Nina Hartley (BSS #89)

Nina Hartley is most recently the author of Nina Hartley’s Guide to Total Sex.


Condition of Mr. Segundo: Harried and henpecked.

Author: Nina Hartley

Subjects Discussed: The meaning of “total sex,” vanilla vs. “alternative” sex, basics vs. options, self-acceptance, foreplay, the relationship between sexual realities and porn film fantasies, the “three position” proclivity, swinging, sexual alienation, responding to Naomi Wolf’s 2003 article, Hooters, extreme porn, porn as education, Jocelyn Elders, Caitlin Flanagan, “death and babies ay-yi-yi!,” spontaneous sex vs. technical know-how, intrapersonal relationships, acceptance, insecurity, and polyamory.


Hartley: I call it “total sex” because it encompasses the mainstay of most sexual practices. It touches on most things pretty well and it leaves plenty of room for exploration of the more esoteric things. I’m a very wide-ranging sexual creature, but I do know that most people are — many people are a little less broad-ranging than I. And so I do try to make it able to speak to the so-called regular person, who is not identified as a quote unquote kinky or freaky or pervert individual, but the regular person who would like to be more comfortable with sex and to get more pleasure out of it in his or her life.

Categories: Film, People

Amy Sedaris (BSS #88)

Amy Sedaris is most recently the author of I Like You: Hospitality Under the Influence.


Condition of Mr. Segundo: Ready to party in the Biblical sense.

Author: Amy Sedaris

Subjects Discussed: The lost art of hospitality, Martha Stewart, party theme taxonomy, entertaining old people, profiting from party guests, having a first date in your apartment, how to manage shy people, unexpected guests, remembering guests and logging menus, working with artists, Sedaris’s fear of computers, homemade art, children’s books, opposition to brunch, observing party hosts, the safety of counters, hosting vs. guesting, hosting vs. performing, Jonathan Rauch’s “Caring for Your Introvert,” ruminating vs. writing, communication difficulties, solutions for potheads with bad cases of the munchies, on being misinterpreted, shaking off the Jerri Blank persona, hosting for everyday people, indices, organizing cerebral chaos, being in control vs. delegating, on having too many ideas, the atmosphere within Sedaris’s apartment, and operating by instinct.


Sedaris: I don’t normally have gimmicks and I don’t normally have themes for my parties, but, for the book, I came up with what I thought would be challenging for hostess. Like a hot lunch. And I thought who eats hot lunches? Lumberjacks and grips. So I thought, oh, I’ll have a lumberjack for lunch. Or, you know, if you have a bunch of old people over, just what the hostess has to think about. Or children. Or someone grieving or a depressed person.

Categories: Ideas, People

Simon Winchester (BSS #87)

Simon Winchester is most recently the author of A Crack in the Edge of the World.


Condition of Mr. Segundo: Ready to drink geologists under the table.

Author: Simon Winchester

Subjects Discussed: San Francisco’s edgy impermanence, San Francisco vs. Venice and the North Sea cities, humankind’s geological privilege, New Orleans & Katrina, the hubris of California residents, anonymous threatening letters, denial vs. geology, Japan and disaster preparation, West Coast subliminal fear, editorial input into Winchester’s work, San Francisco vs. Daly City reactions to the earthquake centenary, Bruce Bolt, the true epicenter of the 1906 earthquake, Jim Tanner, Loma Prieta, subparallel faults, the Parkfield drilling, operating in the geological dark, responding to Bryan Burrough’s NYTBR review and Sam Tanenhaus, the importance of geology, Kevin Starr as an influence, Katrina federal aid vs. 1906 federal aid, looting after the 1906 earthquake, Winchester’s stance on tracking casualties, and defining historical context.


Winchester: The San Francisco event was a minor seismic event, but a major social event and a major scientific event that had huge importance on American history. Because it was the first time in world history that we stopped looking at these catastrophes as the work of a malevolent god and started to look at them as a natural event which should be explained. And so instead of unleashing priests on the problem, which we did in Lisbon in 1755 and after Krakatoa — mullahs there, because it was Islamic — in 1883, we unleashed on the orders of the then Republican Governor of California — Mr. Pardee, a rather dull dentist — we unleashed scientists. And scientists gave us answers. And those answers are of such profound importance that niggling around with whether there were 500 or 50 or 300, whether they were shot, whether they died under falling buildings, whether there was a deaf fireman, are so unimportant. They’re the stuff of tabloid journalism. They’re not the stuff of history.

What I was attempting to grapple with in this book was a historical series of realities, why this was an important earthquake. And whether or not the casualty figures were 1,000 or 5,000 is more or less irrelevant. It was the aftermath, the impact on human society, generally that is important.

