Reluctant Habits

Ben Tarnoff (The Bat Segundo Show #541)

Posted by in Bat Segundo, Bohemians, coolbirth-ina, harte-bret, interview, San Francisco, stoddard-charles, tarnoff-ben, Twain, Mark

More than a century after his death, Mark Twain is often portrayed as a jolly and avuncular figure. Yet the truth is that Twain was a savage wit and an incendiary figure, and it took this free-spirited iconoclasm to push expression forward. We talk with Ben Tarnoff, author of THE BOHEMIANS, to discuss how California writers (including Twain, Bret Harte, Charles Warren Stoddard, and Ina Coolbirth) defied the East and reinvented American literature during the 1860s.

[MP3, 55 minutes]

[Notes and partial transcript]

Islamophobia, Extremism, and the War on Terror: Arun Kundnani (The Bat Segundo Show #540)

Posted by in Bat Segundo, Extremism, interview, Islamophobia, kundnani-arun, War on Terror

Twelve and a half years after 9/11, Islamophobia remains alive and well. Where did it come from? Why does it perpetuate in American and British culture? And what effect does it have on our democratic values? To get some answers to these questions, we talked with Arun Kundnani, author of THE MUSLIMS ARE COMING. It turns out that prominently positioned people continue to reinforce Muslim stereotypes, encouraging law enforcement agencies to adopt flawed radicalization models that are not predicated upon reality. These prejudicial policies have caused innocent Americans, whose only crime is to practice Islam, to be harassed, needlessly harangued by authorities, and falsely imprisoned. This 67 minute conversation investigates these issues at length.

[MP3, 67 minutes]

[Notes and partial transcript]

Dinaw Mengestu (The Bat Segundo Show #539)

Posted by in Bat Segundo, interview, mengestu-dinaw

MacArthur Fellow Dinaw Mengestu’s novels have been needlessly categorized as “immigrant fiction” when his work is about so much more. On the publication of his third novel, ALL OUR NAMES, Mengestu unpacks these issues with us, discussing how journalism helped him to peer into revolutionary turmoil, writing about quiet African immigrants, the American perspectives that are often overlooked, the depths of emotional trauma, and contemporary fiction’s relationship with the postcolonial.
[MP3, 49 minutes]

[Notes and partial transcript]

Dorthe Nors, Save NYPL, and Blake Bailey (The Bat Segundo Show #538)

Posted by in bailey-blake, Bat Segundo, deblasio-bill, interview, nors-dorthe, NYPL, Save NYPL

In this triple-decker edition of Bat Segundo, we talk with author Dorthe Nors about Denmark, emotional connections to animals, the dangers of self-destruction and how folks songs fused with Swedish existentialism can produce an original voice, investigate Mayor Bill de Blasio’s silence on saving New York libraries and report on a protest, and talk with Blake Bailey about switching from literary biography to memoir.

[MP3, 58 minutes]

[Notes and partial transcript]

Julia Angwin (The Bat Segundo Show #537)

Posted by in angwin-julia, Bat Segundo, interview

Why are we so consumed with providing every moment of our lives to a faceless corporation who will share this data with other companies without our consent? What makes the NSA worse than the Stasi? And to what extent are we determined to become enslaved by convenience? We talk with journalist Julia Angwin, author of DRAGNET NATION, about these dilemmas, the inevitability of mutually assured disinformation, and why the black helicopter lifestyle is becoming more legitimate.
[MP3, 43 minutes]

[Notes and partial transcript]

Dave Itzkoff and Translated Literature: Mad as Hell (The Bat Segundo Show #536)

Posted by in Bat Segundo, chayefsky-paddy, grunberg-arnon, interview, itzkoff-dave, Mad as Hell, Network, post-chad, van-gelderen-oscar

This one hour program looks into two “mad as hell” scenarios. We talk with journalist Dave Itzkoff about MAD AS HELL, the making of NETWORK, Paddy Chayefsky’s colorful personality, and why something that seemed so absurd forty years ago became so real. We also investigate a controversy at Open Letter Books which may reveal an emerging ecosystem of smaller publishers being abused by agents on the make. That segment features Open Letter’s publisher Chad Post, Scott Esposito, and Michael Orthofer.
[MP3, 59 minutes]

[Notes and partial transcript]

Sarah Churchwell (The Bat Segundo Show #535)

Posted by in Bat Segundo, churchwell-sarah, fitzgerald-f-scott, interview

Nearly ninety years after its publication, THE GREAT GATSBY remains a fluid and endurable masterpiece. In CARELESS PEOPLE, Sarah Churchwell tackles F. Scott Fitzgerald’s great novel with an approach somewhere between an avid reader and a obsessive scholar. This vivacious and jampacked conversation, which covers everything from old menus to famous murders to the interplay between Scott and Zelda, reveals that GATSBY is so rich that just about any literary interpretation is possible.

