Tell Me What You’re Reading
By Howard Altarescu
“Books are a sort of cultural DNA, the code for who, as a society, we are, and what we know. All the wonders and failures, all the champions and villains, all the legends and ideas and revelations of a culture last forever in its books.” @susanorlean, The Library Book
Tell Me What You’re ReadingJul 26, 2019
Ep. #51 - Elizabeth Lesser: Broken Open/ Marrow/ Our Town / Tom Lake/ Omega Institute
Elizabeth Lesser discussed on my Podcast the founding of Omega Institute - internationally recognized for its wellness, spirituality, creativity, and social change workshops and conferences - as well her beautiful and inspiring books about finding protection and blessings in the broken moments of our lives; enjoying the passage of time; realizing what we have in life; appreciating every moment we are alive - Broken Open: How Difficult Times Can Help Us Grow - and about being present to each moment; being who you are, answering the call of your soul, authenticity; unconditional love; learning to avoid straining against pain; being impeccable with our words; understanding that the only purpose of life is to shine the light you were given - Marrow: Love, Loss & What Matters Most. Elizabeth also discussed Thornton Wilder’s classic play, Our Town, and Ann Pachette’s magnificent novel, Tom Lake, and the themes they share with her books.
Elizabeth is one of Oprah Winfrey’s Super Soul 100 - a collection of leaders who are using their voices and talent to elevate humanity - and a two time TED talker - “Take The Other to Lunch” and “Say your truths and seek them in others”
Ep. #50: Amy Shearn and Hannah Oberman-Breindel - To the Lighthouse
I had not previously read any Virginia Woolf and I had not studied literary modernism. Despite being uninitiated, I was struck by the way Woolf captured the human condition and, in a realistic way, the unstructured non-linear thought processes of her characters.
Written in 1927, the novel spans the time from just before to just after World War I
The story itself, which has numerous autobiographical overlaps, revolves around the Ramsey family and their guests at their summer home by the sea in the Scottish Hebrides. Lots goes on, but only in the sense that life goes on, and it’s all really great.
Our podcast discussion was very much in the vein of Woolf’s stream of consciousness narrative style, depicting “the multitudinous thoughts and feelings which pass through the mind" of a narrator, “an overlapping of images and ideas”.
Virginia Woolf wrote in her diary,
“The method of writing smooth narrative can’t be right. Things don’t happen in one’s mind like that, we experience, all the time, an overlapping of images and ideas, and modern novels should convey our mental confusion instead of neatly rearranging it. The reader must sort it out”.
And we did try to sort it out!
Ep. # 49 Carol Graham: Passion! In Park Slope, a “cozy” murder mystery
British crime novelist and detective fiction writer, P. D. James has been credited with saying that “All fiction is largely autobiographical”
Carol is a Texan but has lived in Brooklyn and Woodstock for the last 21 years, and is now a real estate agent in both areas. Carol is also a member of the Woodstock Writers Group and a two-time winner of the Woodstock BookFest Story Slam!
Carol’s newly published book, Passion! In Park Slope features a Texas born Brooklyn real estate agent who has not lost her drawl. Coincidental or autobiographical?
We discussed Carol’s new book as well as “cozy” mysteries generally on our recent podcast discussion..
Carol’s website Brooklynmurdermysteries.com
Ep. #48 David Gordon commemorates Cormac McCarthy and The Road
David noted that writer Cormac McCarthy had also then recently died. David expressed enthusiasm for McCarthy’s great works over the years. I had read McCarthy’s Pulitzer Prize winning masterpiece, The Road, many years prior and I still get a chill in my bones when I think about it.
I asked David whether he would like to come on the podcast to commemorate Cormac McCarthy and to talk about The Road, and the rest of McCarthys great works. And here we are.
Published in 2006, The Road is a dystopian, post-apocalyptic and frightening warning, but it’s also a story of the love between a father and a son and of the lengths to which a father might travel for his son, literally and figuratively. It’s emotional, chilling and also beautifully written.
Ep. #47 An Ecotopia Conversation with Artist Kelly M O’Brien
Carol and I saw some really interesting works at the Open Studios and were really struck by an outdoor installation by my guest, artist Kelly M O’Brien.
