[Note: I've decided to make this episode available without subscription so that people can listen to it and share it as easily as possible. -BL]
Jennifer Michael Hecht is the guest. Her new book is called Stay: A History of Suicide and the Philosophies Against It. It is available now from Yale University Press.
Billy Collins says
“The title of this book is an imperative against the departure that is suicide, and its contents provide a learned, illuminating look at the history of what is perhaps the darkest secret in all of human behavior.”
And Newsweek says
"That it's not all a drag and you might as well get on with life's vagaries is the strikingly simple and convincing argument of Jennifer Michael Hecht's Stay: A History of Suicide and the Philosophies Against It. . . . While not insensitive to people who use suicide as a way to end the suffering of terminal illness, Hecht brands suicide an immoral act that robs society — and the self-killer — of a life that is certainly more valuable than what it may seem in that dark moment. It solves nothing, complicates everything. . . . Her argument is that it — whatever dark truth that pronoun signifies — almost always gets better."
Monologue topics: Ned Vizzini, suicide, grief.
Kirkus calls it
"A blisteringly honest portrait of a young, fast and greatly misunderstood life. . . . An outspoken, gender-ambiguous author and activist reflects on her halcyon days as a wild child in San Francisco."
And The San Francisco Chronicle says
"It would be easy to describe The End of San Francisco as a Joycean 'Portrait of the Artist as a Young Queer' (although the book's intense stream of consciousness is reminiscent of the later, more experimental, Joyce) . . . but this is misleading. This journey of a life that begins in the professional upper-middle class (both parents are therapists) and the Ivy League and moves to hustling, drugs, activism -- Sycamore was active in ACT UP and Queer Nation -- and queer bohemian grunge, is profoundly American. At heart, Sycamore is writing about the need to escape control through flight or obliteration."
Monologue topics: my awkwardness, the over-analysis of my awkwardness, preemptive crucifixion, Pontius Pilate-ing.
Publishers Weekly, in a starred review, says
“The tortured relationship between literary lions and their liquor illuminates the obscure terrain of psychology and art in this searching biographical medidation....Laing's astute analysis of the pervasive presence and meaning of drink in the writers' texts, and its reflection of the writers' struggle to shape—and escape—reality...A fine study of human frailty through the eyes of its most perceptive victims.”
And Hilary Mantel, the Booker Prize-winning author of Wolf Hall and Bring Up the Bodies, says
“I’m sorry I’ve finished this wonderful book because I feel I’ve been talking to a wise friend. I’ve been trying to work out exactly how Olivia Laing drew me in, because I hardly drink myself and have no particular attachment to the group of writers whose trials she describes. I think the tone is beautifully modulated, knowledgeable yet intimate, and she can evoke a state of mind as gracefully as she evokes a landscape....I think this is a book for all writers or would-be writers, whether succeeding or failing, whether standing on their feet or flat on the pavement....It’s one of the best books I’ve read about the creative uses of adversity: frightening but perversely inspiring.”
Monologue topics: Twitter, HTML Giant, The Zambreno Doll controversy, Disney on Ice.
This is my conversation with Ned, which first aired on December 16, 2012. I wanted to make it available to those who love him and those who love his work. (Prior to today, it was only available via premium subscription, because it was in the deeper archives.)
My heart goes out to all who feel this loss, especially his family.
Joyelle McSweeney is the guest. Her books include the poetry collection The Red Bird, and the novels Nylund, the Sarcographer and Flet. Recently, her play entitled Dead Youth, or, The Leaks won the inaugural Leslie Scalapino Award for Innovative Women Playwrights. She is also a co-editor of Action Books and the quarterly online literary journal Action Yes.
Kate Bernheimer says
"If Vladimir Nabokov wanted to seduce Nancy Drew, he'd read her Nylund, The Sarcographer one dark afternoon over teacups of whiskey. Welcome to fiction's new femme fatale, Joyelle McSweeney."
And Michael Martone says
"You thought you knew your own language. This book hands it back to you on a platter and includes the instructional manual for its further use."
Monologue topics: Christmas, late capitalism, edginess, curmudgeonly behavior, my daughter.