[MP3, 63 minutes]

[Notes and partial transcript]

Jenny Offill (The Bat Segundo Show #534)

Posted by in Bat Segundo, interview, offill-jenny

If we leave out a few words, how does the story change? How are human instincts for speculation encouraged by a minor elision? Who really knows the story? Jenny Offill explores these ideas and more in her new novel, DEPT. OF SPECULATION. We discuss the virtues of twisted quotes, the narrative frameworks that can be extracted from poetry, the risks of self-consciousness, and the importance of a contrarian impulse.

[MP3, 45 minutes]

[Notes and partial transcript]

Diane Johnson (The Bat Segundo Show #533)

Posted by in Bat Segundo, interview, johnson-diane

Diane Johnson is best known for her comic novels centered around France: LE MARIAGE and LE DIVORCE. But before all this, many years before, she wrote a darker novel called THE SHADOW KNOWS that attracted Stanley Kubrick’s notice. Johnson has published a new memoir, FLYOVER LIVES, that details her thoughts on her ancestors, growing up in the Midwest, her life, and her work. Our vivacious and variegated chat gets into the current state of Franco-American relations, forgotten writers, the Methodist practice of being frightened into being good, America’s migratory impulse, the demise of the American rail system, foodies, California history, and the considerable references and ideas that Johnson and Kubrick consulted for their work on THE SHINING.

[MP3, 55 minutes]

[Notes and partial transcript]

Okey Ndibe (The Bat Segundo Show #532)

Posted by in Bat Segundo, interview, ndibe-okey

Nigerian fiction writing is stronger than ever. But how does Nigeria’s protean identity, often described as “stranger than fiction,” affect contemporary fiction? In this one hour conversation, we hash out these questions with Okey Ndibe, author of FOREIGN GODS, INC., discussing Nigeria’s census problems, its many religions and languages, and how all of these fascinating complexities are often overlooked by Americans.
[MP3, 62 minutes]

[Notes and partial transcript]

Alissa Nutting (The Bat Segundo Show #529)

Posted by in Bat Segundo, interview, nutting-alissa

Alissa Nutting’s TAMPA was one of the most controversial books of 2013. It is also one of the best books of the year. In this bold and variegated 76 minute conversation, we reveal how Celeste Price was created, the torment it brought Nutting in life and after publication, and why America remains needlessly hostile to fictitious viewpoints which dare to reveal the truth about human aberration.
[MP3, 76 minutes]

[Notes and partial transcript]

Elissa Wald (The Bat Segundo Show #528)

Posted by in Bat Segundo, interview, wald-elissa

What happens when you meet somebody and all of your assumptions proved to be wrong? That’s precisely what happened with this conversation with Elissa Wald, author of THE SECRET LIVES OF MARRIED WOMEN. She’s a novelist who wrote a noir novel without reading any noir and who depicted class violence without being conscious of it. The result is one of the strangest conversations we’ve ever aired, a chat that absolutely fails (which is entirely our fault) before hobbling back to an unanticipated grace.
[MP3, 51 minutes]

[Notes and partial transcript]

Wendy Lower (The Bat Segundo Show #526)

Posted by in Bat Segundo, Holocaust, interview, lower-wendy, Women, World War II

More than seven decades after World War II, we’re still deeply uncomfortable about the idea that women under the Nazi regime committed barbaric acts. We talk with Holocaust scholar (and National Book Award finalist) Wendy Lower about the realities she confronts in her new book, Hitler’s Furies. How much are the women who were socialized under Nazi policies to blame? Why did the postwar courts allow these women, some of whom massacred children, to return to society without consequence?
[MP3, 58 minutes]

[Notes and partial transcript]

Eleanor Catton (The Bat Segundo Show #524)

