The Virtual Memories Show

On May 4, 2021, news came out that rock & roll journalist and historian Ed Ward was found dead in his home in Austin, TX. In honor of Ed's work, I've collected our podcast conversations from 2016 and 2019. We were ostensibly there to discuss the first and second volumes of his History of Rock & Roll, but Ed can TALK, and we managed to go both wide & deep on a variety of subjects. I was hoping against hope for Vol. 3, so we could continue our conversation. • More info at our site

Direct download: Ed_Ward_Tribute_Episode.mp3
Category:general -- posted at: 3:40pm EDT

With the new edition of Billionaires: The Lives of the Rich an Powerful (Drawn & Quarterly), cartoonist Darryl Cunningham explores the lives and businesses of Rupert Murdoch, the Koch Brothers, and Jeff Bezos to understand how they built their wealth and warped the lives of the rest of us in the process. Darryl talks about the genesis of Billionaires and its roots in his earlier work on the 2008 financial crisis, and why this book won't (necessarily) turn you into a communist. We get into his roots as a cartoonist, how a failed branch of his career made him a better writer and researcher, why getting technically better creates its own set of problems, and the comics that first inspired him. We also discuss his upcoming book on Putin & Russia, and whether the trolls and bots that might come after him online will be tougher than the homeopaths and chiropractors who got mad at his book on science denial. Plus, we talk about his new work with the NHS and why he's trying to avoid doing books on Brexit or Trump. Follow Darryl on Twitter, and Instagram and support his work through Patreon • More info at our site • Support The Virtual Memories Show via Patreon or Paypal

Direct download: Episode_433_-_Darryl_Cunningham.mp3
Category:general -- posted at: 7:04am EDT

Legendary cartoonist & humorist Shary Flenniken joins the show to celebrate the long overdue collection of her amazing Trots & Bonnie comics (New York Review Comics). We get into her process of selecting the strips from Trots & Bonnie's ~20-year run at National Lampoon, her realization of how funny her comics still are, the joy of seeing the restored artwork, and the fun of providing annotations for each of the strips. We talk about her time among the Air Pirates, the great advice she got from Charles Vess, what she learned during her stint as an editor at National Lampoon, the importance of Kermode's The Sense Of An Ending and the challenge of a punchline, the impact of her comics on their intended and unintended audiences, and whether she considers her art's place in the history of underground comics. We also discuss our dogs, her lifelong love of popular fiction, her new comics work, her favorite pen nib and her shift to digital art, and a whole lot more. Follow Shary on Twitter and Instagram • More info at our site • Support The Virtual Memories Show via Patreon or Paypal

Direct download: Episode_432_-_Shary_Flenniken.mp3
Category:general -- posted at: 8:51am EDT

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. • More info at our site • Support The Virtual Memories Show via Patreon or Paypal

Direct download: Episode_431_-_Louis_Menand.mp3
Category:general -- posted at: 9:26am EDT

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, 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! Follow Jesse on Twitter • More info at our site • Support The Virtual Memories Show via Patreon or Paypal

Direct download: Episode_430_-_Jesse_Sheidlower.mp3
Category:general -- posted at: 10:00am EDT

How will we remember and recover from the last 5 years? National Book Award-winning cartoonist Nate Powell's new collection, Save It For Later: Promises, Parenthood, and the Urgency of Protest (Abrams ComicArts) explores America's fractures and its hopes for the future. We talk about the impetus of the book, how it follows his work adapting Rep. John Lewis' story in the MARCH trilogy, and how his conversations with the late congressman scared him even more about the impact of the previous presidential administration. We get into the Save It For Later's balancing act of memoir & essay, his decision to draw his kids as magical animals, what MARCH taught him about comics storytelling and how it influenced his recent work. We also discuss the irony of Gen X's apolitical nature, Nate's punk ethos, the combo of thrash metal & X-Men comics that instilled a social conscience in him, the delight of visiting the quarter bins in his childhood comic shop when he goes home, why not being an activist doesn't equal being a defeatist, and a lot more. Follow Nate on Twitter and Instagram • More info at our site • Support The Virtual Memories Show via Patreon or Paypal

Direct download: Episode_429_-_Nate_Powell.mp3
Category:general -- posted at: 9:16am EDT

Cartoonist Michael DeForge joins the show to celebrate his amazing new graphic story collection, Heaven No Hell (Drawn & Quarterly). We get into his prolific comics career, his compulsion to jump genres, the ways we relitigate the traumas of our lives, and why he digs he self-imposed challenge of a daily comic strip (on top of his other comics and his illustration work). We get into how revolutionary politics permeates his art and how he engages in community activism, what it means to rethink our relationship to social media, why technology will always outpace his attempts at ridiculing it, and why Reading The Comments led him to explore a creative path when he was making Leaving Richard's Valley. We also discuss the uses of absurdism & satire, how his dystopian stories have him rooting for utopian ideas, how he bullied his way into judging butter tart competitions, and more. Follow Michael on Twitter and Instagram and follow his current serial, Birds Of Maine, on Instagram • More info at our site • Support The Virtual Memories Show via Patreon or Paypal