On the podcast, Kelly and I discussed her installation, which is called “Ecotopia Conversation”, and its relationship to the 1975 novel Ecotopia: The Notebooks and Reports of William Weston, by Ernest Callenbac. “Ecotopia” describes a utopian world created by the secession in 1980 of Oregon, Washington and Northern California from the United States. It was a cult novel at the outset, and over the years became required reading as environmental studies took off. We truly had an Ecotopia Conversation.
Ep. #46 Steph Kent: Hamnet - A Novel of the Plague + The Call Me Ishmael Project
Steph Kent, co-founder, with her husband Logan Smalley, of the Call Me Ishmael project joined me to discuss Hamnet, by Maggie O’Farrell, the book I have recommended more than any other over the last few years.
Hamnet is a work of fiction, but it’s based in part on certain core facts on which O’Farrell builds this beautiful, devastatingly sad story, albeit with a sweet ending, of the impact of Hamnet’s death on his family, and its relationship to the writing of Hamlet.
The book is a master class in the use of detail to tell a story, and the production of Hamlet produces a beautiful, poetic and moving conclusion. I frequently describe Hamnet as one of the best books I have ever read.
Shakespeare is never mentioned by name in the book. I realized who Hamnet’s father was when I read of his letters home reporting on rival playhouse owners, crowds and costumes. Leaving Shakepere’s name out of the narrative is a useful tool to avoid Shakespeare stealing the limelight, which is left to his wife Agnes, who is a strong, mystical and intriguing presence throughout the book. I greatly admired Agnes, and I also was deeply moved by the grief of both Agnes and Shakespeare over the loss of their son.
Steph and Logan’s Call Me Ishmael project invites readers to celebrate the books they love. Anyone can call Ishmael at 774.325.0503 and leave an anonymous voicemail message about their favorite book. Thousands of readers have called and over a million readers have listened to this library of stories.
Steph and Logan joined me on the podcast in November 2019: Ep. 20: The Call Me Ismael Project; Steph Kent and Logan Smalley
Ep. #45 Tony Wolf: “Tales From The Wolf”
We discussed Tony’s cartooning journey from the time he was a young child, his cartoonist role models, and how he “unwittingly created a new genre in the New York Times food section … a whole new world of visual comics about food.”
This is one wide ranging discussion, longer than my usual but great fun. Hope you enjoy it. “Tell Me What You’re Reading”, wherever you listen to podcasts. #bookwormsinthewild
Ep. #44: Erica Obey - The Brooklyn North Murder
Our discussion about Erica Obey’s mystery novel, the Brooklyn North Murder, turned into a discussion of The Typology of Detective Fiction, by Bulgarian-French historian, philosopher, and literary theorist Tzvetan Todorov, a discussion about AI bots, their invasion into the publishing industry, plagiarism charges, and what it means for a book to be ghost written. We discussed Mountweazels, the dark web, The Chronicles of Narnia, early 19th century English aristocrat, publisher and linguist, Lady Charlotte Guest, locked-room murder mysteries, plotters and pantsers, and Erica’s “chaotic” writing style. We also conducted a ChatGPT experiment. Rabbit holes abound. Erica is a graduate from Yale University and has an MA in creative writing from City College of New York and a Ph.D. in Comparative Literature from the City University of New York, where she published articles and a book about female folklorists of the nineteenth century. In addition to The Brooklyn North Murder, Erica is the author of six other mysteries, most set in the Hudson Valley. Erica is also the past president of the New York chapter of Mystery Writers of America.
Ep. #43: Tom Vartanian: The Unhackable Internet: How Rebuilding Cyberspace Can Build Real Security and Prevent Financial Collapse
He refers to unprecedented threats and describes the cyber security risk as one huge virtual improvised explosive device, a quintessential existential threat, the greatest threat to the future of humanity.
He also refers to the “technological euphoria“ in the market, as we all “mindlessly” click “yes” to accept terms of service, whatever they may be, and as tech start ups “move fast and break things”, get to market first and worry about security later; and he refers to all of this as the twenty-first century version of the tulip bulb mania.
He concludes that there has been for the most part short term thinking, an absence of any sense of urgency, a failure of vision, will and leadership, lack of technological expertise within the regulatory agencies, a pedestrian approach; which he describes as penetrating insights into the obvious and rearranging deck chairs on the Titanic. That’s a pretty damning conclusion.
