Bat Segundo Release Day Switches to Tuesday

You may have noticed that we’ve been performing a few experiments in 2011. During a few weeks, we released an extra episode shortly before Friday to determine what kind of a draw it’s going to get. Much to our surprise, we’ve discovered that people tend to prefer listening to a new Bat Segundo installment earlier in the week rather than later. We’re not sure why this is. We’re thinking it has something to do with the tendency of new books dropping on Tuesday. We’ve also found that film-related conversations are best experienced a few days before Friday release date, so that there is more of an anticipatory quality to these conversations.

Therefore, we have decided to switch The Bat Segundo Show to the very day that people are expecting something new.

As of March 1, 2011, The Bat Segundo Show will be switching its weekly release date from Friday to Tuesday. There won’t be a new episode on February 25, 2011 — in large part because we recently interviewed a very friendly author, who was sick and conscientious and could not shake our hand. A very fun conversation transpired. But our correspondent was felled anyway. (But it was all worth it!)

On Tuesday, March 1, 2011, we’ll be back in the weekly Bat Segundo rotation. Rest assured that we have a very exciting lineup ahead! And because we’ve been slightly more prolific than we expected, look for a few extra conversations that will squeeze their way into the lineup in the next few months. And if you’re missing a fresh Bat Segundo today, why not investigate one of the nearly 400 installments in our archive?

Categories: Uncategorized

Adrian Tomine (BSS #382)

Adrian Tomine is most recently the author of Scenes from an Impending Marriage.


Condition of Mr. Segundo: Attempting to reconcile the impending with illustrations depicting events from years ago.

Author: Adrian Tomine

Subjects Discussed: Doing time in Sacramento, veiling a personal experience with a sex change, which of Tomine’s characters is least like him, the liberation that comes in fabrication, scratched out names and Victorian literature, the original small audiences for Scenes and 32 Stories, the father’s fund, taking criticisms to heart, the drawbacks of working in the same realist vein, Tomine’s wife as the “first audience,” the artist’s fragile ego, the influence of printed literature and storytelling upon art, humbling versions of inspiration, Tomine’s degrees of aspiration and ambition, living a life in service to the drawing, facing the world, the “strenuous” exigencies of cartoonists, drawing panels without decor, Tomine’s perfectionist qualities, the freedom in pursuing work that isn’t going to be reviewed, feeling highly scrutinized, the pleasure in publishing harsh letters, the look of the ranger, using the fewest lines to get the maximum amount of detail, settling upon the three panel approach, maintaining a private style in secret scrapbooks, varying levels of creative insulation from the public, the very low frequency of sound words, the tongue licking in “Alter Ego,” seeing external details that other characters cannot, the grotesque reality of Chris Ware’s furry cats, the number of people who read books in Tomine’s New Yorker illustrations, the Venn diagram between 1990s subcultures and digital culture, disappearing subcultures, cartoonists who detest hippie and hipster culture, gesture and look, Alison Bechdel’s elaborate photographic process, and the pursuit of “realism” in an “unreal” medium.


Correspondent: I wanted to get into the ineluctable autobiographical angle through a different mechanism. Interviewers, critics — they’ve all said, “Oh, well, Tomine is totally autobiographical.” But here, you are tempting fate again with the subtitle of the book: “prenuptial memoir.”

Tomine: Right.

Correspondent: You mentioned in the introduction to 32 Stories that you “learned the useful trick of taking a personal experience and veiling it with a sex change or two.”

Tomine: Right.

Correspondent: So we have to talk about this. But I’m going to ask you: Which of your characters is least like you? How much of Scenes [From an Impending Marriage] emerged out of your reality? Or is there some liberation, so to speak, in the fabrication?

Tomine: Oh completely. I mean, everybody has been focusing on the autobiographical nature of this book and I think some of the promotional materials are talking about how it’s such a personal work or something. But I think in truth, in some ways — well, I wouldn’t say the least personal, but it’s certainly no more personal than the other books. And I think that definitely in the fictional stories, I feel a lot of the freedom that you refer to. And the flip side to that is there’s an inhibition that comes along with drawing yourself as the main character. And I think this book, this current one, is all definitely drawn from real experience, but very carefully edited and selected.

