This week's podcast is an homage to Ursula K Le Guin from her final collaborator. David Naimon joins co-hosts Kate Wolf, Medaya Ocher, and Eric Newman and explains the backstory to his new book, Ursula K Le Guin: Conversations on Writing, a collection of dialogues with the legendary author from Naimon's literary podcast, Between the Covers. Le Guin died unexpectedly before Naimon had completed the project; thus, her mortality did not hang over the proceedings. Still, Naimon, a master interviewer, elicited reflections on the breadth of her work and thinking. In this conversation, he paints a resonant portrait of Le Guin as a generous, powerful, and fully-engaged person.
Also, author Dan Lopez returns to recommend Lisa Halliday's novel, Asymmetry.
Hosts Eric Newman and Kate Wolf sit down with documentary filmmaker Morgan Neville to discuss his latest work, Won’t You Be My Neighbor?, which tackles the work and impact of Fred Rogers and his iconic children’s show. In a conversation that moves from Rogers’ recognition of the complex emotional life of children to his sense of television as his ministry for a more loving world, Neville outlines both the example and challenge that Rogers sets for us in an era when hatred and vitriol seem poised to engulf the nation.
Also, in recognition of The World Cup, Joseph O'Neill, author of the short story collection Good Trouble, recommends his favorite book on football, Brilliant Orange: The Neurotic Genius of Dutch Soccer by David Winner.
Co-hosts Kate Wolf and Medaya Ocher talk with author Joseph O'Neill about his new collection of stories, Good Trouble. This show is a gem, full of reflections on 21st century mores, literature, politics, and crises. A master of contemporary language, O'Neill begins by playfully challenging a description of his characters - and away we go - as he reflects upon his craft and the task of representing the inner lives of the "American educated bourgeoisie" which he describes as "still a revolutionary class" busy remaking the world.
Also, Johanna Drucker returns to recommend Arthur C Clarke's sci-fi tale of Alien invasion, Childhood's End, which holds up a mirror to humanity.
Author Rebecca Makkai joins co-hosts Eric Newman, Medaya Ocher, and Kate Wolf to discuss her heralded new novel, The Great Believers, which tells two parallel and inter-related stories: one of the AIDS epidemic ravaging the Chicago gay community in the 1980s; the other, set in Paris in 2015, about a woman, Fiona, searching for her daughter, who has joined a cult. The connection is Fiona, who had become a caretaker for the men dying 30 years earlier in Chicago. Rebecca explains how she arrived at such a complex narrative structure (hint: it wasn't how the project started); as well as how she struggled with issues of cultural appropriation versus historical alliance.
Also, Jenny Zhang, author of Sour Heart, returns to recommend the work of Tommy Pico, in particular his new book-length poem, Junk.
Author Tayari Jones joins co-hosts Eric Newman and Medaya Ocher to talk about her latest novel, An American Marriage, that tells the story of an African-American couple that gets separated when the husband is falsely accused of a crime and receives a twelve year sentence. Tayari relates her inspiration. How she set out to research the impact of mass incarceration on families; but, fittingly, made no progress until she overheard an exchange from a couple at a mall. She realized that the key component for any novel to have a powerful political impact is having fully realized, fully human, central characters.
Also, Carmen Maria Machado, author of Her Body and Other Parties, returns to recommend Anne Rivers Siddons horror novel from the 1970s, The House Next Door.
Co-hosts Kate Wolf and Medaya Ocher are joined by UCLA Professor Johanna Drucker, author most recently of a novel Downdrift and a work of social philosophy, The General Theory of Social Relativity. The conversation begins with Downdrift, a tale narrated by an Archaeon, the world’s oldest surviving species, who relates how non-human species are increasingly adopting human behavior in a world dominated by the ever-more-destructive Homo Sapiens Sapiens. As Johanna explains, we happily proclaim those documented instances in which animals act like us as “updrift” because the reality is something we’d rather deny: we are destroying our mutually shared habitat and the other animals are feeling desperate. Johanna’s work is a clarion call for us to respect, and learn from, all those other species on earth, who in marked contrast to us, live in harmony with their environment.
