Virtual Memories Show 312:
Bram Presser

“To me, this is a book about how we tell stories, and how we come to understand stories.”

What sort of person breaks into Auschwitz? An author — and semi-reformed punk rocker, recovering academic and occasional criminal lawyer — in search of answers. Bram Presser joins the show to talk about his award-winning, fantastic debut novel The Book of Dirt, a memoir-fiction hybrid about his family’s experience in the Shoah. We get into the myths of how his grandfather survived the concentration camps and what they meant for his family and his book, the years of detective work (and the lucky breaks) researching his grandparents’ stories and records and the limits of knowing anyone else’s life, the exceptionalist vibe of Czech Jews, the stories he was afraid to learn and the heroism that redeemed his great-grandmother and her family, the challenges of researching an unheard-of story of survival when archivists are already put off by your punk-rock appearance, and how Bram avoided Holocaust cliches while giving agency, dignity and social dynamics to the prisoners in the camps. We also get into Bram’s worries about feedback from his mentor Dasa Drndic, the value of documentary fiction, the aspects of his other careers that supported his ability to write The Book of Dirt, that Auschwitz break-in, and why Talmudkommando would have been a better name for his Jewish punk band than Yidcore. Give it a listen! And go buy The Book of Dirt!

“One thing I took from writing this book is that we really don’t know much about the people we love. We accept an idea of who they are, but that’s all we have.”

“Every time I talk about the book and about my grandparents, I feel like I’m spending more time with them. It’s a way for me to get to know them and understand them.”


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

Scruffy scrivener. Semi-reformed punk rocker. Recovering academic. Occasional criminal lawyer. Two-time cartoon character. After schlepping around the world for 10 years in the acclaimed punk band Yidcore, Bram Presser realized he was getting too old to sleep on concrete floors and smear hummus over himself every night. Swapping the rubber chicken for a fountain pen, he has since dedicated himself to writing. In 2011, Bram won The Age Short Story Award and since then his stories have appeared in Best Australian Stories, Award-Winning Australian Writing, The Sleepers Almanac, and Higher Arc. His debut novel, The Book of Dirt, was published in Australia in 2017 by Text Publishing to wide acclaim and went on to the New South Wales Premier’s Literary Award for Fiction, Best New Writer and People’s Choice Awards in 2018, as well as the prestigious Voss Literary Prize. The novel was published in the U.S. in 2018 and recently won the Goldberg Prize for Debut Fiction at the National Jewish Book Awards.

Credits: This episode’s music is Fella by Hal Mayforth, used with permission from the artist. The conversation was recorded at AKA Central Park on a pair of Blue enCORE 200 Microphones feeding into a Zoom H5 digital recorder. I recorded the intro and outro 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 Mr. Presser by me. It’s on my instagram.

Virtual Memories Show 311:
Martin Hägglund

“Only a being who is finite and anxious about their finitude can lead a spiritual life.”

What if we treated our finite lives as a feature instead of a bug? How would we revalue our time and how could that shape our society? In his new book, This Life: Secular Faith and Spiritual Freedom (Pantheon Books), Professor Martin Hagglund explores how life becomes enriched when we discard the eternal in favor of seeing the lives we live together as the highest good. We talk about how the notion of an afterlife devalues the life we live, the ways our implicit experiences are rendered explicit by philosophy and literature, and how a rethinking of the value of our time can lead to a revaluing of labor and a critique of capital (no, really!). We get into my favorite topic — anxiety! — as well as the inextricability of existential and economic questions, the invisible labor that makes our lives possible/comfortable, the conceptions of time and memory captured by Proust and Knausgaard, the all-important difference between valuing socially necessary labor time and socially available free time, and how the life of Martin Luther King, Jr. embodies a lot of Martin’s arguments about finitude and a better world. Give it a listen! And go buy This Life: Secular Faith and Spiritual Freedom!

“If you’re really going to think about the relation of time and value, you’re going to end up in economics, but not in the modern sense, but the economy as intrinsic to social relations and spiritual life itself.”

“As a kid, I was interested in Bible exegeses, but for philosophical reasons.”

