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!




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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.

Virtual Memories Show 408:
Celia Paul

“I’ve got rid of paintings I was very pleased with but which I knew needed to go deeper. It’s an extremely painful process; I’ve been kept awake at night, driving myself insane with remembering what I’ve lost. Images that I’ve painted over remorselessly come back to haunt me.”

With her wonderful new memoir, SELF-PORTRAIT (NYRB), celebrated life-painter Celia Paul explores her life as an artist, the evolution of her portraiture, her need for a Virginia Woolf-ian Room of One’s Own, and her 10-year relationship with Lucian Freud (c.1978-88). We get into the influence she and Freud had on each other’s work, how she took control of her life and her art, the moral component of life-painting, the importance of being selfish, the conflict for women artists between being loved and following your own path, her affinity for the artist Gwen John, her antipathy toward the word “muse,” and how much she flat-out hates being called an artist “in her own right”. We talk about the influence of Collette & Duras on her writing, her decision to incorporate her journals in the memoir and the continuity of self they reveal, why she only paints portraits of people she knows well (and why her paintings of her sister Kate as self-portraits), the uses of stillness, how she re-evaluated her life after Lucian Freud’s death in 2011, why letters are like painting, and much more. Give it a listen! And go read SELF-PORTRAIT!

“I think I was deflected from my purpose by being influenced by Lucian Freud in one crucial aspect: he was very interested in the balances of power between people, between lovers particularly.”

“I think my sister Kate & I know each other so well we hardly need to speak. A lot of the portraits I’ve done of Kate here self-portraits by proxy. She expresses what I feel. There’s nobody else in the world I’ve felt that uncanny connection to.”

“It’s so difficult to be ambitious about your own work and also be desirable. There’s a conflict between being loved and following your own path.”

“One of the saddest things about death is losing the particularity of the person: the way the mouth covers over the teeth, the way they talk, and all that. And how can heaven or some kind of Christian notion of the afterlife compare to that kind of intimate knowledge of an individual?”

“The thing about art is there always has to be a certain distance, or it doesn’t have authenticity.”

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

Celia Paul was born in 1959 and studied at the Slade School of Fine Art. Her work has been exhibited internationally and is in the collections of the British Museum, the National Portrait Gallery (London), and the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Her major solo exhibitions include Celia Paul, curated by Hilton Als, at the Yale Center for British Art (2018) and the Huntington Art Museum, San Marino, California (2019); and Desdemona for Celia by Hilton at Gallery Met, New York (2015–16). Her work was included in the group exhibition All Too Human at Tate Britain (2018). She lives and works in London. Her new book is SELF-PORTRAIT.

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 Celia Paul at her studio in London by Alice Mann/Institute, for The New York Times. Photo of Painter and Model, 2012, by Celia Paul, © Celia Paul, courtesy the artist and Victoria Miro, London / Venice. It’s on my instagram.

Virtual Memories Show 406:
David Shields

“So much of American history has been a fairy-tale children’s history, and so much of Trump’s dealing with COVID was a Norman Vincent Peale ‘think positively and it’ll all go away.’ So much of the connection is an absence of reality hunger, not to name-check my own work.”

In 2018, essayist David Shields wrote Nobody Hates Trump More Than Trump: An Intervention (Thought Catalog). For Election Day 2020, we decided to revisit that book, how he would write it differently now, and why Trump is the Bizarro World’s Personal Essayist #1. I prompt David with the adventitious sight of a car that bore the message, “Compassion Is Another Word For Control,” and we go off to the conversational races, talking politics, the superior messaging tactics of the right-wing, concerns about far-left cultural policies, faith in radical skeptical intelligence, the absence of reality hunger vis-a-vis the history of America, why rage isn’t a primary emotion but rather a cover for fear and pain, the lessons of Howard Stern, and why “An Intervention” is not for Trump but for the American people. Give it a listen! And go read David’s books!

“I’m really interested in strength, weakness, confessionality, brokenness, and woundedness, and obviously Trump and I approach those in very different ways.”