Also, Morgan Jerkins returns to recommend Jesmyn Ward’s Sing, Unburied, Sing, which won the National Book Award for Fiction in 2017.
This week’s podcast is another Doubleheader, featuring interviews with Carmen Maria Machado and Jenny Zhang recorded at the Los Angeles Times Festival of Books. First up, co-hosts Eric Newman, Kate Wolf, and Medaya Ocher speak with Carmen Maria Machado about her heralded collection, Her Body and Other Parties, an eclectic set of fictions that both revels in, and challenges, the standard tropes of a wide variety of genres. Carmen also drops hints about what to expect from her upcoming memoir. Then poet, essayist, and storyteller Jenny Zhang stops by to talk about her approach to writing Sour Heart, a collection of coming-of-age stories about the children of recent Chinese immigrants, which also won numerous prestigious awards this past year.
Morgan Jerkins, author of This Will Be My Undoing, talks with co-hosts Eric Newman and Medaya Ocher about tackling the personal as political as a black woman author in these troubled times, nuancing what each of those terms mean. Morgan also talks about the struggle that all writers face – the voices inside our heads telling us that we can’t or shouldn’t – and how she found the balance between acknowledging vulnerability while embracing bravery.
Also, Ijeoma Oluo returns to recommend Daniel Jose Older's young adult Shadowshaper series.
Wim Wenders, one of cinema's greatest living directors, drops by to tell co-hosts Medaya Ocher and Kate Wolf the astonishing story behind his new documentary Pope Francis: A Man of His Word. Given unprecedented access, Wenders witnessed the Pope walk the walk in the footsteps of his namesake, St. Francis of Assisi; his revolutionary statements on the environment and the economy flowing from his genuine love for nature and compassion for every individual. Across the interview, Wenders himself reveals a generosity of spirit not unlike his latest subject.
Also, Hanif Abdurraqib returns once more to recommend No More Nice Girls: Countercultural Essays by critic Ellen Willis.
Ijeoma Oluo, author of So You Want to Talk About Race, joined co-hosts Eric Newman and Medaya Ocher for a discussion on race in America at The Los Angeles Times Festival of Books. Ijeoma begins with the tale of how she became a social media superstar when she bravely highlighted a set of racist posts targeting her, and then exposed Facebook's shameful response (the company temporarily banned Ijeoma). The episode confirmed her status as a prominent truth-telling voice on the digital battlefield that is the national dialogue in the Age of Trump. a prominent truth-telling voice on the digital battlefield that is the national dialogue in the age of Trump. Few of us ever engage in public exchanges with such high stakes; Ijeoma shares how it has impacted her as a mother, a writer, and a human being. Throughout the interview, her reflections on race, and how best to combat racism, show why she is such a brilliant champion for our time.
Also, Hanif Abdurraqib, author of They Can't Kill Us Until They Kill Us, returns to recommend the writings of one of his heroes and predecessors, Lester Bangs, collected in Psychotic Reactions and Carburetor Dung.
This week's LARB Podcast is a master class in 21st Century power relations, as Ryan Holiday discusses his sensational new book Conspiracy: Peter Thiel, Hulk Hogan, Gawker, and the Anatomy of Intrigue with co-hosts Eric Newman and Kate Wolf. Befitting our time, this one episode has more salacious subterfuge than your favorite serial podcast: sex tapes, the blogosphere, rival visions of LGBTQ liberation, free speech wars, the crisis of journalism, and, in the end, the overwhelming force of an oligarch's money. To top it off, Ryan didn't merely have a front row seat, he was a player in the game.
Also, to celebrate Mother's Day we asked three of our favorite Moms to recommend books. Heidi Newman chose Nora Ephron's I Feel Bad About My Neck, Dr, Elena Ocher tapped Tolstoy's Anna Karenina, while Kate Wolf selected Ina May Gaskin's Guide to Childbirth.
This week's show features interviews with authors Lynell George and Michelle Dean. First up, Lynell talks with LARB Radio's Janice Rhoshelle Littlejohn about After/Image: Los Angeles Outside the Frame, her new collection of essays about, and photos of, Los Angeles. The conversation, in turn historical and personal, celebrates LA while mourning the fraying of communities and the decline of human-scale connection as the city grows wealthier and more cosmopolitan. Then, Michelle is joined by co-hosts Eric Newman and Kate Wolf to discuss her book Sharp: The Women Who Made An Art Of Having An Opinion; why the ten literary legends that she profiles constitute a distinct group; and how their power, and ideas, speak to the critical issues of our time.