Posted by in Bat Segundo, catton-eleanor, interview

What if a 900 page novel incorporated Zeno’s dichotomy paradox, the golden ratio, set its action in 1865 and 1866 while aligning character temperament to astrological signs and planets, and incorporated massive strands of storytelling? Well, The Luminaries does just this. In this wide-ranging 71 minute conversation, we talk with Booker Award-winning novelist Eleanor Catton about the benefits of an overly planned structure, considering reader intentions, Douglas Hofstadter’s Gödel, Escher, Bach, how old newspapers reveal history in unique ways, the Otago Gold Rush, mystery novels, Shakespeare, eccentric forms of tax evasion, and the real impact of politics and history on everyday lives.
[MP3, 71 minutes]

[Notes and partial transcript]

Samira Kawash (The Bat Segundo Show #522)

Posted by in Bat Segundo, Candy, interview, kawash-samira

This is the second of two shows devoted to Halloween. Did you know that there was once a chocolate bar called the Chicken Dinner? That cigarette companies once considered candy to be a threat to discretionary spending? Or that candy was used by the military for safety purposes? We didn’t either, until we read Samira Kawash’s Candy: A Century of Panic and Pleasure. We discuss the serpentine history of candy with the Candy Professor herself!
[MP3, 58 minutes]

[Notes and partial transcript]

Paul Harding (The Bat Segundo Show #521)

Posted by in Bat Segundo, harding-paul, interview

Over the course of a few centuries, prayers for the dead have transformed into less uptight celebrations. But what candor did we lose in the transformation? In the first of two shows devoted to Halloween, we discuss this American relationship to grief and impermanence with Pulitzer Prize-winning author Paul Harding. The talk revolves around Harding’s second novel, ENON, and gets into pinball bowling, the oneiric morass inside the skull, our national history of religiosity, and John Cheever.
[MP3, 57 minutes]
[Notes and partial transcript]

Nicholson Baker (The Bat Segundo Show #520)

Posted by in Baker, Nicholson, Bat Segundo, interview, Traveling Sprinkler

Nicholson Baker returns to our program for a rip-roaring 78 minute conversation. We discuss TRAVELING SPRINKLER, the many parallels between Baker and Paul Chowder. There is quite a bit of music and audio talk, vivacious arguments for and against Robin Thicke, a lively dialectic on whether or not Algebra 2 should be an educational requirement, and a vital discussion on alternative names for sexual organs.
[MP3, 78 minutes]
[Notes and partial transcript]

Kathryn Davis (The Bat Segundo Show #519)

Posted by in Bat Segundo, davis-kathryn, interview

Life and narrative both require resolution. But when we stick to our conclusive guns, what do we give up in knowing other people? Kathryn Davis has dared to answer these questions in her provocative new novel, DUPLEX, and our conversation bounces around Leibniz’s notion of the multiverse, the intersection of religion and technology, and how a fluid fictional universe creates new possibilities in life.
[MP3, 63 minutes]
[Notes and partial transcript]

Greg Sestero and Tom Bissell (The Bat Segundo Show #518)

Posted by in Bat Segundo, bissell-tom, Film, interview, sestero-greg, The Room, wiseau-tommy

THE ROOM is widely considered to be one of the worst films ever made. Yet ten years after its release, it is a cultural phenomenon and has even inspired a video game. We talk with Greg Sestero (Mark from THE ROOM) and Tom Bisssell, co-authors of THE DISASTER ARTIST, and probe into director Tommy Wiseau’s mysterious past. discussing the film’s unanticipated debt to Patricia Highsmith and the terror of shooting extremely long and extremely troubling sex scenes.
[MP3, 35 minutes]
[Notes and partial transcript]

Daniel Woodrell (The Bat Segundo Show #517)

Posted by in Bat Segundo, interview, woodrell-daniel

In this rare long form interview, acclaimed author Daniel Woodrell discusses how William Kennedy’s novels provided inspiration for THE MAID’S VERSION, Ozark vernacular, what people get wrong about stew, how one can know all of humanity by living in a small town, Tony Danza’s boxing skills, film noir, avoiding tough guy cliches, and his experience as a Marine.
[MP3, 50 minutes]
[Notes and partial transcript]

Jesmyn Ward (The Bat Segundo Show #516)

Posted by in Bat Segundo, interview, Mississippi, Racism, ward-jesmyn

In the aftermath of Trayvon Martin, why do so many young black men continue to die? Why are we doomed to repeat a savage American cycle? Jesmyn Ward’s new memoir, MEN WE REAPED, tries to answer this dilemma by looking into how five needless deaths, including her own brother;s, informed her own life. Our 40 minute conversation looks into how stories can get people to care, enduring racism, defending yourself, and why mediocre white culture keeps getting a pass.