Correspondent: So in covering any sort of moment in history, it’s not necessarily the fatality —

Winchester: You don’t cover the moments in history. Journalists cover moments. Historians look back on them with perspective and have, I think, a wider view which does not encompass the tiny details of whether there was a deaf fireman shot. It’s of no consequence whatsoever.

Categories: Ideas

Claire Messud (BSS #86)

Claire Messud is most recently the author of The Emperor’s Children.


Condition of Mr. Segundo: Trying to locate his voice.

Author: Claire Messud

Subjects Discussed: Richard Yates’ Revolutionary Road, references to revolution in The Emperor’s Children, Russian literature, Chauncey Gardner in Being There, Dostoevsky, the influences that spawned Bootie, on Messud writing novels outside her generational milieu, responding to Meghan O’Rourke’s review, why Messud didn’t present contrasting ideologies in The Emperor’s Children, hermetic atmosphere, Deborah Solomon and New York media types, Tingle Alley and Infinite Jest, Fort Greene and getting New York neighborhoods right, the influence of decor on character action, preposterous book titles, the cat in Paula Fox’s Desperate Characters vs. the cat in The Emperor’s Children, Anglicized dialogue, fantastic vs. realist environment, cognitive development, The Great Escape, and Anthony Powell.


Messud: I always think of Annabelle as somebody who’s actually out there accomplishing things when nobody’s paying attention. But “revolutionary” is probably too strong a word for [Bootie]. He’s someone who’s going to unsettle things and try to change things. And he comes from a different place: mentally as well as physically. I think that, for me, there’s a tension in the novel, I suppose, between Murray Thwaite, Bootie’s uncle, who is an old-fashioned liberal, and Ludovic Seeley, who is the person to whom the word “revolution” is most often attached. And he is a sort of — a slippery fish. He’s somebody — truth is a changeable thing. Meaning is a changeable thing. What’s good is a changeable thing. And Bootie is somewhere in between these two. And he’s somebody who would like to emulate his uncle and admire his uncle, and finds that when he sees him up close, that he can’t fully do that.

Categories: Fiction

Kate Atkinson (BSS #85)

Kate Atkinson is most recently the author of One Good Turn.


Author: Kate Atkinson

Condition of Mr. Segundo: Investigating turns of an altogether different sort.

Subjects Discussed: Narrative flow, the difficulty of writing the first 100 pages, perspective, good sentences, discovering the internal monologue, writing about inept men, narrative sadism, similarities between T.C. Boyle and Kate Atkinson, technological references in One Good Turn, “guys” to call on for research, Google vs. libraries, dialogue, the influence of reading while working on a novel, “romps,” British prejudices against genre, the word “jolly,” Case Histories vs. One Good Turn, empathy through the omniscient voice, being pigeonholed because of the Jackson Brodie books, Kate Atkinson’s other voices, the exuberant voice, maintaining a sense of fun, a sense of order, theme vs. plot, morality within One Good Turn, and the Honda Man.


Atkinson: You’re working all day on words. Do you really want to then do words the rest of the time? What I would like to do when I’m not, when I’m really engaged with a book, is to just look at a tree really. But it tends to take the form of looking at television. I just want to look at something that’s not words. Because that’s what you’re doing all day. I mean, I’m really glad I read most of world literature before the age of twenty-one. I would never have time for it now or have the inclination for it, I think. I did my reading when I had the space. And now I don’t have that kind of space.

Categories: Fiction

Francine Prose (BSS #84)

Francine Prose is most recently the author of Reading Like a Writer.

Author: Francine Prose

Condition of Mr. Segundo: Introspective about Xmas realities.

Subjects Discussed: Reading like a writer vs. reading as an escapist, Car Talk, reading People as preparation for reading Chekhov, The Illustrated Elements of Style, diagramming sentences, making grammar fun, academia and the poststructuralist vogue, how theory influences writing, concise writing vs. prodigious writing, Infinite Jest, one-line paragraphs and David Markson, Raymond Carver, Ben Marcus and “experimental” writing, Only Revolutions, literary absolutes, Jackson Pollock, the “show don’t tell” rule, Sherlock Holmes and Nero Wolfe, the Nabokov estate, working on a book too long, the “death” of book culture, puzzle novels, Pynchon, the 2006 National Book Award nominees, not finishing books, William Gaddis, James M. Cain’s Past All Dishonor, James Wood, naturalist dialogue reflecting a historical time, transcribing speech, chapters and blocks of text, pointless detail, and Nicholson Baker.


Prose: People keep telling me that all those vogues for structuralism and poststructuralism and deconstructionism are passing, which couldn’t make me happier. And you know I think that those things have had a very bad effect not only on reading, but on writing. I mean, that is because they encourage people to use jargon. They encourage students to use jargon. I mean, when I teach, one of the assignments that I give is to ask my students to find a passage of jargon — academic jargon, literary jargon, art history jargon — and then translate it back into English, and bring both passages into class. And often the jargon they come up with is theory jargon. Literary theory jargon. So nothing can make me happer than to hear that that’s on its way out.