Correspondent: Yeah. Starting with the first story, where we see scratched out words of names and places and the like. Which, to my mind, didn’t necessarily mean privacy, but possibly meant an ode to the Victorian literature, where you have the first letter and the line long after that.

Tomine: Yeah. And also I think that this was the first time I just embraced the idea that this would be intended for as wide of an audience as possible. So it set up the ending, where I have the one swear word of the book scratched out too. So it doesn’t quite jump out as much as it would otherwise.

Correspondent: So wait a minute. I understood that this started out as something to be disseminated to wedding guests.

Tomine: Yes, that’s right.

Correspondent: Okay. So was it always intended for public consumption?

Tomine: No.

Correspondent: No.

Tomine: No. The original version that was slimmer. There were fewer pages. It was basically just Xeroxed and assembled. And it was meant to just be given out at the wedding. So the only audience was really going to be our close friends and family.

Correspondent: Well, this is interesting. Because 32 Stories came back in a third life, I suppose, by having that box of minicomics. And it seemed to me from the introduction that it also came about under a certain amount of duress. I’m wondering if people have to push you or kick you into getting things published these days. How does this come about?

Tomine: Well, I think that if someone really wanted to read between the lines and investigate. The dedication of this book explains a lot about why it’s now in stores. Because it’s dedicated to Nora, who’s my one-year-old daughter.

Correspondent: Aha! The father’s fund.

Tomine: Yeah, exactly. We know a lot of people are confused. They say that in the book you say your wife’s name is Sarah. Who’s this Nora that this book is dedicated to?

Correspondent: Your mistress, I thought.

Tomine: (laughs) Right. My Irish mistress.

Correspondent: (laughs) Yes.

Tomine: Yeah, my wife was actually joking about that and saying, “Nobody ever has an Irish mistress.” I mean, there were a lot of reasons that went into the decision to actually publish it. But if I’m honest, one of them would definitely be just a bit of that new father panic of “I’ve got a life that I’m responsible for other than mine now.” So that was part of the thought process. At the same time, there was also the element of just how off the beaten path this book was for me. And that was appealing. Because when I finished my previous book, and digested a lot of the reviews and the response, that it was really clear to me that whatever it is that I publish next had to be pretty different. I think people had their fill of that specific tone and that meticulous realistic style of drawing. I don’t think it was — well, I take — the criticisms of that I took to heart. Not that it was poorly done, but that I’d been putting out a lot of that in that same vein for a number of years. So I didn’t really have a plan of what I was going to do next. But then it was kind of a relief to me when I realized that I basically had a complete book just sitting in my sketchbook. And it was as dramatic of a change as I was looking for.

Correspondent: Well, we’ve brought up a number of things just in the first few minutes.

Tomine: Right. I derailed you.

Correspondent: No, no. It’s great. I love this. Working on art for money. Working on art for audience response. And then simultaneously mining from your own personal life to generate narratives that often take an immense amount of time. In the case of Shortcomings, four years. So this leads me to wonder whether there’s possibly a double-edged sword here, if you are revolving your creative process around what the audience is telling you. Clearly, you still read reviews.

Tomine: Yeah.

Correspondent: Clearly, there is an interest to stay in this business. Obviously. But on the other hand, the fact that this book, this latest volume, came from a safe place. Where you were almost buffered by the possibility of critics dissecting every little aspect of your work. I mean, how does this work? How do you gravitate between the two? Or is it all one unified theory here? So to speak.

Tomine: No. I think you touched on a lot of the things that were in my mind really. Because this wedding book was definitely the most breezy and loose and — a word that’s never applied to my work, but — fun. And I think it was because of what you’re talking about. The idea that it basically wasn’t meant to be published. And that no one but a handful of people that I knew and loved would be seeing it. And really, even though I knew the people at the wedding would be seeing it, the only real audience I had in mind when I was creating it was my wife, Sarah. A lot of it was just a question of not “Is this going to be a great strip?” or “Is this going to be beautifully drawn?” or anything like that. But just “Is this going to make her chuckle at the end of the day?”

Correspondent: So really she’s your first audience.

