59 Recall This B-Side #4: Pardis Dabashi on “My Uncle Napoleon” (JP)

Iraj Pezeshkzad‘s My Uncle Napoleon is a slapstick and at times goofy love story, but it is also in the best tradition of sly anti-imperial satire. Scholar Pardis Dabashi came to it late, but she has all the convert’s zeal as she links it to a literary tradition that’s highly theoretical, but also delightfully far-flung. Plus, it makes her parents laugh….

Pardis’s talk with John is our last “Recall this B-Side,” drawn from the column John edits at  B-Side Books  and the book that collects 40 of these columns. It has been an unalloyed pleasure to spend June with this set of acoustic variations on the theme.

Surprise Announcement:

Humanities Podcast Network: Recall this Book is a founding member of a new organization designed to bring together scholars teachers and students who think that the future of the humanities is oral and aural. If you have always dreamed of starting your own podcast, or if you are an educator who has thought about using podcasting in a classroom–either by teaching episodes or by encouraging students to make their own!–please consider attending our inaugural Humanities Podcasting Symposium this October 15-16.

Mentioned in the episode:

Laurence Sterne, Tristram Shandy (1759-1767)

Sadegh Hedayat The Blind Owl ( 1936)”something kind of too much about it”; like Alain Robbe-Grillet and in some sense a continuation of the nouveau roman, but also expressionistic in a godless/abandoned world.

Listen and Read:

Upcoming episodes: In two weeks, Elizabeth sits down with Brandeis’ own Elizabeth Bradfield and her fellow poet Sean Hill to chew the lyrical fat.

Later in the summer comes a new series, which stems from our conversation with Thomas Piketty about the surprising political weakness of what he calls the “Brahmin Left”: parties that no longer command the allegiance of the working class or underclass, but instead rely on a highly educated base of support. Is this a fatal political error, a new development that holds potential for progressive politics, or something else altogether? We speak with experts on the left/right divide of both American and European politics, among them Matt Karp (This Vast Southern Empire) and Jan-Werner Muller (What is Populism?).

58 Recall this B-Side #3: Caleb Crain on Daisy Ashford’s “The Young Visiters” (JP)

John’s favorite avocation is editing a Public Books column called B-Side Books, where writers resurrect beloved but neglected books. Now comes a book that collects 40 of these columns (the Washington Post review was a big thumbs-up, and John talked about the B-side concept on  Five Books).  

This week’s B-Sider is celebrated American novelist Caleb Crain (Necessary Errors and Overthrow). When not photographing cowbirds and orioles for his brilliantly titled Steamboats are Ruining Everything, Caleb took time to read and report on the best novel ever written by an under-10, The Young Visiters.

Mentioned in This Episode

Anita Loos, Gentlemen Prefer Blondes (1925)

Fyodor Dostoyevsky, Notes from Underground (1864)

Flann O’Brien, The Third Policeman (written 1939)

Charlotte Bronte, Jane Eyre (1847); what Jane actually says to the odious Brocklehurst is that to avoid Hell ““I must keep in good health, and not die.”

Ursula Le Guin: just kept writing, specifically writing Earthsea books)

Barbara Comyns, Our Spoons Came from Woolworth’s

Jean Rhys, After Leaving Mr. Mackenzie

Winifred Watson, Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day (courtesy of the great Persephone Press)

Listen and Read

Upcoming Episodes

Our final Recall This B-Side is Pardis Dabashi’s eloquent unpacking of the funniest Iranian novel you’ve never heard of…..

57 Recall this B-side #2: Elizabeth Ferry on “The Diary of ‘Helena Morley'” (JP)

Given this podcast’s love of neglected books, you won’t be shocked to know that John has a side-hustle–in which Elizabeth plays a significant part. He edits a Public Books column called B-Side Books, where writers like Namwali Serpell and Ursula Le Guin sing praises to a beloved but neglected book. Now, there is a book that collects 40 of these columns (Washington Post review; interview with John about the B-side concept on Five Books).  Find it as your local bookstore, or Columbia University Press, or Bookshop, (or even Amazon).

Elizabeth’s B-side was a paean to Elizabeth Bishop’s delightful translation of the Brazilian diary in which “Helena Morley” (a pseudonym for Alice Brant) looks back to her childhood in a dusty provincial mining town. In our RtB conversation, she explains that part of the joy in rediscovering the book came from feeling that she, like Bishop herself, was looking back at forgotten childhoods. And yet, her first encounter with the book came during her time in present-day mining towns, where she felt surrounded by potential future Helenas, thinking their thoughts and living their lives.

