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.

Virtual Memories Show 417:
Mark Wunderlich

“Is poetry a place where you want to be restrained, or is a poem where you actually get to exercise some freedom?”

A series of deaths and personal losses in 2018 hang over Mark Wunderlich‘s poems in his new collection, God of Nothingness (Graywolf Press). We talk about that writing, how living through it unwittingly prepared him for the past year in Pandemia, and how the current situation compares with his arrival in NYC at the height of AIDS. We get into the uses of autobiography in poetry (his editor refers to his poems as “fiercely autobiographical”), Mark’s queerness being tied to his poetic-self, the inspiration of James Merrill and his mentorship by JD McClatchy, the notion of a poem as a created environment permitting freedom, why his poems go from longhand to typewriter to computer, his experience conducting a Rilke course by snail-mail in 2020, his pandemic-adjustments as director of the Bennington Writing Seminars MFA program, and more. Give it a listen! And go read God of Nothingness !

“The thing that I love about poems is that they felt like worlds I could enter into. Reading a poem like Rilke’s First Elegy is like going into a house and knowing where everything is. They seem so alive still, but speak about things that are eternal.”

“It’s hard for me to think of any writing as being anything other than some sort of fiction. When we’re constructing a version of ourselves in print, how can the first person pronouns stand in as a representative of selfhood, with all that we are, all that we know, all that we have done and experienced?”

“There was certainly mentorship when I arrived in New York, and a bridge to another world, but it was a bridge that was on fire. That really marked my experience.”

“A poem is trying to fix something in time, along a kind of axis of the self’s movement through the world.”

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

Mark Wunderlich is the author of The Anchorage, which received the Lambda Literary Award, Voluntary Servitude, and The Earth Avails, which received the Rilke Prize. He is the recipient of fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts, the Massachusetts Cultural Council, the Civitella Ranieri Foundation, and elsewhere. He is the director of the Bennington Writing Seminars graduate writing program and lives in New York’s Hudson Valley. His new book is God of Nothingness.

Follow Mark on Twitter and Instagram, and check out his more extensive bio at his site.

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 Mark by Nicholas Kahn. It’s on my instagram.

Virtual Memories Show 415:
Jerome Charyn

“Any great work is a shove to the incomprehensible, but it’s JUST on our side instead of the other side. You have to take tremendous risks in order to find your language.”

With his amazing new novel, Sergeant Salinger (Bellevue Literary Press), Jerome Charyn evokes and explores J.D. Salinger’s WWII experience in the Counter Intelligence Corps. We talk about Jerome’s history with Salinger’s work, his disdain for The Catcher in the Rye and his love of Nine Stories and their depiction of NYC of the 1940s and early ’50s, the range of meanings and misunderstandings of Salinger’s later silence, and Jerome’s own terror of writing. Along the way, we get into Jerome’s ventriloquism in his historical fiction, the limits of his artistic audacity, falling in love with Maria Callas, and whether he’d write a pastiche of Hemingway now that Hem’s in public domain. Jerome being Jerome, we also discuss ping-pong, professional basketball, the older Michael Jordan as a Shakespearean character, and why he’s writing a big essay about Mank. Give it a listen (& check out our 2019 conversation)! And go read Sergeant Salinger!

“I’ve never seen a great difference between fiction and non-fiction. They’re still sculpting sentences, and those sentences have to have a certain kind of music.”

“No novel is easy to write. It’s a kind of death you go through. Sometimes you survive it and sometimes you don’t.”

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

Jerome Charyn is the author of more than fifty works of fiction and nonfiction, including Sergeant Salinger; Cesare: A Novel of War-Torn Berlin; In the Shadow of King Saul: Essays on Silence and Song; Jerzy: A Novel; and A Loaded Gun: Emily Dickinson for the 21st Century. Among other honors, his work has been longlisted for the PEN Award for Biography, shortlisted for the Phi Beta Kappa Christian Gauss Award, and selected as a finalist for the Firecracker Award and PEN/Faulkner Award for Fiction. He has also been named a Commander of Arts and Letters by the French Minister of Culture and received a Guggenheim Fellowship and the Rosenthal Family Foundation Award for Fiction from the American Academy of Arts and Letters. He lives in New York.

Follow Jerome on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram, and listen to our 2019 conversation.

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 Jerome by Philippe Matsas. It’s on my instagram.