Tomine: For this, especially.

Correspondent: Do you see that being — she’s going to be your future audience? Her and Nora perhaps?

Tomine: Yeah.

Correspondent: I mean, how do you insulate yourself from the constant probing?

Tomine: Well, I mean, whether I like it or not, she’s going to be my first audience. Just as the nature of working at home, and her curiosity. When she scrolls through my studio each day, she does take a look at what I’m working on. But at least so far, it’s been a real asset to me. Because she’s more well-read than I am. She used to work in publishing. And she has editing experience. She also, along with that, knows the fine art of dealing with the fragile ego of the writer or the artist. And she also just has a really good sense of humor. And I think that she’s, if anything, encouraged me over the years to try and tap into that a little bit more in my work.

(Image: Sarah Brennan)

Categories: Fiction

Eduardo Porter (BSS #381)

Eduardo Porter is most recently the author of The Price of Everything.


Condition of Mr. Segundo: Shopping for a new religion.

Author: Eduardo Porter

Subjects Discussed: Faith and the Pascalian wager, whether or not Americans perceive faith in fair prices, the idea of a price embodying the making of a thing, Marx and labor, how our understanding of prices is a function of transaction, worker exploitation, Dan Ariely and behavioral economics, “buying a sense of our own goodness,” tipping in Japan, Porter being needlessly concerned with the price of a Los Angeles condo he sold years earlier, new economic frontiers without speculative bubbles, Robert C. Wright and predicting bubbles, Keynesian beauty contests, orange juice and the weather, derivatives and probability, the inability to separate legitimate bubbles with sham bubbles, subprimes and low interest rates, John Rawls and society maximizing the well-being of the least fortunate, the extension of the Bush tax cuts for the wealthy, ephemeral jobs and speculative bubbles, unfair income redistribution and prices, diversity and labor, William Julius Wilson, Sir Nicholas Stern’s idea of the wealth of the individual remaining steady throughout the years vs. human life as priceless, the 9/11 Commission and Kenneth Feinberg’s compensation discrepancy, anti-egalitarianism, competing subjective viewpoints about the price of a life, economic consequences that emerge from changing a speed limit, the value of a person toiling in a maquiladora vs. the value of Clive Owen, connections between pricing and elitism, time and the value of human life, France’s price on Haiti, and the colonialist implications of price.


Porter: In the mid-1990s, a study by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change tried to come up with an early estimate of the economic impact of global warming. And to do this, it used some of these estimates of the value of life. And it decided that the value of life in poor countries was $150,000 and in rich countries $1.5 million. Now you can imagine that didn’t go down very well at an international meeting with rich and poor countries. I mean, this was a rebellion. “What do you mean?” So if rising seas are going to wipe out Bangladesh, it’s cheap. But if something is going to happen in Switzerland, then we really have to worry. So ultimately, at the end of the day, they came to a political compromise. And they redid this, valuing everybody at $1 million.

Correspondent: But on the other hand, for the sake of argument, if you have some central authority making such an insensitive statement — that a person born in one country is worth less than someone born in an industrialized nation — wouldn’t that open up the fact that we’re all living within unseen disparities? That the value of someone toiling right now in a maquiladora or an export processing zone is, we all know, worth less than the life of President Obama. Or the life of actor Clive Owen, who is probably worth more than either of us ever will be.

Porter: Well, yes. This is a manifestation of the inequities in life. That it’s just a replication after death of a very unequal distribution of opportunities and rewards. That’s true.

Correspondent: Well then. If pricing essentially confirms that, it’s almost as if pricing confirms an Ortega y Gasset-like notion of elitism. That really what we’re denying in denying these crude and cold and insensitive prices is denying the inherent elitist nature of the capitalist system that we live by in this purported democracy that you, in the book, actually uphold.

Porter: I would say that that’s essentially correct. I mean, capitalism is not an equal society. And I don’t think it can work as an equal society. Disparities are what steer resources to be allocated into one place or another. Pay differentials lead people to take one choice rather than another. To move into one job or another. To get one type of education or another. So the idea that everybody must be paid equal is, I don’t think, functional. It does not function within a capitalistic society. If you’re asking for my opinion on the ultimate — I don’t want to use the word “justice.” If you’re asking for my opinion on whether this is an ideal way to live, I would tell you no. But it’s because of the depth of the disparity. Not because of its existence. I will agree that disparities will exist. I have a problem with the size of them.