As a result of what Tom refers to as the norm of inaction and rudimentary analysis, we have today a “kindergarten level” cyber defenses, a practice of apologize, rinse and repeat, an attitude of defeatism in the face of a three-alarm fire. At the same time, we have no cyber police or virtual firefighters, no internet police.
Ep. #42: Katharine L. McKenna - The Paleontologist's Daughter
Ep. #41: Alison Gaylin/ Wendy Corsi Staub - domestic psychological thrillers, etc.
My podcast guests are Alison Gaylin , a bestselling mystery writer who has been nominated for the Edgar Award four times, and has won the award in the category of Best Paperback Original for If I Die Tonight, and New York Times bestseller, and Wendy Corsi Staub, the award-winning author of more than ninety novels, best known for her psychological suspense novels. We discussed The Collective – No Killer Goes Unpunished (by Alison) and The Other Family (by Wendy), both compelling, chilling page turners. We also discussed psychological suspense thrillers generally in which the perpetrator is coming from inside the house, or from inside the mind.
Ep. #40: Todd Spire of Esopus Creel
Todd Spire is a licensed fly fishing guide and instructor, and is the owner of Esopus Creel, a company devoted to fly fishing in the Catskill Mountains, where he’s lived since 2008. Todd’s on the board of the local Trout Unlimited chapter, which helps to protect the Esopus Creek, which feeds into the Ashokan reservoir, which provides New York City with about 40% of its drinking water. Todd is a scholar of our local river, the Esopus Creek. Todd discusses Neversink - One Angler's Intense Exploration of a Trout River, by Leonard M. Wright, Jr., and also the beauty and the rhythm of trout fishing in the Catskills, learning through observation and experience, and the futility of trying to control mother nature. After the credits, Todd discusses the relationship of birds over the water to the presence of insects, the relationship between the blooming of flowers and insect hatches, turbidity on the Esopus, and the impact of warm temperatures on our trout fishing, and particularly whether we will be fishing earlier or later in the season as a result of warming temperatures. All consistent with Todd’s drive to learn from observation and experience rather than solely from what others have written and from Google.
Ep. #39: Jen Maxfield - More After the Break: A Reporter Returns to Ten Unforgettable News Stories
Jen has covered many of the Tri-State area’s most memorable and powerful stories throughout her long career. More After the Break describes her initial reporting and follow up many years later for the 2003 Staten Island ferry crash, Katrina and Sandy in 2005 and 2012, a 2011 horrendous hit and run casualty, and several other accidents, tragedies and moving stories. The stories themselves are compelling, but mostly I loved Jen’s honesty, and her humility and introspection; the way she expressed the vital role of local news reporters in the community; her bouts of what she referred to as “news guilt”; and her expression of the "moral ambiguity" of her job, while recognizing her professional obligations.
Ep. #38: A Midsummer Night’s Dream: Discussion with the Woodstock Shakespeare Festival directors
At Hank’s suggestion, we were joined on the podcast by David Aston Reese, the Producing Artistic Director of the Bird-On-A-Cliff Theatre Company in Woodstock. David has acted, directed and produced works for Bird-On-A-Cliff Theatre Company's Woodstock Shakespeare Festival and The Woodstock Playhouse. David is the Director of the Summer 2022 Woodstock Shakespeare Festival production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream and Hank is working with him.
Hank and David, both extraordinarily knowledgeable and enthusiastic Shakespearians, discussed A Midsummer Night’s Dream’s often misguided or misdirected lovers, the Kings and Queens, marriages, and dreams, the irrepressible Bottom and Puck, and the other “mechanicals” and fairies, the play within the play, and the tension between what some think of as one of Shakespeare’s most sexual plays, and also as the one most suitable for children. An unlikely but highly effective combination.
Lots of discussion as well about the production of the play, the direction embedded in the language of the play, and the “choreography”, i.e. the blocking, and stage direction, that comes together with the music that is embedded in Shakespeare’s words. Our discussion culminates with Hank’s Mel Brooks impersonation from “Queen Alexandra and Murray”.
Ep. #37: L. Mark Weeks - Bottled Lightning; Moby Dick; the writing process; etc.
