Virtual Memories Show 431:
Louis Menand

“Writing a book like this is like an advent calendar: each day you open a little window and there’s somebody in there. You hadn’t known about them before and you learn a fascinating story.”

Pulitzer Prize-winning author and cultural critic Louis Menand joins the show to celebrate his phenomenal new book, THE FREE WORLD: Art And Thought In The Cold War (FSG). We get into his process for chronicling the artistic, cultural, intellectual, technological and literary movements of the postwar era, the stories of the lives behind those movements and how he threads them together, what we mean when we talk about freedom, why writing can be like kicking open a rolled-up carpet, and the toughest art form to write about. We talk about the influence of John Cage (whose work we both dislike), the amazing creative lineage of Black Mountain College, the ~75,000 words he had to cut (the book is plenty hefty as is) and why he would have liked to include a chapter on Japan’s art scene, the role of the CIA in funding movement and artistic venues, and the one person he regrets not interviewing for this project. We also discuss his pandemic life, the One More Book he wants to write, his father’s anti-anti-Communist stance, the book’s original title and why it had to change, and why his students at Harvard seem more interested in the ’50s than the ’60s. Give it a listen! And go read THE FREE WORLD!

“The word ‘Freedom’ was everywhere, but then you start to think, ‘What does it actually mean?’ It could be used to describe a musical composition, or the condition of racial segregation, or what the US stood for in the Cold War. If you could use it for such varied purposes, did it mean anything?”

“The movement with the greatest impact was decolonization. We’re still living through in the consequences of that moment. It’s like a Big Bang in reverse. Between 1945 and 1970, dozens and dozens of countries came into being that were former colonies. That changed the geopolitical map forever.”

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“Our culture was so dominant, we could’ve conquered the world without all the deception of CIA funding and cutouts.”

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“What made the Cold War an intense period intellectually was that people didn’t really know what side they were on. There were a lot of intellectuals and artists who were sympathetic to the Soviet experiment. That fades with Stalinism, but doesn’t get replaced completely with capitalism.”

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

Louis Menand is professor of English at Harvard University and a staff writer at The New Yorker. His books include The Metaphysical Club, which won the Pulitzer Prize in history and the Francis Parkman Prize from the Society of American Historians. In 2016, he was awarded the National Humanities Medal by President Barack Obama. His new book is THE FREE WORLD: Art And Thought In The Cold War.

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 Louis by Matthew Valentine. It’s on my instagram.

Virtual Memories Show 430:
Jesse Sheidlower

Lexicographer, bartender and bon vivant Jesse Sheidlower rejoins the show to talk about his new project, the Historical Dictionary of Science Fiction. We get into the 20-year-old origins of the project and the ways it mirrors the development of the internet over that span, the importance of fandom and community in science fiction, the fields into which he wants the dictionary to expand, how the culture transitioned away from treating SF & fanzines as ephemera, and his own history with the genre. We also discuss the ways in which the Oxford English Dictionary was the original crowdsourced project, how people misunderstand the mission & spirit of the OED, the variety of rabbit-holes a lexicographer can fall down, and my own experience creating a glossary for the pharma manufacturing industry. Plus, we talk about his pandemic life, the Threesome Tollbooth, and the post-COVID party he’s planning! Give it a listen! And go check out the Historical Dictionary of Science Fiction!

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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

Adapted from his Twitter bio: Lexicographer & Threesome Tollbooth bar manager. Editor/coder, SFdictionary.com. Adjunct at Columbia. Past Pres, Amer. Dialect Soc. Ex-OED. The F-Word. Barbells; Perl, Python (There’s a much more extensive bio at Jesse’s site.)

Follow Jesse on Twitter.

Here’s the first time we recorded, back in 2013:

You should also check out our 2018 episode.

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 Jesse by Llorente. It’s on my instagram.

Virtual Memories Show 422:
Anahid Nersessian

“I’ve never had a period of separation from Keats, like I’ve had with other authors or bands that I love.”