Mentioned in the Episode


Elizabeth Bishop, “The Fish“; “The Bight” (“awful but cheerful”; John inexplicably gets the title wrong); “Crusoe in England

Harriet Doerr, Stones for Ibarra

Listen and Read

Upcoming Episodes

Caleb Crain, celebrated novelist, waxes eloquent about a complete comic novel written by Daisy Ashford, age 9. Truly, 9. And for our final Recall This B-Side, Pardis Dabashi on a quirky Iranian extravagance that my remind you of Tristram Shandy.

56 Recall This B-Side #1: Merve Emre on Natalia Ginzburg’s “The Dry Heart”

RtB loves the present-day shadows cast by neglected books, which can suddenly loom up out of the backlit past. So, you won’t be shocked to know that John has also been editing a Public Books column called B-Side Books. In it, around 50 writers (Ursula Le Guin was one) have made the case for un-forgetting a beloved book. Now, there is a book that collects 40 of these columns. Find it as your local bookstore, or Columbia University Press, or Bookshop, (or even Amazon).

Like our podcast, B-Side Books focuses on those moments when books topple off their shelves, open up, and start bellowing at you. The one that buttonholed Merve Emre (Oxford literature professor and author most recently of The Personality Brokers) was a novella by the luminous midcentury Italian pessimist, Natalia Ginzburg. And if you think you know precisely why a mid-century Italian writer would have a dark and bitter view of the world (already thinking of the Nazi shadows in work by Italo Calvino, Primo Levi and Giorgio Bassani) Ginzburg’s The Dry Heart will have you thinking again.

Merve Emre, Ginzburg fan and B-Side author

Merve started her piece by asking that age-old question: “When should a woman kill her husband?”

Mentioned in This Episode

J. W. Goethe, Sorrows of Young Werther (1774)

Michael Warner, “Uncritical Reading

Natalia Ginzburg. The Little Virtues (personal essays that do not stage an excessive evacuation of the self, but instead triangulate between reader, writer and object of concern…)

Elena Ferrante, The Neapolitan Novels

Fleur Jaeggy, Sweet Days of Discipline and These Possible Lives

Rachel Ingals Mrs. Caliban (1982)

Listen and Read

Upcoming Episodes

The “Recall This B-Side” series continues with our own Elizabeth Ferry’s favorite Brazilian diary….

June is all about Forgotten Favorites: Introducing “Recall This B-Side”

You know how obsessed we at RtB are with books that are dredged up dripping out of the past, still coming in as hot as the day they were printed. Whether it is the 1968 Kerner Commission Report as prelude to the long hot Pandemic Summer of 2020 or Thomas Piketty using long-ignored tax records of slave societies in indicting present-day inequality regimes, the podcast is built around a simple premise. When old books topple off their shelves, open up, and start speaking–pay attention, pal!

So, you won’t be shocked to know that we actively seek out other ways to amplify those whispers from the stacks. For about four years now, John has been editing a column called B-Side Books at the journal Public Books. If you’re old enough to recall buying those little 45 rpm records (say, “Salad Days” by Minor Threat, in memory yet green) then you know the column is named after the obscure “flip side” that accompanies the song marketed to be a hit.

Over the years, around 50 writers took up the challenge, naming a forgotten book and making the case for, well un-forgetting: Ursula Le Guin was one and you will never guess what Scottish writer she plugged….. Thjis month sees teh publication of an elephant-covered book that collects 40 of these columns. We hope you will consider buying it for yourself or a fanatically book-loving friend–the person who only thinks they’ve read everything…

You can find it at your local bookstore, or Columbia University Press, or Bookshop, (or even Amazon). It has a starred review from Publishers Weekly, a couple of other raves, and some nice blurbs:

The podcast has accordingly devoted June to a series on 4 conversations with authors of those pithy and profound articles on lost great books .Recall This B-Side starts June 3 with Merve Emre (author of that great recent book about the Myers-Brigg test, now an HBO movie) praising an Italian novel about the joy, and the occasional necessity, of shooting your husband.

Later June weeks include conversations with RtB’s own Elizabeth Ferry, and the brilliant American novelist Caleb Crain. Tune in, won’t you?