Correspondent: You mention Bangladesh earlier. And this is in relation to climate change. William Nordhaus’s idea that in estimating future damages, we need to use a rate that reflects the productivity of long-term investments. Then of course, you’ve got Sir Nicholas Stern’s idea: “The welfare of a person hundreds of years from now is worth the same as as the welfare of someone alive today.” And of course, not everybody can agree on that either. Now we’re adding time to this. Even more problems. If you were to look at the history of Haiti, you see France in 1825 — they don’t wish to recognize Haiti’s sovereignty unless Haiti paid them 150 million gold francs. Haiti, of course, couldn’t pay back the money until 1947. And they had to take up long-term interest loans.

Porter: That’s incredible.

Correspondent: This is the ultimate in a big joke about price. Haiti wanted to be recognized as a nation and they have to pay this considerable amount of money. So this leads me to wonder if price — I seem to think, particularly after this conversation — is a huge mess that creates ever more problems about other viewpoints, other peoples, and simply existing. The more we think about the way money is attached to an individual person, the more we realize that certain systematic norms cause the person to be trivial. I think that’s rather sad.

Porter: The thing is that here we’re moving between senses of price that are really kind of unrelated. The purchase of Haiti’s independence, I think, has very little to do with capitalism. It has more to do with colonialism.

Correspondent: Capitalism could be argued as a strand.

Porter: But this deal could have been made outside of a capitalistic society. This deal is not a function of capitalism. It is a function of the fact that one country controlled another and would not relinquish it unless getting something in return. And in fact, this has been a characteristic of colonialism way back into pre-capitalistic times. I wonder whether you’re not attributing too much significance to the idea of price as an ultimate driver of things that functions throughout history. And always in the same way. It seems to me that when you’re talking about the price of Haiti or the price of gas or the price of milk, the processes that you’re describing, with which you arrive at this ultimate variable of price, are totally different. And the transactions that are involved are totally different. And so yes, they’re all prices of course. But I’m not sure that they’re comparable. They seem a little bit like apples to oranges.

Correspondent: Even though price has a serious consequence upon a human life in some capacity, you’re saying that it’s best to look at price in terms of who sets the price and the consequence? I think I’m looking at it consequentially and you’re looking at it from a causist standpoint.

Porter: Well, yeah. But consequentially. Let’s say clothes have enormous consequences. Lack of clothes have enormous consequences. The fact that having or not having the appropriate clothes for the appropriate weather is consequential. I’m not sure that that allows me to go any further in trying to tell me anything about the dynamic underlying clothes or the goodness of clothes. They are consequential. Sure.

Categories: Ideas

Toby Ball (BSS #380)

Toby Ball is most recently the author of The Vaults.


Condition of Mr. Segundo: Spilling green ink all over the public records.

Author: Toby Ball

Subjects Discussed: The descriptive connection between sound and voice, Ball’s background in teaching, envisioning a scene before writing it, devising a 1935 parallel universe, alternative forms of photography, prethinking information technology, children who intrude upon the conversation and ask about the microphones, telling an old-fashioned pulp yarn, the Berlin Document Center, the Nora chapters as placeholders within The Vaults, the frantic qualities of pulp literature, characters locked in location, Hard Case Crime, Nicholson Baker’s Room Temperature, detecting another person’s typing from observing the strokes, keylogging, Suge Knight as inspiration, the Anti-Subversive Unit inspired by 9/11 propaganda, designing a three book arc, Philip K. Dick’s The Man in the High Castle, marijuana cigarettes, Hearst and the criminalization of marijuana, mentioning alternative countries (Poland, et al.) instead of the key players in World War II, the city as physical space, ideological information, character life that comes from specific limitations in vernacular, turning a preexisting rumor into narrative fodder, working at Congressional Quarterly, Red Henry’s mistress reading Nietzsche, and tight consequential corners.