Virtual Memories Show:
The Guest List 2020

It’s time for our year-end Virtual Memories Show tradition: The Guest List! I reached out to 2020’s pod-guests and asked them about the favorite book(s) they read in the past year, as well as the books or authors they’re hoping to read in 2021! Thirty guests responded with a a fantastic array of books. (I participated, too, in my rambling way!) The Virtual Memories Show offers up a huge list of books that you’re going to want to read in the new year! Give it a listen, and get ready to update your wish lists!

This year’s Guest List episode features selections from 30 of our 2020 guests! So go give it a listen, and then visit our special Guest List page where you can find links to the books and the guests who responded. This year, we also have a Bookshop.org page with a lot of the selections!

Also, check out the 2013, 2014, 2015, 2016, 2017, 2018, and 2019 editions of The Guest List for more great book ideas!




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

About our Guests

The guests who participated in this year’s Guest List are Derf Backderf, Philip Boehm, Ruben Bolling (aka Ken Fisher), Betsy Bonner, Henri Cole, Joan Marans Dim, Emily Flake, Jonathan W. Gray, Tom Hart, Arthur Hoyle, Rian Hughes, Richard Kadrey, Ben Katchor, Kathe Koja, Tess Lewis, Ellen Lindner, Margot Mifflin, David Mikics, Otto Penzler, Woodrow Phoenix, Darryl Pinckney, Alta Price, Steve Ronin, Dmitry Samarov, Michael Shaw, Stoya, Benjamin Taylor, Jeff Trexler, John Vercher, Sheila Williams, and me, Gil Roth! Check out their episodes at our archives!

Credits: This episode’s music is Fella by Hal Mayforth, used with permission from the artist. The episode was recorded at stately Virtual Memories Manor on 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 my 2020 books by me. It’s on my instagram.

Virtual Memories Show 410:
Phillip Lopate

“This book is like a tracing of American history through the essay. The essay is way to process ideas. All these problems we face in America I came to realize we had cycled through again and again: immigration, racism, sexism, disabilities. All of these questions of inclusion and exclusion have been tackled by the essay.”

Essayist and editor Phillip Lopate rejoins the show to celebrate the publication of The Glorious American Essay: One Hundred Essays From Colonial Times To The Present (Pantheon). We talk about the origins of this anthology & how it transformed into a three-part series (two more coming next year!), Phillip’s self-admitted megalomania about the essay form, how the essay both paralleled and helped change American thought over the centuries, and just what’s so Glorious about The Glorious American Essay. We get into the challenge of limiting the collection to 100 essays, the value of canons and the need to revise them, the postwar golden age of the essay, the challenge of compiling work from the 21st century, and Emerson’s role as the key to the American essay (and how Phillip came to understand him through reading his notebooks). We also get into how his pandemic is going, how his students’ essays about lockdown life are better than some of the ones he’s read from older writers, his take on the Mets’ new ownership and why he’s glad sports came back during COVID, and what it was like to read so deeply in the history of American essays and thought during the Trump presidency. Give it a listen! And go read The Glorious American Essay: One Hundred Essays From Colonial Times To The Present!

“One of the plights of the anthologist is that, no matter how many pages they give you, if you just had 200 or 300 more pages, you could really nail that sucker.”

“When someone asked me about this project, ‘What about your own work?’, I said, ‘This IS my own work.’ I’m giving four or five years of my life to being the keeper of the essay.”

“My limitation as an anthologist, and perhaps as a teacher, is that I’m always looking for a spark of humor or irony. Solemnity turns me off.”

“The great thing about writing is that sometimes you write something and then you lose it as a living memory, because now you’re remembering what you wrote about it. Writing replaces the memory.”

“The way I see my own work is connected to tradition, connected to the past, connected to Montaigne, and Hazlitt, and Lamb.”

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

Phillip Lopate is the author of To Show and To Tell: The Craft of Literary Nonfiction, and of four essay collections: Bachelorhood, Against Joie de Vivre, Portrait of My Body, and Portrait Inside My Head. He is the editor of the anthologies The Art of the Personal Essay, Writing New York, and American Movie Critics, as well as the author of Waterfront: A Walk Around Manhattan, Notes on Sontag, and Totally Tenderly Tragically. A professor of writing at Columbia University’s nonfiction MFA program, he lives in Brooklyn. He is the editor of the new anthology The Glorious American Essay.

Listen to our previous conversations from 2013 and 2017.

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 Phillip by me from 2017. It’s on my instagram.