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

Martin Hägglund is a professor of comparative literature and humanities at Yale University. A member of the Society of Fellows at Harvard University, he is the author of three highly acclaimed books, and his work has been translated into eight languages. In his native Sweden, he published his first book, Chronophobia, at the age of twenty-five. His first book in English, Radical Atheism: Derrida and the Time of Life, was the subject of a conference at Cornell University and a colloquium at Oxford University. His most recent book, Dying for Time: Proust, Woolf, Nabokov, was hailed by the Los Angeles Review of Books as a “revolutionary” achievement. He was awarded a Guggenheim Fellowship in 2018. He lives in New York City. His new book is This Life: Secular Faith and Spiritual Freedom.

Credits: This episode’s music is Fella by Hal Mayforth, used with permission from the artist. The conversation was recorded at the Penguin Random House offices on a pair of Blue enCORE 200 Microphones feeding into a Zoom H5 digital recorder. I recorded the intro and outro 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. Nice photo of Prof Hägglund uncredited. Office photo of Prof. Hägglund by me. It’s on my instagram.

Virtual Memories Show 304:
Edmund White

“Queerness has become less arty, less intellectual, less cultural, more physical, more gym-oriented, more commercial. Lady Gaga instead of Maria Callas.”

Novelist, memoirist, essayist and queer literary icon Edmund White joins the show to talk about his new memoir, The Unpunished Vice: A Life of Reading (Bloomsbury USA)! We get into how his implied reader has changed identities over the years, the differences between writing memoir, autofiction and imaginative fiction, the boom and bust of the “gay fiction” bookstore category, the challenges of his massive biography of Genet and how he navigated about French attitudes toward gossip, and having the gay version of a shotgun wedding. We also get into his HIV diagnosis in 1985, outliving what he thought was a two-year death sentence, and being crazy enough to take on a long-term writing project in the midst of it. In between, we get to his status as a blurb-slut, what it’s like for him to write on a computer for the first time, the pressure to write for a gay audience and how The Flaneur opened him up to a very different reader, and more! Give it a listen! And go buy The Unpunished Vice: A Life of Reading!

“I hate the term ‘creative nonfiction,’ which always sounds to me like, you know, lying.”

“I felt my Genet biography was political. I wanted to remind people that gays had a history before AIDS and that it didn’t just involve disease.”

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, Tumblr, and RSS!

About our Guest

Edmund White is the author of many novels, including A Boy’s Own Story: A Novel, The Beautiful Room Is Empty, The Farewell Symphony, and Our Young Man. His nonfiction includes City Boy, Inside a Pearl, and other memoirs; The Flaneur, about Paris; and literary biographies and essays, including Genet: A Biography and Marcel Proust: A Life. He was named winner of the 2018 PEN/Saul Bellow Award for Achievement in American Fiction. He lives in New York. His most recent book is The Unpunished Vice: A Life of Reading.

Credits: This episode’s music is Fella by Hal Mayforth, used with permission from the artist. The conversation was recorded at Mr. White’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 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 Mr. White by me. It’s on my instagram.

 Virtual Memories Show 302:
Jerome Charyn

“In most historical novels, you’re dealing with events, and I’m really dealing with trauma and wounds.”

On the latest stop on his blog tour, author Jerome Charyn joins the show to talk about his new novel, The Perilous Adventures of the Cowboy King: A Novel of Teddy Roosevelt and His Times (Liveright Publishing). We get into the image that inspired the book, the challenges & rewards of historical fiction, and the quest to separate Teddy Roosevelt’s myth from his story. Along the way, we get into ping pong, whether LeBron James should have gone somewhere besides LA, the magic of Allegra Kent & Balanchine’s ballet, the loneliness of Van Gogh’s garret, the joy of collaborating on graphic novels, and the miracle of Jerome becoming a writer. Leave a comment about this episode below to enter a raffle to win Jerome’s new book & a his earlier novel, I Am Abraham: A Novel of Lincoln and the Civil War! Check out the rest of the blog tour in support of The Perilous Adventures of the Cowboy King! Give it a listen! And go buy The Perilous Adventures of the Cowboy King: A Novel of Teddy Roosevelt and His Times!

”I’m afraid of everything, but I’m fearless on the page. Everything frightens me, but writing doesn’t frighten me.”

“In America today, everything is monetized, and nothing has value.”


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, Tumblr, and RSS!

About our Guest

Jerome Charyn is an award-winning American author. With more than 50 published works, Charyn has earned a long-standing reputation as an inventive and prolific chronicler of real and imagined American life.