Correspondent: It is interesting how the voice — somebody’s voice — tends to be imposing. More so than the bigness of Big Henry and the like. It’s very interesting to me that sound seems to be the linchpin. Particularly because the technology in this book is rather interesting. I mean, here we are roughly around 1935. A little parallel universe. And we don’t really have motion pictures. We have some possible version of photography with the replacement system that comes in the Vaults. And that’s why it is very interesting to me why sound is such an important quality. It’s almost as if sound in your world matters more than image to a large degree.

Ball: That’s an interesting idea. And I think a lot of the book is about information. Both the information that is overt and then there’s a certain amount of information that has to be gleaned from other pieces of information. And I think that the idea that people can assert powers in ways other than the physical or through violence or through having political power or whatever sometimes comes through. Certainly with your ability to dominate things vocally. Maybe not even verbally. You don’t have to necessarily have a great way with words. But if you can take up more space around you than the other person to serve as an alpha male thing, I guess.

Correspondent: Well, did you prethink any of the technology in the book? Or for that matter any of the history? We do have allusions to the Great War. We also have the Birthday Party Massacre, which is both a funny and a grisly idea. And it makes me wonder whether you had any masterplan for this alternative history or you were inventing things and filling in the gaps as you went along?

Ball: Well, what I was most interested in, I think, was how do you organize information. And because of that, it had to be before a certain period. Say the 1960s. And moving it back to the ’30s and combining it with these ideas we have about the ’20s and ’30s gangs, and things like that, I think that that was the first step in doing it. But I also wanted to create a complicated and…

[Two children walk up to the table and start staring intently at the microphones.]

Child #1: Where did you get that?

Correspondent: Well, hi.

Ball: Hi.

Correspondent: There’s a…

Ball: The microphones?

Correspondent: Yes, the microphones. You can get these microphones at just about any audio place. We have a child here who’s decided to…(laughs). Hi. What’s your name?

Child #2: (more aggressively) Where’d you get that?

Correspondent: Well, we got these through — I got these through an audio supplier. So.

Ball: Pretty cool.

Correspondent: But anyway, you were saying?

Ball: Well…

Correspondent: We have an audience. (laughs)

Ball: We have an audience of two. So from there, while I kind of wrote and sort of developed some more things I was interested in writing about, I think that’s where things kind of move on. What’s the importance of having accurate information? What’s the value of that? What can you get by taking discreet facts? And simply by organizing them, by insuring their purity, how does that in itself become information? And to try and combine that with — you know, I think there’s a certain fun aspect to the ’20s and ’30s. Where you can get this noir-y feel abut things. To a certain extent, the book has to be fun too. You have to want to read it, and the atmosphere, and things like that. Does that kind of answer your question?

Correspondent: It sort of does. I think what I’m also kind of curious about — since you are talking about information as a starting point, when did you drift off this focus on information and more into just telling a good old-fashioned pulp yarn?

Child #1: (still enraptured by microphones) Do those really work?

Correspondent: Yes, they do.

Ball: Yup, they work.

Categories: Fiction

Karen Rusell (BSS #379)

Karen Russell is most recently the author of Swamplandia!


Condition of Mr. Segundo: Wrestling alligators that the mean men left in his motel room.

Author: Karen Russell

Subjects Discussed: How “Ava Wrestles the Alligator” transformed into Swamplandia!, origin stories of characters, expanding and embroidering, the tradition of underworld stories, Dante’s percolating possibilities, heroic kids and their totem animals, the River Styx, the Seven Remaining Houses in Stiltsville, bookmobiles as boats, Kiwi as autodidact versus Ava as experiential learner, siblings as id, ego, and the superego, torturing characters, the risks of diverging from the established text, how Russell arranges her ideas, dealing with the constant froth of ideas, the way that time and space relates to the body, writerly tics, the dangers of the word “limn,” the many alligators named Seth, characters who share names close to the writers Louis Auchincloss and Emily Barton, the health benefits associated with not looking back, sentences ending with exclamation marks, child neglect and the places where protective services can’t reach, the early introductions to Sesame Street, grief and denial, “printing the legend,” the amusement park competition between Swamplandia! and World of Darkness, Adventureland, the scarcity of quirky plots, optimistic delusions and the dangers of uncritical faith, belief in the dead as a fantasy, managing opposing fantastical virtues while finding parallels between Ava and Kiwi, the naivete of employing Max Weber’s values in the contemporary world, egotism and genius, including blanks within sentences, knowing the “music” of your own home phone number, facing the blank page, working with Jordan Pavlin, pop culture in Pavlin-edited novels, and fighting for expletives.


