26: RTB Books in Dark Times 3 Plotz/Ferry

For the third installment of Books in Dark Times, inspired by our global moment, Elizabeth and John turned inward.

We started with a book that you might not think would be so comforting, Daniel Defoe’s A Journal of the Plague Year (1722) about the plague in London “during the last Great Visitation in 1665.”

Continue reading “26: RTB Books in Dark Times 3 Plotz/Ferry”

25 RTB: Books in Dark Times 2 Stephen McCauley (JP)

On March 20th, John talked to Stephen McCauley, author of such brilliant comic novels as Object of My Affection (also a Jennifer Aniston movie) and most recently My Ex-Life.

Steve brings light to dark corners in this the second installment of Books in Dark Times. He sings the praises of Charles Dickens, of Anthony Trollope (Elizabeth, offstage, chuckles delightedly) and the world-escaping delights of both Waugh’s Brideshead Revisited and the Mapp and Lucia novels of E. F. Benson. He concludes with sweet words for the sour genius of a trio of late 20th century American pessimists: Joan Didion, Dorothy Baker and Iris Owens.

Charles Dickens, “Little Dorrit” (1855-7)

W.S. Merwin, “The Essential

Hilary Mantel, “Wolf Hall” (2009)

Anthony Trollope, “The Last Chronicle of Barset” (1867)

Pierre Choderlos de Laclos, “Dangerous Liaisons” (1782)

P.G. Wodehouse, Jeeves Series

Evelyn Waugh, “Brideshead Revisited” (1945)

A still from the British television series, Brideshead Revisited

E. F Benson, Mapp and Lucia (1920-1939)

Christina Stead House of All Nations (1938; difficult genius, says Steve..)

Joan Didion, “Democracy” (1984)

Joan Didion, “Play It as it Lays” (1970)

Dorothy Baker “Cassandra at the Wedding” (1962)

Iris Owens, “After Claude” (1973; says Steve, you need suicide and even suicide wont help you…she gets abandoned by the cult even…)

Patricia Highsmith, the Ripley novels (1955-70)

Patrick White, “The Eye of the Storm” (1973)

[and of course, those penguins.…]

Listen to the Episode here:

Read the Transcript here:

Coming Soon: John and Elizabeth sit down together to discuss their own Books in Dark Times. Beth Blum on Self-Help from Dale Carnegie to its grim neo-Stoic present. Further BDT conversations with David Plotz, Seeta Chaganti and many more…..

19: Scientists, collaboration, and groupthink with Albion Lawrence (EF, JP)

In this episode John and Elizabeth sit down with Brandeis string theorist Albion Lawrence to discuss cooperation versus solitary study across disciplines. They sink their teeth into the question, “Why do scientists seem to do collaboration and teamwork better than other kinds of scholars and academics?” 

The conversation ranges from the merits of collective biography to the influence of place and geographic location in scientific collaboration to mountaineering traditions in the sciences.  As a Recallable Book, Elizabeth champions The People of Puerto Rico, an experiment in ethnography of a nation (in this case under colonial rule) from 1956, including a chapter by Robert Manners, founding chair of the Brandeis Department of Anthropology. Albion sings the praises of a collective biography of the Art Ensemble of Chicago, A Message to Our Folks. But John stays true to his Victorianist roots by praising the contrasting images of the withered humanist Casaubon and the dashing young scientist Lydgate in George Eliot’s own take on collective biography, Middlemarch.

Continue reading “19: Scientists, collaboration, and groupthink with Albion Lawrence (EF, JP)”

Episode 14x: Afterthoughts about the Cixin Liu interview (Pu Wang and John)

In May, John and Pu interviewed SF superstar Cixin Liu (you will want to listen to that episode before this one). In August they entered the studio again to work on the final edits for that interview in both its Chinese and English versions. While they were there, they took some time to reflect on the most significant things that Liu had said, and to ponder the political situation for contemporary Chinese writers who come to the West to discuss their work.

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In the original interview, Pu leans forward to fine-tune a translation….
Continue reading “Episode 14x: Afterthoughts about the Cixin Liu interview (Pu Wang and John)”

Episode 5: The Comic Novel with Stephen McCauley

On this episode of Recall This Book, John talks to Stephen McCauley, a novelist and Professor of the Practice of English and Co-director of Creative Writing at Brandeis. Nobody knows more about the comic novel than Steve, and there is no comic novelist he loves better than Barbara Pym, a mid-century British comic genius who found herself forgotten and unpublishable in middle age, only to roar back into print in her sixties. Steve and John’s friendship over the years has been sealed by the favorite Pym lines they text back and forth to one another, so they are particularly keen to investigate why her career went in this way. Continue reading “Episode 5: The Comic Novel with Stephen McCauley”

Episode 2: Addiction with Gina Turrigiano

In this episode, John and Elizabeth speak with Gina Turrigiano, a neuroscientist at Brandeis, about a number of different facets of addiction. What makes an addiction to a morning constitutional different from–or similar to–an addiction to Fentanyl? What are the biological and social factors to consider? Should the addict be thought of in binary terms, or addiction as a state that people move into and out of? They contemplate these questions through biological, anthropological, and literary lenses, drawing on Marc Lewis, Angela Garcia, and Thomas de Quincey. Late in the episode, there’s also a Sprockets joke. Then, in Recallable Books, Gina recommends David Linden’s The Compass of Pleasure, Elizabeth recommends When I Wear My Alligator Boots by Shaylih Muehlmann, and John recommends Sam Quinones’s Dreamland. Continue reading “Episode 2: Addiction with Gina Turrigiano”

Episode 1: Minimalism with Tory Fair

In this episode, John and Elizabeth speak with Tory Fair, sculptor and professor in the Art Department at Brandeis about minimalism. They discuss the difference in involvement expected from the viewer of a minimalist work and other work, and compare modes of minimalism, from Donald Judd to Samuel Beckett to Marie Kondo. Their discussion of the correct amount of guidance to expect or to want from an artist also turns to a lively chat on the experience of going to the museum, and whether that is best approached as directed by the artist or curator, or as a search for an unexpected occurrence. Then in Recallable Art, Tory recommends the Daybook Installation at DIA by Anne Truitt, and John recommends Aesop’s fables. Continue reading “Episode 1: Minimalism with Tory Fair”