Pulitzer Prize-winning novelist Michael Chabon calls him “one of the most important writers in American literature.” New York Newsday hailed Charyn as “a contemporary American Balzac,” and the Los Angeles Times described him as “absolutely unique among American writers.”

Since the 1964 release of Charyn’s first novel, Once Upon a Droshky, he has published thirty novels, three memoirs, eight graphic novels, two books about film, short stories, plays, and works of non-fiction. Two of his memoirs were named New York TimesBook of the Year.

Charyn has been a finalist for the PEN/Faulkner Award for Fiction. He received the Rosenthal Award from the American Academy of Arts and Letters and was named Commander of Arts and Letters by the French Minister of Culture. Charyn is Distinguished Professor Emeritus of Film Studies at the American University of Paris.

In addition to writing and teaching, Charyn is a tournament table tennis player, once ranked in the top ten percent of players in France. Noted novelist Don DeLillo called Charyn’s book on table tennis, Sizzling Chops & Devilish Spins, “The Sun Also Rises of ping-pong.”

Charyn’s most recent novel, Jerzy, was described by The New Yorker as a “fictional fantasia” about the life of Jerzy Kosinski, the controversial author of The Painted Bird.  In 2010, Charyn wrote The Secret Life of Emily Dickinson, an imagined autobiography of the renowned poet, a book characterized by Joyce Carol Oates as a “fever-dream picaresque.”

Charyn lives in New York City.  He’s currently working with artists Asaf and Tomer Hanuka on an animated television series based on his Isaac Sidel crime novels.

Credits: This episode’s music is Fella by Hal Mayforth, used with permission from the artist. The conversation was recorded at Jerome’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 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 & racket by me. It’s on my instagram.

Virtual Memories Show:
The Guest List 2018 and Bill Kartalopoulos

Comics scholar (and curator, and editor, and educator) Bill Kartalopoulos joins the show to talk about his role as the series editor of Best American Comics (HMH)! We get into the process of winnowing down the year’s best, working with a new guest editor each year, Bill’s history in comics, the challenges of fitting everything to a standard page size, programming festivals and his tricks for getting a weird mix of panelists, his upcoming general history of North American comics, and plenty more! Give it a listen (Bill’s conversation starts at 46:00) and pick up this year’s edition of The Best American Comics 2018!

But first, it’s time for our year-end Virtual Memories Show tradition: The Guest List! I reached out to 2018’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 2019! Nearly 3 dozen responded with a dizzying array of books. (I participated, too!) Just in time for you to make some Christmas purchases (or a belated Hanukkah gift), The Virtual Memories Show offers up a huge list of books that you’re going to want to read! Give it a listen, and get ready to update your wish lists!

This year’s Guest List episode features selections from nearly 3 dozen of our recent guests (and one bonus guest)! 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.

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

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

About our Guests

The guests who participated in this year’s Guest List are Jerry Beck, Christopher Brown, Dave Calver, Roz Chast, Mark Dery, Michael Gerber, Cathy B Graham, Dean Haspiel, Steven Heller, Richard Kadrey, Paul Karasik, Ken Krimstein, Nora Krug, John Leland, Alberto Manguel, Hal Mayforth, Dave McKean, Mark Newgarden, Audrey Niffenegger, Jim Ottaviani, Robert Andrew Parker, Shachar Pinsker, Nathaniel Popkin, Chris Reynolds, Lance Richardson, JJ Sedelmaier, David Small, Willard Spiegelman, Levi Stahl, Lavie Tidhar, Mark Ulriksen, Irvin Ungar, Henry Wessells . . . and me, Gil Roth! Check out their episodes at our archives!

About our Guest

Bill Kartalopoulos is a comics critic, educator, curator and editor. He is the Series Editor for the #1 New York Times best-selling Best American Comics series published annually by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. He teaches classes at Parsons and at SVA. He lives in Brooklyn, where he is writing a book about comics.

Credits: This episode’s music is Fella by Hal Mayforth, used with permission from the artist. The conversation was recorded at Bill Kartalopoulos’ home on a pair of Blue enCORE 200 Microphones feeding into a Zoom H5 digital recorder. I recorded the intro and outro 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 Bill by me. It’s on my instagram.