Eric Schlosser (The Bat Segundo Show #515)

Posted by in Bat Segundo, Damascus, interview, Nuclear Missiles, Safety, schlosser-eric, Titan II, War

In the mid-20th century, nuclear missiles were maintained with flimsy safeguards and rapidly failing technology. How close were we to DR. STRANGELOVE? And how safe are we today? We talk with investigative journalist Eric Schlosser, the author of COMMAND AND CONTROL, to discuss our remarkably reckless military history, which culminated in several close disasters, and what this means in an age driven by terrorism and religious fundamentalism.

Alissa Quart (The Bat Segundo Show #514)

Posted by in Bat Segundo, Culture, interview, Republic of Outsiders, Uncategorized

In the second of two related programs devoted to the American epidemic of gravitating to mainstream culture in an age of limitless choice, we talk with REPUBLIC OF OUTSIDERS author Alissa Quart about how outsiders and iconoclasts have been appropriated by institutional forces. Why have we shifted to a culture hostile to original voices? Why is it all about being liked? And how does cosplay, transphobia, animal rights, and Mad Pride fit into all this?

Norman Rush (The Bat Segundo Show #512)

Posted by in Bat Segundo, interview, rush-norman

In this wide-ranging 70 minute conversation, we talk with acclaimed novelist Norman Rush about revolution, James Joyce, Botswana, his friendship with Thomas Disch, why his characters are seduced by quacks, and countless other subjects.

Maggie O’Farrell (The Bat Segundo Show #511)

Posted by in Bat Segundo, interview, o'farrell-maggie

In 1976, Britain faced the greatest water shortage of the 20th century and the feelings are eerily resonant of current climate change. How can fiction make sense of all this? We talk with Costa-winning author Maggie O’Farrell about her latest novel, INSTRUCTIONS FOR A HEATWAVE, discuss how research often springs from personal experience and the idea of the disappearing patriarch, and get into the thorny realities of families.

Travis Nichols (The Bat Segundo Show #510)

Posted by in Bat Segundo, interview, nichols-travis, Poetry, Trolls

How do you sustain a 220 page novel told from the perspective of an online troll leaving an endless blog comment? We discuss the poetics of abuse with Travis Nichols, seductive caesuras, family members who disown you by email, and the largely illusory idea of self-declared misunderstood geniuses.

Mark Slouka (The Bat Segundo Show #509)

Posted by in Bat Segundo, interview, slouka-mark

Mark Slouka avoided historical cliche by looking at 1968 from the vantage point of a small town and tapping into unanticipated emotion. We discuss Slouka’s novel, BREWSTER, whether Sherwood Anderson’s influence can be revived in 2013, and get into the subject of leisure — specifically, its current absence from American life.

Gabriel Roth (The Bat Segundo Show #508)

Posted by in Bat Segundo, interview, roth-gabriel

Gabriel Roth talks with us for an hour about his debut novel, THE UNKNOWNS, San Francisco culture between the two dot com booms, his Bay Guardian days, the unanticipated influences of My Little Pony and brony culture, avoiding the lad lit label, and writing about what you know.

Anchee Min (The Bat Segundo Show #507)

Posted by in Bat Segundo, China, interview, min-anchee

Anchee Min toiled in Chinese labor camps, was punished and labeled as an outcast, and escaped to America. This one hour conversation covers how she overcame hardships, stared down loneliness, found solace in Michael Jackson, worked five jobs, and made it as a bestselling novelist.

Matt Bell (The Bat Segundo Show #506)

Posted by in Bat Segundo, bell-matt, interview

We talk with Matt Bell, author of IN THE HOUSE UPON THE DIRT BETWEEN THE LAKE AND THE WOODS, about how to encourage imagination, James Joyce lookalikes, labryinths in fiction and video games, Nethack, the problems with depicting the quotidian, and how language creates mystery.