Ep. #36: Trinh Q. Truong - The Sympathizer, by Viet Thanh Nguyen
When I met Trinh last summer, we had, what to me, is an inevitable discussion of books. As I was intrigued by her background, I asked Trinh if there was a book she might like to discuss with me on the podcast. Trinh said that she had started reading The Sympathizer, by Viet Thanh Nguyen several times, and that she would get through it this fall and then talk with me.
The Sympathizer is a beautifully written, dark and tragic novel set during and after the war in Vietnam. The unnamed narrator is a Western-educated Vietnamese. While he is working for the CIA in Saigon and serving as aide-de-camp to a South Vietnamese general, he is also a spy for the North, secretly sending intelligence to the insurgents, and his spying continues as he joins Vietnamese refugees in America after the war. Adding to the difficulties for our narrator, his boyhood friends are soldiers fighting for the South. The narrator is torn apart by his conflicting sympathies. Now, sometime in the late 1970s, the narrator is in a communist prison, addressing an interrogator who demands that he explain his activities among the enemy. The book is ultimately an indictment of the French, the Americans and the Vietnamese themselves.
More on Trinh
From Vietnam to Utica and back again: Reflecting on my refugee journey Trinh Truong
Ep. #35: Tom Vartanian - 200 Years of American Financial Panics - Crashes, Recessions, Depressions, and the Technology That Will Change It All.
Ep . #16 Kate McGloughlin - Requiem for Ashokan - The Story Told in Landscape
Ep. #34: Brian E. Denton - War and Peace (Tolstoy)
My guest for this episode is Brian E. Denton. Brian has been reading Tolstoy’s great novel War and Peace every year for the last ten years, one chapter a day, which results in a year long read of the 361 chapters. Brian has also produced an e-book titled “War and Peace and A Year of War and Peace”, which includes the full text of the novel as well as Brian’s reflective essays, his insightful commentary on each chapter. War and Peace was brought to my attention at the beginning of the pandemic when I learned of Princeton Professor Yiyun Li’s online “Tolstoy Together” book club, which contemplated reading 15-16 pages a day in order to complete the novel in 85 days. I didn’t jump on Professor Li’s bandwagon but I’m glad I learned of Brian and his work.
At the time I recorded our discussion, we were a little over one half way through this epic novel. Tales of aristocratic abundance and privilege in 1805 Moscow, and simultaneously, Russia’s war with Napoleon’s France. Peace and war. Tales told through the characters, including, most notably, Pierre, Andrey, Rostov, Natasha, Nikolay, Marya, Denisov, Dolokhov, Sonya, Helene, Alexander I of Russia and Napoleon, among many, many others. I can see why Brian and others are serial readers, just to know whose who.
Ep. # 33: Jim Finnegan (Again): Shuggie Bain, by Douglas Stuart; etc.
Evelyn Lerman - A Tribute. Discussing “A Dressmaker's Threads: The Life and The Legacy of My Russian Immigrant Mother"; and discussing the life and legacy of Evelyn as well
No. 31: Charlotte Cross - Reading to write, and novels about "marginalized characters" (The Brides of Dracula, etc.)
Ep. #29: Andrew Wilcox - Richard Ravitz and Paul Volcker memoirs, Lewis’ The Fifth Risk, JFK, Nixon, and Lepore’s masterpiece, These Truths, A History of the United States
Andrew Wilcox discusses So Much to Do: A Full Life of Business, Politics, and Confronting Fiscal Crises, a memoir by Richard Ravitz, former head of the New York State Urban Development Corporation and of the Metropolitan Transportation Authority; Keeping At It, by former Federal Reserve Board Chairman Paul Volcker; The Fifth Risk by Michael Lewis; JFK: Coming of Age in the American Century, 1917‒1956, by Fredrik Logevall; Being Nixon: A Man Divided, by Evan Thomas; and These Truths, A History of the United States, by Jill Lepore
Ep #28: Andrew Rice - Ladies and Gentlemen, The Bronx is Burning 1977, Baseball, Politics, and the Battle for the Soul of a City
Andrew also discusses his forthcoming book, A Popular History of the Year 2000 in the State of Florida, which will describe the Bush v. Gore election controversy ("the most wild and improbable election outcome you can imagine - so far"); the pilots planning 9/11 who were training at flight centers on Florida, for 18 months before the attacks; Donald Trump's presidential run as a Reform Party candidate; young Cuban kid, Elian Gonzalez, washed up on the shore in Miami; enraged Cuban community in Florida, determinative in Presidential election; resulted in 24hour coverage (the first reality television); and an arms dealing, money laundering case ("the most obscure but most fascinating tale"). giCFrjk28vXx9A4GkET1.