Russell: The sprawl. This mimetic mangrove sprawl! I really got carried away with that place. I loved that setting and could see it so clearly. I wanted to just expand and embroider in a way. My agent and editor suggested that I do some serious paring down to what ends up being the dramatic action with Ava and Ossie. And then that just did not seem the plateau to keep those sisters on. I ended up feeling very frightened for Ossie and Ava, and disturbed about both sisters. And I think at a certain point I decided it was going to be an underworld story. I thought it was going to be this underworld Odyssey. There’s a nice tradition to work in there. (laughs)

Correspondent: Certainly.

Russell: That’s not copyrighted by Persephone.

Correspondent: No lawyers involved.

Russell: (laughs) Yeah, right. Don’t tell the Greeks.

Correspondent: Well, on the other hand, by explicitly referencing the River Styx — as you do about 150, maybe 200 pages into the book — I said to myself as I was reading this, “Oh, why did she have to go ahead and do that?” Because it’s nice to have the reader infer, “Oh!”

Russell: To trust.

Correspondent: “A River Styx-like metaphor.” I’m wondering if, in relying upon a myth like that, there is a danger in being too explicit. On the other hand, a reader can infer almost a Huck Finn-style situation as well.

Russell: Right.

Correspondent: What of this conundrum?

Russell: I really didn’t want it to be a one-to-one correspondence with any one of those stories. Although I’m sure they’re just in our bloodstream. Huck Finn and, as you say, the Odyssey. Dante. I think all of that was definitely percolating. But I think it’s dangerous to say, “Right. This is going to be Hamlet. But in the voice of a parrot!” Any way it reads just as that very direct correspondence.

Correspondent: Yeah. But at some point the decision was made to reference the River Styx.

Russell: Yeah. Well, my thinking there was that Ava, this child, is so glutted on those exact stories. Both the Yearling kinds of tales about heroic kids and their totem animals or whatever, and also the older myths. These older fairy tales. So the River Styx would be something from The Spiritualist Telegraph, which is a book that her sister has found on this wrecked Library Boat. That the kids are autodidacts. They are home-schooled on this island and they go to this wrecked Library Boat to get this magpie view of the reality outside their island. So they do have these piecemeal references coming in. And so much of her vision of the world is by analogy. It’s through the lens of these fairy tales and myths that he’s reading. I didn’t want people — but I do think it’s a danger. I wouldn’t want anyone to think that I’m doing in the octave of the swamp.

Correspondent: Sure.

Russell: Hades.

Correspondent: Well, there is definitely a Stilsville. There’s seven remaining homes. I’m wondering if there was actually a Library Boat system similar to the Bookmobiles. I didn’t get a chance to actually delve into this. I was trying to look around. Because that really captured my imagination.

Russell: No! Wouldn’t that be great?

Correspondent: It would be fantastic!

Russell: What a great idea!

Correspondent: It would make complete sense in an archipelago.

Russell: I’m saying. Get some government funding. I think it would be so wonderful. And I ended up excising a lot of material about in the Library Boat.

Correspondent: Really?

Russell: That didn’t belong. But I thought just because I’m a nerdy bookworm, my god, that would have been my paradise. If there was a wrecked ship full of books. No librarians to nose around what you were reading. You could just take and go. And I love the idea that people would come and leave books. Which, you know, is the system that exists. But there would just be a book with a constantly evolving library.

Correspondent: Add Borges on top of that. Then you’ve got a really interesting idea. (laughs)

Russell: Oh yeah. Get Borges to captain that boat. Seriously.