Direct download: Episode_428_-_Michael_DeForge.mp3
Category:general -- posted at: 11:37am EDT

It's been a year since I started the COVID Check-In series of podcasts, so I decided to return to the very first guest in that series, artist Kate Lacour, to celebrate! (You know what I mean.) We talk about how her life has changed over a year in Pandemia, and how the urge to document those first few months gave way to other outlets. In her case, Kate rediscovered herself through taxidermy. We get into how she taught herself the rudiments of that art through YouTube and online groups, her philosophy of animals and bodies, the question of realism vs. subjectivity, and why New Orleans is an awfully good place to make a living as a taxidermist. We go deeper into what comics mean to her and how she may return to them, the post-pandemic trip she wants to take, what progress looks like in the sequence of animals she's preserved, and more. Follow Kate on Twitter and Instagram and support her via Patreon • More info at our site • Support The Virtual Memories Show via Patreon or Paypal

Direct download: Episode_427_-_Kate_Lacour.mp3
Category:general -- posted at: 9:42pm EDT

Finnish novelist Laura Lindstedt joins the show to celebrate the US publication of My Friend Natalia (Liveright, tr. David Hackston). We get into the challenges of translating a novel that's all about the therapy sessions of an extremely literate and hypersexual patient, how the therapist's method parallels Laura's writing process, and my meta-theory of who's actually narrating this amazing novel. We also talk about the influence of Nathalie Sarraute's poetics and the literary notion of Tropism (physical reaction of natural world), Helsinki's book-life and how it's changed in recent years, the joy of playing with the Finnish language and its etymologies, and the notion of gendered writing and why Laura chose to keep the narrator non-gendered (and why that made the audiobook a challenge). Plus, I get to founder over Finnish names, and Laura tells us the place she really wants to visit when we're post-pandemic. Follow Laura on Twitter and Instagram • More info at our site • Support The Virtual Memories Show via Patreon or Paypal

Direct download: Episode_426_-_Laura_Lindstedt.mp3
Category:general -- posted at: 7:24pm EDT

Literary and feminist legend Vivian Gornick joins the show to celebrate her new collection, Taking A Long Look: Essays on Culture, Literature, and Feminism in Our Time (Verso Press). We talk about the biggest shock of looking back at her work for this career-spanning collection, why she organized it from most recent to oldest, and the difference between being smart and being wise. We get into the process of discovering her voice and figuring out she's a minimalist, how she got better at judging her own work, her criteria for culling books from her apartment (and her embarrassment when one showed up in an unexpected place), the importance of rereading (and why she wrote a book about it), and why the New York Review of Books recently said she "has long enjoyed an audience of literary depressives and feminists". We also discuss her 1970s essays on feminism, the movement's evolution in the past 50 years, how the Brilliant Exception became the rule, why political correctness if different than ideological splits, the New York she loves most, and why she's dying to go to a movie theater again. More info at our site • Support The Virtual Memories Show via Patreon or Paypal

Direct download: Episode_425_-_Vivian_Gornick.mp3
Category:general -- posted at: 6:44pm EDT

What price fame? With her debut novel, We Play Ourselves (Random House), writer and playwright Jen Silverman tells a comedic tale of theater life gone wrong, internet humiliation, a teenage feminist fight club, queer absurdist puppetry, the boundaries of documentary filmmaking, and a lot more. We get into the roots of her novel, what writing for theater and TV/film taught her and what she had to unlearn for this book, how she balanced her love for absurdism with narrative realism, and how to figure out which stories belong in which medium. We talk about the difference between "theater" and "Broadway" and how the pandemic has wiped out the communal experience of theater (for now), how the economics of theater can perpetuate a lack of diversity and how it feels to be "the woman" playwright in a season, how she learned to navigate the heightened unreality of LA, the difference in searching for The Path and finding A Path, why the hunger for being seen can warp pretty much all human activities, why she draws sad pandas, and more! Follow Jen on Twitter and Instagram • More info at our site • Support The Virtual Memories Show via Patreon or Paypal

Direct download: Episode_424_-_Jen_Silverman.mp3
Category:general -- posted at: 5:14pm EDT

With her latest graphic memoir, I Know You Rider (Drawn & Quarterly), Leslie Stein reveals a piece of her life that she'd never shared with anyone: her decision to have an abortion. We talk about why she chose to tell that story, how her family reacted to the book, why she told the story in a direct, unmediated narrative, what it was like to have the book come out in the early days of the pandemic, and her one regret about the experience itself. We get into her pandemic life, and why her new comic (currently being serialized on her Instagram) portrays the exact opposite: touring the country in a van with a band and playing music in crowded bars. We also discuss her dream-book of a history of Green-Wood Cemetery, what it's like to treat your life as content, and the one project that keeps making her run away into other projects. Follow Leslie on Instagram • More info at our site • Support The Virtual Memories Show via Patreon or Paypal