Let’s commemorate the 200th anniversary of John Keats’ untimely death with a conversation with Anahid Nersessian, author of Keats’ Odes: A Lover’s Discourse (University of Chicago). We get into how she read Keats’ letters to Fanny Brawne at WAY too young an age, how she’s lived with his poems since childhood and how they’ve changed for her over the years, and why it kills her that no one has disinterred Fanny’s final letters to Keats (which he never read and are buried with him). We talk about her relationship to the western canon, the implicit (and explicit) sexual violence of Ode on a Grecian Urn, her harassment by a Latin teacher in high school and how it affected her career path, Keats’ radicalist, proto-Marxist tones and the benefits of reading The Communist Manifesto in funny voices as a 7th grader. We also discuss what it’s like to have a couple of strict old-school Freudians for parents, why she doesn’t have time for social media (and why she didn’t go overboard integrating her personal experiences into the book), the thread of Keats’ Odes that has led to her next book on the Cato Street Conspiracy, and more. Give it a listen! And go read Keats’ Odes: A Lover’s Discourse!

“Keats and Marx share a horizon or an ambition for human beings, a horizon of freedom realized in social life.”

“For the personal material in the book, I told myself I wouldn’t self-censor, if something came up that seemed relevant to a particular poem or to an understanding of Keats’ life, but I also wouldn’t push myself to be more explicit about aspects of my life.”

“In the Romantic period, things were intensely partisan and politicized. We think that our public world of the arts is politicized, but you should’ve seen the Regency period.”

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

Anahid Nersessian was born and raised in New York City. She attended Yale University as an undergraduate and got her Ph.D in English Language and Literature at the University of Chicago. After spending three years at Columbia University, she moved to Los Angeles, where she currently teaches in the English Department at UCLA on the unceded territory of the Gabrielino/Tongva peoples. She is the author of three books, Keats’s Odes: A Lover’s Discourse (Chicago, 2021), The Calamity Form: On Poetry and Social Life (Chicago, 2020), and Utopia, Limited: Romanticism and Adjustment (Harvard, 2015), and has published widely in top scholarly journals as well as in the Los Angeles Review of Books and Public Books. She also founded and co-edits the Thinking Literature series at the University of Chicago Press.

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 Anahid by someone else. It’s on my instagram. Portrait of Keats by William Hilton.

Virtual Memories Show 421:
Kate Maruyama

“We’re all dealing with this, but I think we’re all processing what this new reality means, how it’s changing everything.”

Author, editor and activist Kate Maruyama rejoins the show to celebrate the publication of her wonderfully creepy new novella, Family Solstice (Omnium Gatherum). We get into why she wrote a haunted house story at a time when everyone’s stuck in their homes, how she pushed herself to finish the book during the early months of the pandemic, and how Family Solstice celebrates the great (and maybe a little haunted) home she grew up in. We get into what Kate’s mother, the late, great Kit Reed, might have made of This Whole Situation we’re in, the positives of holding a virtual book tour (including the launch in a virtual version of her childhood home), what her and her students’ pandemic-era fiction looks like, the joy of getting her first Asimov’s publication last year, and more! Give it a listen! And go read Family Solstice!

(And go listen to my 2019 conversation with Kate and our COVID Check-In podcast from May 2020)

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

Kate Maruyama‘s first novel was Harrowgate. Her short works have appeared in Asimov’s, Controlled Burn, and Stoneboat; on Salon, Duende, Entropy, The Rumpus, and other journals; as well as in numerous anthologies, including Winter Horror Days and Halloween Carnival 3.

Kate edited Nicole Sconiers’s speculative short fiction collection, Escape from Beckyville: Tales of Race, Hair and Rage, has been a jury chair for the Bram Stoker Awards and was twice a juror for the Shirley Jackson Awards. She is on the Diverse Works Inclusion Committee for the HWA. She teaches at Antioch University Los Angeles in the BA program, as well as for inspiration2publication.com and Los Angeles Writing Classes. She writes, teaches, cooks, and eats in Los Angeles, where she lives with her family.

Follow Kate 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 Kate by her. It’s on my instagram.

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.