Correspondent: Well, we got in a bit of a flurry here from the original trajectory. But Kiwi. I’m curious how Kiwi came to life in this. Because he starts off being a side character. And then he becomes, well, this is the other side of the story. And as we pointed out earlier, he’s not in the original story [“Ava Wrestles an Alligator”].

Russell: Right.

Correspondent: Why Kiwi above anybody else? Or rather above Ossie, who just disappears entirely? Because it is interesting that Kiwi is more of an autodidact where Ava is more of an experiential learner.

Russell: That’s beautiful.

Correspondent: And I’m curious about how this came into being.

Russell: Oh, I’m so glad that she reads that way to you. I was thinking the two sisters — you have Ossie, who is the book’s unconscious. I mean, she is totally merged with her idea of herself. This clairvoyant psychic experience. She goes way off the deep end into the occult. And then Ava, I think she’s on a plateau where she hasn’t really committed to any one way of seeing. She’s seduced by this world of the ghosts. But I wanted her to be one more voice, one more force. I almost wanted to think of these three siblings as the superego, the ego, the unconscious almost. Because Kiwi is this hyperarticulate. Self-identifies as a genius. Knows lots of big words, but mispronounces them.

Correspondent: Now, now. Schematic though.

Russell: Thinks meningitis is a compliment. Right. So he has this idea of himself as a really literate, really astute reader. An adult reader of the world. So he is, in many cases, a voice of reason. And I think Ava toggles between these two views. She’s got her brother, her older brother, who’s more rooted in reality. Informed by the mainland. Albeit, also at the same time, stunted and naive. Because he’s grown up on this island forty miles away from the mainland. And then she has this sister, who is this frightening lost character. Sort of deranged character. I don’t know if that answers your question. But I wanted Kiwi because the book really needs a character to work in a more comic register.

Correspondent: To torture. As you did.

Russell: Well, I do in fact torture him?

Correspondent: Yeah.

Russell: Well, I don’t think that I torture him. I think that I just put him in a situation among mainland teenagers and then watch what unfolds.

Categories: Fiction

Jessie Sholl (BSS #378)

Jessie Sholl is most recently the author of Dirty Secret. Ms. Sholl will also be appearing at the Barnes & Noble Tribeca on Wednesday, February 2nd, at 7:00 PM.


Condition of Mr. Segundo: Packing his rats before they rat his pack.

Author: Jessie Sholl

Subjects Discussed: The genetics behind the hoarding impulse, being a material minimalist, the insides of Jessie Sholl’s apartment, trying to rationalize a hoarder’s explanations for hoarding individual items, information processing deficits, how a hoarder’s work environment affects the home environment, hoarding and nurturing, the Children of Hoarders support group, the high rate of nurses among hoarders, patterns of abuse, being tormented and teased by snakes, fondness and love, acceptance and forgiveness, contracting scabies because of another’s uncleanliness, sharing parental personality traits, being terrified by a terrible sense of direction, competing standards of cleanliness, contending with a potential subletter’s judgment, attempts to find monoglot pride, Clean House, why American culture doesn’t want to talk about hoarding, how thrift shopping serves as a false therapy, anonymity and layers of shame, Susan Nathiel’s Daughters of Madness, giving up privacy and personal identity when disseminating a shameful quality, the drawbacks of cleaning frenzies, doorbell dread, Homebodies, and apartment stints.


Sholl: Her job was affected by her hoarding in the way that her brain was affected by her hoarding. In the way that her brain causes the hoarding. Because she just wasn’t able to keep up. She wasn’t able to organize the tasks. And so she wasn’t able to complete them on time. So she would clock out when her shift was done, and she would continue doing the tasks. She would keep working for an hour or two off the clock. She kept getting into trouble for that. And also, in the book, I think she’s 63 at that point. She’s about four foot ten. And she weighs about 200 pounds. So she’s very cumbersome. And she was slow. She was just really slow. So most of the people she was working with were in their twenties and thirties. She just couldn’t keep up. So I don’t even know how much of it was the organization problems in her brain or how much of it was just, physically, she was just old and slow.

Correspondent: Absolutely. But there wasn’t any real disparity between the hoarding impulse at home and the nursing impulse at work? Being a nurse and all that.