Ep #27: Rob Chesnut - Intentional Integrity - How Smart Companies Can Lead an Ethical Revolution— and Why That’s Good for All of Us
Rob began his journey in the U.S. Justice Department, including as a federal prosecutor, and then he joined eBay as an early employee and ultimately had responsibility for overseeing all site rules and policies for the eBay global community of over 150 million users. Rob later was General Counsel of LiveOps, Inc. and then of Chegg. Most recently, Rob was General Counsel and then Chief Ethics Officer of Airbnb.
Ep. #26 Allen Guy Wilcox – A Gentleman in Moscow
Ep. #25: Camilla Calhoun - The White Moth
Ep. # 24: 2020 Book Club - Kendra Dodson Breitsprecher, owner/editor of Dayton Leader newspaper in Iowa, discusses bios written by Dem Pres. caucus candidates.
Andrea decided to launch the 2020 Book Club and to put up a 2020 Book Club Facebook page so that Iowans, and others as well, could have a forum to discuss the books written by all of the Democratic presidential candidates.
After hearing the interview, I immediately thought that we should do a podcast discussion of the books authored by the candidates and I tracked down Andrea on FaceBook.
Andrea is now busy full time seeking the Iowa House District 37 seat, but we were really fortunate to have the opportunity to have a discussion with Kendra Dodson Breitsprecher, the owner and editor of the Dayton Leader newspaper in Dayton, Iowa, a small town located in the middle of the state. Kendra is also a charter member of the 2020 Book Club.
Ep. #23 Uli Beutter Cohen: Mona Eltahawy, Alexander Chee, Ocean Vuong, Erin Williams, Lauren Duca
Ep. #22 Subway Book Review: Uli Beutter Cohen
Ep. #21 Tracy Sidesinger - What My Mother and I Dont Talk About
Tracy also refers to Mothers: An Essay on Love and Cruelty by Jacqueline Rose, and also Feminine Law: Freud, Free Speech, and the Voice of Desire by Jill Gentile with Michael Macrone. Tracy has said that all three books are along a similar theme, that is, addressing expectations of the feminine and opening up more authentic and useful discourse.
Ep. # 20 The Call Me Ishmael Project; Steph Kent and Logan Smalley
Ep. #19 Visiting Days, by Gretchen Primack
Gretchen recently released a new book of poems called ”Visiting Days”, which is inspired and informed by her years of first hand experience teaching and administrating in maximum security prisons.
Visiting Days has been described as a collection of short, keen dramatic monologues, a work of advocacy as well as of poetry.
Ep. #18 Pride Month/ Stonewall 50: The Great Believers by Rebecca Makkai
I’m very proud to say that Orrick has a long standing commitment to inclusiveness that enables the LGBTQ lawyers and staff of the firm to be authentic and to thrive. For 13 consecutive years, Orrick achieved a perfect score in the Human Rights Campaign Foundation’s annual Corporate Equality Index, which evaluates LGBTQ-related policies and practices, and Orrick was one of the first global law firms to offer benefits to same-sex couples and to also offer fully inclusive transgender benefits.
Ep. #17 Josh Raff discusses four sets of "paired" books, and more.
Ep. #15 Sophie McManus: The Art of Time in Fiction
Ep. #14 Nick Lyons: Fly fishing and other lit.; flys, tiers; joy, intensity and solitude of fishing.
Nick’s memoir, Spring Creek, is a love letter to a creek in Montana. In it, Nick writes that he aims for his writing “to be rich enough to catch some of the stillness, complexity, joy, fierce intensity, frustration, practicality, hilarity, fascination, [and] satisfaction” that he finds in fly fishing. If you read anything that Nick has written, you will enjoy that richness.
We discuss on the podcast the Esopus Creek, the Amawalk, the East Branch of the Croton, the Odell in Montana, the Bourne in the U.K. and the rivers in New Zealand, as well as the books and authors Nick loves. We also talk about fly selection, fly tiers and solitude on the river.