Dave Eggers, writing for The New York Times Book Review, says
"I loved this book…the work of a fluid, confident, and profoundly talented writer…it’s a joyous book, a very funny book, and an unpredictable book, and that’s because everyone in it is allowed to be fully human.”
And Ben Fountain, author of Billy Lynn's Long Halftime Walk, says
"In this powerful, blisteringly funny novel, Jonathan Miles makes a startling discovery: We are what we throw away. It’s in our castoff goods, edibles, chances and people that our authentic selves are revealed; or, as one of his many memorable characters puts it, 'garbage [is] the only truthful thing civilization produced.' Miles mines the depths of waste so artfully that by the end of this extraordinary novel, we’re left with the suspicion that redemption may well be no more, and no less, than an existential salvage operation."
Monologue topics: New York City, feeling overprotective, my best books of 2013
The New York Times Book Review says
"Just as Anya reinvents herself, Waclawiak's novel (her first) reinvents the immigration story...At its most illuminating, How to Get Into the Twin Palms movingly portrays a protagonist intent on both creating and destroying herself, on burning brightly even as she goes up in smoke."
And Publishers Weekly, in a starred review, calls it
"A taut debut... [that] strikes with the creeping suddenness of a brush fire."
Monologue topics: the dentist, cavities, flossing, contagions, demoralization, wheat, paranoia.
Noah Cicero is the guest. His new novel is called Go to Work and Do Your Job. Care for Your Children. Pay Your Bills. Obey the Law. Buy Products., and it is available now from Lazy Fascist Press.
Daniel Handler, aka Lemony Snicket, says
"I read Noah Cicero and remember that 'hysterical' can refer to something really funny and to a situation completely out of control. His work punches people in the face. Don't get in its way."
Monologue topics: receiving visitors, gentlemen callers, courting, taking a knee, listicles, bullshit.
Colum McCann is the guest. In 2009, he won the National Book Award for his novel Let the Great World Spin and this year published a new novel called Transatlantic. He is also the curator of a new anthology called The Book of Men, available now from Picador. The Book of Men is the official December selection of The TNB Book Club.
From the publisher:
To help launch the literary nonprofit Narrative 4, Esquire asked eighty of the world’s greatest writers to chip in with a story, all with the title, “How to Be a Man.”
The result is The Book of Men, an unflinching investigation into the essence of masculinity.
Monologue topics: the app, travel hell, TNB Book Club, kind mail, Narrative 4.
Nick Cave says
"Lolito is the funniest, most horrible book I've read in years. I was blown away."
And The Guardian says
"Both warm and uncompromising, Lolito will be as entertaining for young adults as it is educational for older readers. And if some aspects of the world Brooks inhabits seem alarming, I can't think of a writer I would rather have as my guide."
Monologue topics: coming through in the clutch, voicemail, prank calls, the word 'podcast' as a verb.
Scott McClanahan says
“Jamie Iredell is one of the two or three best writers I know in this world. If you read him—you’ll say the same thing. If you don’t, that’s fine. Your grandchildren will say it one day.”
Monologue topics: bookstores, trying to find 'the perfect book,' low-level panic, Ten Billion, wanting instructions
Antonya Nelson, writing for The New York Times Book Review, says
“Although individual stories stand alone, together they tell the tale of a place, and of the population that thrives and perishes therein… The historical sits comfortably alongside the contemporary and the factual nicely supplements the fictional… Readers will share in the environs of the author and her characters, be taken into the hardship of a pitiless place and emerge on the other side—wiser, warier and weathered like the landscape.”
And The Millions says
“As if Watkins’ prose embodies the desert landscape of Nevada itself, the stories are stony, unkind, and harsh, though never unattractive… Beneath these confessions runs a spiritual undertow—that salvific beauty can arise when brutality is brought to light… All of her stories left me feeling purged and oddly cleansed, easily making Battleborn one of the strongest collections I’ve read in years.”
Monologue topics: titles, titling, Dying Young, nakedly depressing titles.