Hanif Abdurraqib may just be the most poignant raconteur of American culture in the age of Donald Trump. Hanif joins co-hosts Eric Newman and Medaya Ocher to talk about They Can't Kill Us Until They Kill Us, his magisterial collection of essays on the contemporary music scene; and all the pain, pleasure, promise, disappointment, pasts and presents, communities and self that he finds there. The interview, like Hanif's writing, conveys what it feels like to be awake, fully observant inside the whirlwind of America in the late twenty-teens.
Also, Francisco Cantu, author of The Line Becomes a River: Dispatches from the Border, returns to recommend the work of a number of poets writing about the US-Mexico border, in particular Javier Zamora's collection Unaccompanied.
What if a highly illegal drug could be used, far more successfully than prescribed pharmaceuticals, to help people with depression and bi-polar disorder? Who would be willing not just to experiment on themselves, but also to spread the word? LARB Radio's Medaya Ocher talks with just such a brave soul, Ayelet Waldman, author of A Really Good Day: How Microdosing Made a Mega Difference in My Mood, My Marriage, and My Life. Recorded in front of a full house at Scripps College, it's a fascinating dialogue full of surprises: Ayelet relates her own personal struggles, her frustration with anti-depressants, her traumatizing years as a Federal public defender appalled by the War on Drugs, her full knowledge of the severity of the law she was breaking, the whimsical arrival of a package from Lewis Carroll, the pharmacology of LSD, the precision of micro-dosing, and then, magically, relief. Ayelet acknowledges that her social privilege (as a prosperous white woman, a Harvard Law graduate, married to Michael Chabon, herself a successful mystery writer and novelist) allowed her to take a huge risk, as such she feels compelled to announce her discovery of happier trails ahead.
What motivates a great novelist to write a children's book? Author Junot Diaz joins co-hosts Eric Newman and Kate Wolf to discuss the inspiration behind Islandborn, the story of five year-old Lola learning about her family's history and culture, beautifully illustrated by Leo Espinoza. What follows is a penetrating conversation about the severe under-representation of people of color in children's books, the long-overdue reckoning that needs to happen across society, the genius of diasporic literature, and the healing potential of stories for all ages, about all peoples, that convey universal human experience.
Also, Elon Musk's SpaceX Falcon Heavy rocket inspired LARB Radio's Dan Lopez to re-read, and highly recommend, Kim Stanley Robinson's Mars Trilogy
How do cultural practices become established? Why do we live in the way that we do? For generations social scientists, philosophers, and even psychologists have emphasized the centrality of human rationality as the arbiter of cultural development. USC Professor of Neuroscience, Psychology and Philosophy Antonio Damasio suggests otherwise in his latest book, The Strange Order of Things: Life, Feeling, and the Making of Cultures. As Professor Damasio explains to co-hosts Tom Lutz and Eric Newman, his research shows how cultural decisions, and their potential adoption across a given society, is rooted much more in feelings than previously thought. What follows is a fascinating dive into the role emotions and feelings play in all living things on earth: from us (so-called) higher primates to other animals, plants, and all the down way to micro-organisms. Suffice to say, this week's show will challenge, and possibly change, the way you understand, and feel about, the world.
At the top of the show, Sean Penn reflects on how his just-released first novel, Bob Honey Who Just Do Stuff, had its roots in his effort to intervene in the 2016 presidential election. So after Trump's victory, Penn continued with Bob Honey to investigate the ways in which we're all complicit in this catastrophic outcome; and what better mode to take all that on than a Pynchonesque, Foster Wallace-inspired antic tale, an absurdist/realist fiction. Co-hosts Eric Newman and Kate Wolf don't shy away from the obvious and vexing question: why would an A-list Hollywood actor, director, and screenwriter, sure to get any project green lit, choose the written word? What emerges is a fascinating portrait of a celebrity who truly rejects celebrity culture, a person of conscience, a restless creative imagination, rooted in the American rebel tradition, hell-bent on the next inspired, giddy, revealing turn-of-phrase.