“The conversation is not getting this guy right. In terms of the left media coverage, it’s wrong in the sense that it’s just the taxi-meter running on their moral indignation, covering Trump 90% to Biden’s 10%.”

“It’s like Antonio Porchia said: ‘Man is weak and when he makes strength his profession, he makes himself weaker.'”

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

David Shields is the internationally bestselling author of twenty-two books, including Reality Hunger (recently named one of the 100 most important books of the last decade by LitHub), The Thing About Life Is That One Day You’ll Be Dead (New York Times bestseller), Black Planet (finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award), and Other People: Takes & Mistakes (NYTBR Editors’ Choice). Nobody Hates Trump More Than Trump: An Intervention was published in 2018; The Trouble With Men: Reflections on Sex, Love, Marriage, Porn, and Power appeared in 2019. James Franco’s film adaptation of I Think You’re Totally Wrong: A Quarrel, which Shields co-wrote and co-stars in, was released in 2017 (available now on Amazon Prime, iTunes/Apple TV, Vudu, Vimeo, Kanopy, and Google Play). Shields wrote, produced, and directed Marshawn Lynch: A History, a 2019 documentary about Marshawn Lynch’s use of silence, echo, and mimicry as key tools of resistance (rave reviews in the New Yorker, Nation, and dozens of other publications; film festival awards all over the world; available now on Sundance TV/AMC, Amazon Prime, iTunes/Apple TV, Google Play, etc.). A recipient of Guggenheim and NEA fellowships and a senior contributing editor of Conjunctions, Shields has published fiction and nonfiction in the New York Times Magazine, Harper’s, Esquire, Yale Review, Salon, Slate, Tin House, A Public Space, McSweeney’s, Believer, Huffington Post, Los Angeles Review of Books, and Best American Essays. His work has been translated into two dozen languages.

Follow David on Twitter, Facebook 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 David by someone else. Photo of us from 2019 by me. They’re on my instagram.

Virtual Memories Show 402:
Darryl Pinckney

“The vote has to be rethought in our American hearts as a radical act, because so many people don’t want you to vote. We have to think about the vote as the center of American culture and American purpose, that cuts across lines of identity that people have drawn so vividly.”

Writer and cultural critic Darryl Pinckney joins the show to celebrate the new edition of Blackballed: The Black Vote and US Democracy (NYRB) and the paperback of Busted in New York and Other Essays (Picador). We talk about revisiting his Obama-era writings in the post-2016 world, the importance of the vote and the question of whether there’s a Black vote, or Black voters. We discuss his surprise at the persistence of makeup of the BLM protests, his place in the historical chain and the moment he felt out of touch, and his history at the New York Review of Books and its roots in the anti-Vietnam War movement. We also get into the fractured relationship between Jews and Blacks (following their close ties during the civil rights movement), the companionship of books during the pandemic, the commodification of the arts, the memoir he’s working on about Elizabeth Hardwick and 1970s NYC, and more, including an image I’ve pondered for years: Jesse Jackson’s tears the night of Obama’s election in 2008. Give it a listen! And go read Blackballed and Busted in New York!

“Our generation didn’t think we were getting older the way we saw the previous generation get older. People made the mistake of thinking their children were their friends. They’re not; they’re your judges.”

“The past is so case by case, there’s no one rule for confronting it. Because there’s no end to what you can find out.”

“We have a lot of books, most of which I’ve not read. Now that I’m aware time is running out, I’m more enchanted by the book as an object than ever. The companionship of a book at a time like this means a lot to me.”

“None of this was ever certain. That things worked out the way they did is the surprise.”

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

Darryl Pinckney, a longtime contributor to The New York Review of Books, is the author of the novel High Cotton (winner of a Los Angeles Times Book Prize), and the works of nonfiction, Blackballed: The Black Vote and US Democracy, Out There: Mavericks of Black Literature, and Busted in New York and Other Essays. He is a recipient of the Harold D. Vursell Memorial Award for Distinguished Prose from the American Academy of Arts and Letters. He lives in New York.

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. Banner photo of Darryl by Dominique Pinckney; office photo by by Rich Gilligan. It’s on my instagram.