Jess Walter, author of Beautiful Ruins, says
"In This Is Between Us Kevin Sampsell writes with grace and intimacy about the toughest subject of all—love—and manages to capture a relationship in its natural state: wry and wistful, strange and sexy, humming with desire, quaking with vulnerability."
And Patrick deWitt, author of The Sisters Brothers, says
"This Is Between Us is an imperturbable, strange, melancholy (but never maudlin) piece of work. Kevin Sampsell straddles the line between candor and oversharing with an artful grace I found infectious."
Monologue topics: mail, art vs. media, Tom Waits, LSD, the devil, doing the podcast live in front of people.
"Wise and engaging...a provocative study of the way war culture ensnares both participant and observer, the warping fascination of violence, and the disfiguring consequences of the roles we play in public...[a] layered, gorgeously nuanced work…the ending is a quiet bomb, as satisfying as it is ambiguous."
And The Daily Beast says
"Alarcón is a young, talented writer who is on the cusp of a breakthrough, a state of mind perfectly captured by the compulsively energetic voice of At Night We Walk in Circles...a gripping story."
Monologue topics: Conan, M.I.A., projected anxiety, kale, milk, mail, Chelsea Martin, alt-lit.
Joy Williams calls it
"A burning mean and darkly mysterious read."
And Kate Zambreno says
"I could tell you that Anne Marie Wirth Cauchon has written an utterly contemporary novel of our fragmented culture, a novel that I think might be the great American novel of the selfie, brilliantly alternating the narratives of two young travelers partying and searching and losing themselves in the wild West — a Kerouac hitchhiker juxtaposed with the nihilistic, wanting, wandering Ruth and her toxic friendship with her prettier best friend. But this is what I want to tell you—this is what you need to know — Anne Marie Wirth Cauchon writes like a beast, brutal and ecstatic. You need to read this."
Monologue topics: celebrity sightings, Book Soup, voicemail, Elliott Holt, my thing, navelgazing
Publishers Weekly, in a starred review, raves
"If ever there was a writer going places, it’s Laura van den Berg, who follows up her debut collection, What the World Will Look Like When All the Water Leaves Us, with the ambitious, modular The Isle of Youth, whose seven stories are arranged along the themes of family secrets with noirish intrigue."
And The New Inquiry says
“Van den Berg excels at complexity, eccentricity, maximalism of plot…Her emphases on elaborate plot and intentional loose ends are a refreshing departure from the contemporary taste for tidy, minimal plot paired with maximal voices.”
Monologue topics: congestion, logistics, obsession with logistics
Cheryl Strayed says
“Monica Drake has written a take-your-breath-away good, blow-your-mind wise, crack-your-heart-open beauty of a novel. The Stud Book is a smart, sexy, comic, compassionate, absorbing, and necessary story of our times.”
And Publishers Weekly says
“What really stands out is [Drake's] depiction of [the] city. This is not the twee wonderland of Portlandia…Drake combines [her characters’] lives in a quirky, knowing way, showing the complexities of modern-day female life, species Pacific Northwest native.”
Monologue topics: Sweden, responding to criticism, Google Translator, self-loathing, weakness, humiliation.
USA Today calls it
"...an intriguing and impressive experiment in storytelling that's full of paranoia, conspiracy theory, love and mystery..."
And The Telegraph calls it
"...a beautiful hardback carefully distressed to look like an old library book, stuffed with astonishing ephemera (postcards, newspaper clippings, photos, letters) that flutter from the turning pages - and a dose of film-industrial chicanery in its cover claims as well..."
Monologue topics: Halloween, voicemail, Chelsea Martin, shyness, curiosity
The New York Times Book Review calls it
“Psychologically astute . . . Dubois hits [the] larger sadness just right and dispenses with all the salacious details you can readily find elsewhere. . . . The writing in Cartwheel is a pleasure—electric, fine-tuned, intelligent, conflicted. The novel is engrossing, and its portraiture hits delightfully and necessarily close to home.”
And Entertainment Weekly calls it
“[A] gripping, gorgeously written novel . . . The emotional intelligence in Cartwheel is so sharp it’s almost ruthless—a tabloid tragedy elevated to high art."
