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


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.


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.


Dave Itzkoff and Translated Literature: Mad as Hell (BSS #536)

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.


Sarah Churchwell (BSS #535)

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.


Jenny Offill (BSS #534)

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.


Diane Johnson (BSS #533)

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.


Okey Ndibe (BSS #532)

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.


Blake Bailey II (BSS #530)

Literary biographer Blake Bailey and Our Correspondent may be the only two people in the United States who have read everything Charles Jackson has published. Who was he? Well, in 1944, Jackson wrote THE LOST WEEKEND — a pioneering masterpiece that was among the first to depict the devastating effects of alcoholism. But seven decades later, Jackson has been largely forgotten, outshadowed by the Billy Wilder movie. We spend 73 minutes pinpointing Jackson’s forgotten legacy and considering the risks of waning literary posterity. We also talk about Bailey’s work on the Philip Roth bio, as well as his forthcoming memoir, THE SPLENDID THINGS WE PLANNED.


Alissa Nutting (BSS #529)

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.


Elissa Wald (BSS #528)

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.


Eleanor Catton (BSS #524)

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 GODEL, 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.

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