Sholl: Yeah. That’s one thing that I found really interesting when I started doing this research. And also when I joined the Children of Hoarders support group. It’s amazing how many hoarders are nurses. And that just blew me away. I feel that it has something to do with — okay, another statistic about hoarding is that many hoarders were abused as children. And a lot of times, when someone is really abused as a child, they get something called a caretaking syndrome. Where they like to take care. This happens quite a lot with animal hoarders. That’s what animal hoarding often is. They want to take care of something that’s helpless, something that cannot reject them. Because they got no care as a child. They got just coldness. Which is what my mother had. And so personally — now I am not a doctor. This hasn’t been studied that I know of. But that’s my own theory. And I think that that’s the reason for the high rate of nurses. When they go to work, they are caring for someone. So these are people that, they can’t really take care of their children. But they can take care of a person in a hospital.

Correspondent: You mentioned abuse earlier and how that tends to be a way, that it carries on. Late in this book, you have a situation where your mother confesses to you that her own parents abused her with dogs. She, in turn, I would say, abused you with the snakes. You have a fear of snakes. She sent you down to the basement, pretending that there were snakes down there. She sent you packages with fake snakes. She put rubber snakes in your Christmas stockings. You know, this strikes me as something that is tremendously abusive. The question is: Even though she can relate to the abuse in terms of her own abuse, from years before, do you think she really understands the nature of what she’s doing when she taunts you with the snakes? Is it abuse?

Sholl: No, I don’t. I think she truly believes that it’s funny. And that’s one of the things about my mom. She’ll have a moment of clarity — and this is why it took me so long to finally just give up and throw up my hands. I mean, we still have a relationship. But I’m done fixing her. Trying to fix her. I’m done cleaning our house. All of that. But one of the reasons that it took me so long to do it is because she’s a smart woman. She has a good sense of humor a lot of the time. She’s well read. We talk about books. And she’ll have a moment of clarity where I’ll feel a connection. And so it was those moments of clarity and those moments of connection that gave me this taste of what it could really be like. And that made it hard to stop. But eventually I did. Anyway, back to your question about the snakes. I have seen tiny glimmers of “Oh, wow, maybe I should not tease Jessie anymore about snakes.” But you know what? If I got a package in the mail tomorrow from my mother, I would make my husband open it. Because I could not be sure that it wasn’t another snake.

Correspondent: Well, on that subject, there’s a moment in the book where you say there are still things about her that make you happy. It seems to me that these are related to these glimmers. But reading the book, I was almost at a loss sometimes to determine what it was about your mother that made you very happy. Because she’s constantly abusive. I haven’t even brought up the scabies situation, which I’ll get into in just a bit. It’s almost that by writing the book, you’ve got a challenge here. Because you’re depicting her problem and it may come at the expense — there’s one moment where you say that there are things she does that make me happy. But what are those? I didn’t really get that from the book.

Sholl: Well, you know, we can have very lively fun telephone conversations. She really is a charming person. I mean, when my husband first met her, I was so terrified to introduce her to him. I was just terrified that he would judge me and decide that he didn’t want to be with me, and whatever. And he said, “She’s cute. She’s adorable.” And there is that side to her.

Correspondent: But just these telephone conversations? Just this charisma? Isn’t it actions that make you happy? Because happiness for another person, or fondness for another person, or love for another person comes down to gesture and action. Not necessarily words.

Sholl: No, that’s a good point. You know, I think a lot of times the love is there. Because she’s my mother. And I just can’t help it. I just can’t help but care about her. We have a very unusual relationship. Definitely.

Correspondent: You’ve used the word “acceptance.” But what about forgiveness? Do you forgive your mother?

Sholl: Yes, I do.

Correspondent: You do?

Sholl: Well…

Correspondent: It’s okay if you don’t. I don’t forgive my mother, if you want to get down to it.

Sholl: I’ve never even thought about that before. I don’t know why I’ve never thought about that. You know, I can point to individual things. The scabies. I have forgiven her. I have never been so angry in my life when we got them the second time. And she refused initially to help. To get medicine. But I did eventually forgive her. Some of it was just time passing. I guess, for me, forgiving my mom is just accepting her.

Categories: People