Monologue topics: file sharing, Halloween, last minute costume ideas, Windblown Man.
Blake Butler says
"Someone who should not die is Chelsea Martin."
Monologue topics: Mellow Pages Library, mail, suspending disbelief, my current reading taste, experimentalism, immersive reading
[SIC] includes public domain works published under Davis Schneiderman's name, including everything from the prologue to The Canterbury Tales to Wikipedia pages to genetic codes, along with a transformation of the Jorge Luis Borges story "Pierre Menard, Author of Don Quixote."
[SIC] is part of DEAD/BOOKS trilogy of conceptual works by Schneiderman from Jaded Ibis Press. Other books in the trilogy are Blank (2011), and Ink (forthcoming).
Monologue topics: Simple Kind of Life, Gwen Stefani, Chris de Burgh, Lady in Red, Louisiana, nostalgia, emotional breakdowns.
The New York Times Book Review raves
"[Ward] chronicles our American story in language that is raw, beautiful and dangerous… [Her] singular voice and her full embrace of her anger and sorrow set this work apart from those that have trodden similar ground… With loving and vivid recollection, she returns flesh to the bones of statistics and slows her ghosts to live again… [It’s a] complicated and courageous testimony."
And The Los Angeles Times calls it
"Heart-wrenching… A brilliant book about beauty and death… at once a coming-of-age story and a kind of mourning song… filled [with] intimate and familial moments, each described with the passion and precision of the polished novelist Ward has become… Ward is one of those rare writers who’s traveled across America’s deepening class rift with her sense of truth intact. What she gives back to her community is the hurtful honesty of the best literary art."
Monologue topics: awards, Alice Munro, The Nobel Prize, Trey Parker, Matt Stone, LSD, Bret Easton Ellis
Audrey Niffenegger, author of The Time Traveler's Wife, says
"Chris Terry has bestowed Kevin, the hero of Zero Fade, with an especially acute case of teenage angst, and the results are sweet, painful, and very recognizable to anyone who has survived seventh grade. This is a wonderful book."
And Lindsay Hunter says
"Reading Chris Terry's Zero Fade offered me a glimpse into a cultural experience that isn't mine, but that I could recognize immediately. Vernacular as world. On the surface, it's just language. But this novel isn't surface. The characters speak in rhythms that reveal emotions not identifiable by just words, but I'll name them nonetheless: humor, sadness, confusion, joy, revelation. It's all here in Terry's first novel, a novel that is practically carbonated, how it sparkles and burns."
Monologue topics: the story behind the story, being interviewed, rambling, HPV, cunnilingus, celebrity marital discord
Tom Perrotta calls it
"Very smart and touching and unexpected.”
And The Washington Post says
“[Grodstein has] fashioned in her smart, assured third novel, The Explanation for Everything, . . . a gripping tale of a biologist who finds himself approaching midlife and suddenly finding faith . . . Grodstein’s real gift is her emotional precision . . . Finding or losing God proves to be an equally destabilizing tectonic shift, and this novel is full of them . . . Their cumulative force will leave you happily unsteady, and moved.”
Monologue topics: psychic burden, fear, anxiety, Sisyphus, insomnia, failure, dying alone.
Peter Orner raves
“Ethel Rohan speaks in many voices, all of which need to be heard. She goes so deeply into the hearts and souls of her people. And she wounds, she heals, often in the same sentence. Plain and simple, Goodnight Nobody is a great and unique collection of stories.”
And Roxane Gay says
“Fans of Ethel Rohan’s writing will find, in her latest and outstanding collection, Goodnight Nobody, a writer who has never been more intelligent, more graceful, more moving. Whether it’s a young girl torn between a loving father and an abusive mother, or a photographer who is losing her eyesight while her husband bears witness, or a woman who wants nothing more than a sign from her husband that he sees her, Rohan writes about people searching for a place to belong or a place to breathe or simply, a place to be. In Rohan’s eminently capable hands and words, these stories give us that hope that these searching people she writes will find everything they want or need.”
Monologue topics: Americans' reading habits, polls, sex, sexual dysfunction, lying about sex and reading