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Amanda Vaill (BSS #549)

Martha Gellhorn and Ernest Hemingway headed to Spain to help the Loyalists during the Civil War. Gellhorn was to transform into one of the 20th century’s best war correspondents. Hemingway needed to have his romanticism crushed to write a masterpiece. They are two figures in Amanda Vaill’s HOTEL FLORIDA. This conversation examines how the Civil War changed not only the trajectory of Spain, but the future of world culture.

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Mimi Pond (BSS #548)

Cartoonist Mimi Pond spent a good chunk of 1978 working as a dishwasher and a waitress in an Oakland diner. Thirty-six years later, she’s collected her experiences in the graphic novel, OVER EASY. This 40 minute conversation examines that experience, looking into the difficulties of accurately portraying that era in a politically correct age and how a crisp glimpse into working-class life is generally more reliable than nostalgia.

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Joanna Rakoff (BSS #547)

Joanna Rakoff spent 1996 working as an assistant for Harold Ober Associates, overhearing the likes of J.D. Salinger and Judy Blume talking shop. This 75 minute conversation, which discusses Rakoff’s memoir MY SALINGER YEAR, gets into some of the underlying privilege and protective family dynamics which led Rakoff to get a later start as an adult.

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Paula Bomer III (BSS #546)

Author Paula Bomer has dedicated her fiction career to staring inside the abyss and seeking the human. We discuss her new short story collection, INSIDE MADELEINE, and discuss everything from Flannery O’Connor’s notion of the grotesque, how sex defines relationships, boarding schools, how modest surrealism can reveal urban identity, and scatological moments in high literature. (The episode’s introduction includes some thoughts on the recent passing of Maya Angelou.)

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Porochista Khakpour II (BSS #545)

In this wide-ranging 79 minute conversation, Porochista Khakpour discusses how she fused the romantic with the grotesque for her second novel, THE LAST ILLUSION, birds as an inevitable cultural symbol, growing up as an Iranian immigrant, quirky and pragmatic attitudes to death, Kafka and Kierkegaard, and academics who misinterpret authenticity,

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Nikil Saval (BSS #544)

Was there ever an age in which the office provided reasonable security for the worker? Is it possible for the office worker to be given respect and adequate compensation in the 21st century? We talk with Nikil Saval, author of CUBED, to figure out how a system designed to pit office workers against each other went wrong. It turns out that misguided philosophy, austere architectural developments, and a carefully manufactured belief culture against organized labor are all part of a very complicated narrative we all take for granted.

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Evie Wyld (BSS #543)

Evie Wyld is the John Llewellyn Rhys Prize-winning and Granta 20 author of ALL THE BIRDS, SINGING — a novel that is arguably more alive than most of the dull literary books about flatware and chalices at pretentious dinner parties. Our conversation gets into how work defines even the natural landscape, the relationship between insects and humans, and why kangaroos are quite dangerous.

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Yiyun Li II (BSS #542)

In this vivacious chat with MacArthur fellow Yiyun Li (and on the occasion of her latest novel KINDER THAN SOLITUDE), we discuss nothing less than the mysteries that humans impose upon the universe, Li’s secret life as an accordion player, why poison is the most passive-aggressive murder technique, how Americans are exacting more care in discussing the uncomfortable, and how storytelling can encourage people to talk about the truth.

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Ben Tarnoff (BSS #541)

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 Coolbrith) defied the East and reinvented American literature during the 1860s.

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Islamophobia, Extremism, and the War on Terror: Arun Kundnani (BSS #540)

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.

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Dinaw Mengestu (BSS #539)

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.

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Dorthe Nors, Save NYPL, and Blake Bailey (BSS #538)

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.

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