, and was recently featured in the History Channel documentary, “The World Wars.” His books include The Secret Parts of Fortune: Three Decades of Intense Investigations and Edgy Enthusiasms, Explaining Hitler: The Search for the Origins of His Evil, How the End Begins: The Road to a Nuclear World War III, The Shakespeare Wars: Clashing Scholars, Public Fiascoes, Palace Coups, as well as Those Who Forget the Past: The Question of Anti-Semitism, which he edited. You can find him on twitter at @ronrosenbaum1.

Credits: This episode’s music is Back to Black by Amy Winehouse (see, because Ron’s a fan of her stuff, and the episode is about his returning to the topic of evil, and — oh, never mind). The conversation was recorded in a friend’s apartment on a pair of Blue enCORE 200 microphones feeding into a Zoom H4n recorder. The intro and outro were recorded on Blue Yeti USB Microphone. Processing was done in Audacity and Garage Band. (There was a loud air conditioner, so I did some noise removal, which may have tweaked the audio a little.) Photo of Mr. Rosenbaum by me.

246_Ron_Slate_photo_copySeason 4 Episode 27
Ron Slate –
Buddy Rich’s Teeth and
the Corruption of Reality

“It’s said that the sources of writing are mysterious, but the sources of not writing are pathological.”

Ron Slate spent more than two decades in the corporate world before returning to poetry and writing an award-winning collection praised by the likes of Robert Pinsky. We talk about his roots in poetry, how those “lost” years weren’t so lost, what it’s like to be the guy who sees things late, and how his life was forever changed the day he saw Buddy Rich’s teeth. Go listen!

slatecovers“Poetry is always battling invention over assertion, over statement. That’s the tug-of-war. I love poets whose work suggests that tension. I look for that battle between ‘words can do so much’ and ‘words are ineffectual.'”

We also explore why he bailed on his Ph.D., how Ted Leonsis asked him the greatest job interview question ever, what it’s like to get poetry-stalked by Louise Glück, and why he’s trying his hand at fiction. Plus, he reads us a poem from his second book!

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

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About our Guest

Ron Slate was born in Quincy, Massachusetts in 1950. He earned his Masters degree in creative writing from Stanford University in 1973 and did his doctoral work in American literature at the University of Wisconsin, Madison. He started a poetry magazine, The Chowder Review, in 1973 which was published through 1988. In 1978, he left academia and was hired as a corporate speechwriter, beginning his business career in communications and marketing. From 1994-2001 he was vice president of global communications for EMC Corporation. More recently he was chief operating officer of a biotech/life sciences start-up and co-founded a social network for family caregivers. Since 2007 he has been reviewing poetry and prose at his popular homepage called On the Seawall. He lives in Milton, MA.

His poems have appeared in The New Yorker, The Paris Review, Slate, and many other magazines and sites. The Incentive of the Maggot, his first book of poems, was published by Houghton Mifflin in 2005. The collection was nominated for the National Book Critics Circle poetry prize and the Lenore Marshall Prize of the Academy of American Poets. The collection won the Breadloaf Writers Conference Bakeless Poetry Prize and the Larry Levis Reading Prize of Virginia Commonwealth University. The Great Wave, his second book, was published by Houghton in April 2009.

Credits: This episode’s music is Poet by Sly and the Family Stone. The conversation was recorded in Mr. Slate’s home on a pair of Blue enCORE 200 microphones feeding into a Zoom H4n recorder. The intro and outro were recorded on Blue Yeti USB Microphone. Processing was done in Audacity and Garage Band. Photo of Mr. Slate by me.

Thomson_Secrecy-252x390Season 4 Episode 22
Rupert Thomson –
Wax, Rhapsodic

“There is a kind of comfort in having a part of yourself that will never be known, can never be known, by others.”

Genre-jumping author Rupert Thomson joins the show to talk about his new novel, Secrecy (Other Press). Along the way, we talk about the arbitrariness of “historical fiction,” the perils of researcher’s block (as opposed to writer’s block), what he learned from a 90-minute audience with James Salter, discovering archaic Italian curses, letting one’s art follow one’s unconscious, the joys of visiting the graves and/or homes of his literary idols, why finding the psychological truth of a story is more important than the details and background, and why it always helps to know a good histopathologist. Go listen!

“When I first started out, what I liked was the unlikely image, the unlikely metaphor. What I like now is finding that simple sentence that captures something you haven’t thought of before.”

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

Rupert Thomson is the author of nine highly acclaimed novels: Dreams of Leaving, The Five Gates of Hell, Air And Fire, The Insult, Soft!, The Book of Revelation, Divided Kingdom, Death of a Murderer, which was short-listed for the 2007 Costa Novel Award, and Secrecy. His memoir, This Party’s Got To Stop, won the Writers’ Guild Non-Fiction Award. He lives in London.

Credits: This episode’s music is Hotwax by Beck. The conversation was recorded at the Other Press offices on a pair of Blue enCORE 200 microphones feeding into a Zoom H4n recorder. The intro and outro were recorded on Blue Yeti USB Microphone. Processing was done in Audacity and Garage Band. Photo of Mr. Thomson by Graeme Robertson.

Stefan ZweigSeason 4 Episode 20
George Prochnik –
Bildung Stories

“Zweig was immersed in the problem of the disjunction between our grand desires for the kind of life we dream we should be living and the actual circumscribed canvas on which we must operate.”

At his peak, Viennese author Stefan Zweig was one of the most widely read authors in the world. How did he and his wife end up in a double-suicide in a bungalow in Petropolis, Brazil? George Prochnik joins us to talk about his new biography, The Impossible Exile: Stefan Zweig at the End of the World (Other Press). We discuss the arc of Zweig’s exile, why Zweig remains important to our age (both in his writing and in his character), how he lost his belief in the power of bildung, the fleetingness of fame and the accident of survival, the role of education in changing political dynamics, the contemporary revival of Viennese culture, the reason why Zweig fled New York City, and more!

“I think he felt that the more we have to produce official documents to indicate who we are, the more we are reduced to that strip of paper.”

We also talk about our respective introductions to Zweig’s work, the ways that his final novella may be an allegory for Vienna, the danger of looking for clues to Zweig’s suicide in his writing, and how he may have been the inspiration for Woody Allen’s ZeligGive it a listen! Go pick up a copy of The Impossible Exile: Stefan Zweig at the End of the World! And check out my Zweig-shelf!

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

George Prochnik’s essays, poetry, and fiction have appeared in numerous journals. He has taught English and American literature at Hebrew University in Jerusalem, is editor-at-large for Cabinet magazine, and is also the author of In Pursuit of Silence: Listening for Meaning in a World of Noise and Putnam Camp: Sigmund Freud, James Jackson Putnam and the Purpose of American Psychology. He lives in New York City.

Credits: This episode’s music is Brazil by The Coasters. The conversation was recorded at Mr. Prochnik’s home on a pair of Blue enCORE 200 microphones, feeding into a Zoom H4n recorder. The intro and outro were recorded on Blue Yeti USB Microphone. Processing was done in Audacity and Garage Band. Photo of Mr. Prochnik by me.