Direct download: Episode_423_-_Leslie_Stein.mp3
Category:general -- posted at: 7:51am EDT

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. More info at our site • Support The Virtual Memories Show via Patreon or Paypal

Direct download: Episode_422_-_Anahid_Nersessian.mp3
Category:general -- posted at: 8:06am EDT

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! Follow Kate on Twitter and Instagram • More info at our site • Support The Virtual Memories Show via Patreon or Paypal

Direct download: Episode_421_-_Kate_Maruyama.mp3
Category:general -- posted at: 1:27pm EDT

With Drawn & Quarterly publishing new editions of King-Cat Classix, Map of My Heart, and Perfect Example, what better time for John Porcellino to return to the podcast? We talk about how King-Cat Comics & Stories has evolved over the ~30 years (!) he's been making it, how the refinement of his art and storytelling mirrors the battle of intuition vs. OCD, and how his newest comics (even those written before 2020) reflect life during the pandemic. We get into how Buddhism has helped him cope with life and aging, his lurking concern that he has an expiration date, what he wants to accomplish before then, and what it means to publish issue #80 and to look at reaching #100. We also discuss the joyfully awful band Flipper and what it's like being Flipper for aspiring storytellers, the example Lynda Barry set for him, the influence John has had on my stories in recent years, his joy at seeing his name drawn by Robert Crumb, and why his new dog Arlo is A Good Boy even when he barks during podcasts. Follow John on Twitter and Instagram, and support his work via Patreon • More info at our site • Support The Virtual Memories Show via Patreon or Paypal

Direct download: Episode_420_-_John_Porcellino.mp3
Category:general -- posted at: 9:13am EDT

With her debut memoir, Aftershocks (Simon & Schuster), Nadia Owusu explores the fault lines of identity, race, and justice, and the ways trauma and myths are transmitted through the generations. We talk about her upbringing in Europe (UK& Italy) and Africa (Ghana, Tanzania & Ethiopia), the meanings of skin color in different cultures, her social justice work, and what she had to learn about race in America. We get into what it's like to live on high alert, how we reclaim our stories and reframe our world, how Aftershocks evolved from private project to public document, and how even thin soil can let us extend roots. Follow Nadia on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram • More info at our site • Support The Virtual Memories Show via Patreon or Paypal

Direct download: Episode_419_-_Nadia_Owusu.mp3
Category:general -- posted at: 6:24pm EDT

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. Follow Sven on Twitter and Instagram • More info at our site • Support The Virtual Memories Show via Patreon or Paypal

Direct download: Episode_418_-_Sven_Birkerts.mp3
Category:general -- posted at: 7:42am EDT

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 graduate writing program, and more. Follow Mark on Twitter and Instagram • More info at our site • Support The Virtual Memories Show via Patreon or Paypal

Direct download: Episode_417_-_Mark_Wunderlich.mp3
Category:general -- posted at: 10:28am EDT

"At 50, everyone has the face he deserves," said George Orwell, but he died at 47, so what does he know? To celebrate turning 50, I use an obscure Woody Allen movie to talk about why I can't take stock of my life. Then the good part: I ask nearly 40 guests of the podcast one question, "What do you wish you'd done before the pandemic?" (You can skip right to that at 18:45.) Participants include Witold Rybczynski, Kathe Koja, John Holl, Emily Flake, Wallis Wilde-Menozzi, Ian Kelley, David Townsend, John Bertagnolli, Jennifer Hayden, Richard Kadrey, Joan Marans Dim, Liniers, Sven Birkerts, Barbara Nessim, David Leopold, Tess Lewis, Ken Krimstein, Michael Shaw, Dmitry Samarov, Maria Alexander, Paul C. Tumey, Kyle Cassidy, Henry Wessells, Warren Woodfin, ES Glenn, Philip Boehm, Woodrow Phoenix, Rian Hughes, Alta L. Price, Derf Backderf, Frank Santoro, Boaz Roth, Carol Tyler, David Mikics, Michael Gerber, Walter Bernard, Whitney Matheson and Dean Haspiel! Follow me on Twitter and Instagram • More info at our site • Support The Virtual Memories Show via Patreon or Paypal

Direct download: Episode_416_-_Wendung.mp3
Category:general -- posted at: 7:54am EDT

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, 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. Follow Jerome on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram • More info at our site • Support The Virtual Memories Show via Patreon or Paypal

Direct download: Episode_415_-_Jerome_Charyn.mp3
Category:general -- posted at: 7:24am EDT

1