Categories: Fiction

Joe Meno, Todd Taylor, Todd Dills & Bucky Sinister (BSS #83)

Joe Meno is most recently the author of The Boy Detective Fails.


Authors: Joe Meno, Todd Taylor, Todd Dills and Bucky Sinister

Condition of Mr. Segundo: Responding to MySpace lies.

Subjects Discussed: Shirley Wins, pumpkin launching, Halloween, grandmothers, writing women convincingly, Sons of the Rapture, Strom Thurmond, the differences between North Carolina and South Carolina, moving to Chicago vs. moving to New York, Whiskey and Robots, populist poetry, the Icarus myth vs. Wayne Gretzky, independent book touring, BookScan, growing up books, novels that use fiction as an escape mechanism, Encyclopedia Brown, cryptograms, textual buildings, creating a sense of mystery, telemarketing, Mark Haddon, Alessandro Baricco’s Silk, Faulkner, Donald Barthelme, short chapters, savvy audiences and storytelling, inventiveness, how the success of Hairstyles affected Meno, sartorial colors, Dick Tracy, the Boy Detective play, and indie presses vs. corporate presses.


Meno: For me, the book is about how as an adult you negotiate a world of mystery, a world where you don’t have the answers. And so I wanted the audience, or the reader as they were reading, to feel that sense of surprise. That when you’re a kid and you get a detective kit, you look at the world a little bit differently because of that object. And so I wanted the actual text to be surprising. As you were reading through it, you weren’t exactly sure technically what was going to happen. If you’d have a couple pages that were blank. Or if you’d have some of the text that was broken up into these small little buildings that go throughout the book or if there’d be a piece of text that was shaped like a cloud. And so that, you know, using the text itself to give that sense of mystery or surprise to the audience as they were going through.

Categories: Fiction

Kelly Link (BSS #82)

Kelly Link is most recently the author of Magic for Beginners.


Author: Kelly Link

Condition of Mr. Segundo: At odds with his boyhood dreams.

Subjects Discussed: Coffee, the Turkish language, planting little clues within stories, real-life inspirations for fantasy, writing short stories vs. novels, the value of a gestation period, on being easily distracted, being thrown off guard, Link’s pattern-making impulse, Douglas Adams, board games, Cadbury Creme Eggs, breakfast cereals, childhood sense memory, depicting characters without backstory, zombies, having psychologists as parents, William Gibson, bookstores, Edward Gorey, self-publishing, Ben Fountain’s Brief Encounters with Che Guevara, review coverage, “literary” credibility, Scott Smith’s The Ruins, the “literary fiction” label vs. the “science fiction” label, Laura Miller and H.P. Lovecraft, taxonomies, Shelley Jackson’s illustrations, fonts and EC Comics, reacting to older work, “massaging” work, Clarion, George Saunders and New Yorker “fantasy” vs. genre fantasy, and “fictiony literature.”


Link: I think that being easily distracted mirrors, or is the same thing in some ways, as noticing connections too easily. And that does mean that once you have, once you’re solidly at work on a story, everything you see around you, you can sort of pull in and use. Everything in the story you can sort of tie down to other parts of the story.

Categories: Fiction

Mary Gaitskill (BSS #81)

Mary Gaitskill is most recently the author of Veronica.


Condition of Mr. Segundo: Feeling triumphant over hepatitis.

Author: Mary Gaitskill

Subjects Discussed: Emotional mood and writing, Marin County, horticultural details, decomposition and decay, dichotomous characters and the gray areas of life, unusual character relationships, the conscious design of Veronica‘s environments, office environments, the modeling world, maintaining a consistent vision over ten years, rumination vs. urgency in the writing process, Gaitskill’s placid demeanor, distractions, word processors, Francine Prose’s review, ordinary vs. extraordinary narrative, sympathy and didacticism, the text as sympathetic medium between writer and reader, responding to Benjamin Strong’s assertion that Gaitskill isn’t interested in the novel as social or political commentary, ideology, ambiguity, Ayn Rand, favoritism towards optimistic novels, shock value in literature vs. shock value in television, misfits, Irini Spanidou’s championing of truth, and auctorial perception.


Gaitskill: When I’m reading another writer, even if I feel they’re technically accomplished, if I feel they have an ordinary mind, I am often — I wouldn’t say I totally lose interest. But it’s something that I don’t like to see in a writer. It’s almost like you can write about anything in an extraordinary way, not in a showy way. But to write about something extraordinary, I think, is usually to see it clearly.

Categories: Fiction