The great author reflects on a lifetime of writing, an unorthodox career, and her current work as a teacher and healer, which couldn't be more relevant for our troubled times. Under a majestic oak in Reza Aslan and Jessica Jackley's beautiful backyard, Maxine Hong Kingston talks with LARB Radio's Tom Lutz and answers questions from an audience hanging on her every word. It was an evening rife with wisdom, charm, laughter, and confrontations with some of life's greatest challenges; a true celebration of literature.
In a penetrating interview, LARB Radio host Kate Wolf talks with author Francisco Cantu about his new book The Line Becomes a River, an impressionistic chronicle of his 5-year stint as an agent for the United States Border Patrol, his emotional fallout from the experience, and his reflections on the humanitarian crisis of the US-Mexico border. Cantu also offers his thoughts on the controversy that has surrounded this book, stemming from criticism from immigration rights activists; as well as his critique of Trump’s brutally wrong-headed border wall proposal.
Also, LARB Radio's Eric Newman drops in to recommend Jeffrey C Stewart’s magisterial 800-page biography The New Negro: The Life of Alain Locke, which transports you to the milieu of one of the Harlem Renaissance’s most influential thinkers.
Bassem Youssef, author of Revolution for Dummies: Laughing through the Arab Spring, joins co-hosts Eric Newman and Medaya Ocher to discuss what it's like to launch an entirely new genre in the Middle East - mass media political satire (modeled upon Jon Stewart's Daily Show) - and then become Egypt's most popular TV host before having to flee the country. Youssef has lost none of his wit or political insight since his days on center stage of an actual revolution; and the conversation is laden with relevance for a certain country dealing with a dangerous, wannabe-authoritarian leader. Youssef's analysis of the role of political satire during troubled times delivers a pointed lesson for all us taking solace in the wit of Colbert, Bee, SNL & Co.
Also, Azareen Van der Vliet Oloomi, author of Call me Zebra, returns to recommend Claire Lispector’s The Passion According to G.H.; a classic of Brazilian literature from 1964. Azareen reads a stunning passage that foregrounds a central concern of all serious authors, how words fall short.
Azareen Van der Vliet Oloomi joins co-hosts Eric Newman, Kate Wolf, and Medaya Ocher to discuss her first novel, Call Me Zebra, released to universal praise this past month. In his review for The Los Angeles Review of Books, Nathan Scott McNamara, describes how Zebra, “the precocious narrator, a self-proclaimed “connoisseur of literature,… is unvaryingly brilliant and deadpan funny… the smartest narrator you will encounter this year.” Through her travels, tragedies, romance, and voracious reading of canonical literature, this book of ideas captures the “the experience of exile, deftly threading the narrative with theory while also using theory to pull the reader in.” In conversation with Azareen, we learn about a young author ambitious enough to take all this on and produce a captivating work of literature.
Also, Giulia Sissa stops by to tell how she fell in love with Marcel Proust’s Remembrance of Things Past (À la recherche du temps perdu) as a young woman and remains under its spell to this day.
LARB Radio was live at The Last Bookstore in Downtown LA this past Sunday at the Book Release Party for author Tim DeRoche's and illustrator Daniel Gonzalez's 21st century recasting of Mark Twain's American Classic: The Ballad of Huck and Miguel. Co-hosts Eric Newman and Medaya Ocher facilitated the main event, a free flowing discussion with Tim and Daniel that captivated the overflow crowd with reflections on a book that, much like the original, illuminates many of the central concerns and crises of contemporary American society. Tim and Daniel explain the project's evolution: why Huck's companion Jim, a runaway slave, became Miguel an undocumented migrant; the Mississippi became the LA River; and how Los Angeles, with its limitless diversity and underappreciated nature, plays a staring role accentuated by Daniel's gorgeous prints. Once again, the searing social critique resonates because our hearts are drawn in by the battered-but-unbroken adolescent who finds on the river an older role model, something unavailable to him in "proper" society, in the person of a fellow outcast, Miguel - a human connection, as with Jim, all-but-forbidden by white America.
Also, Dan Lopez drops by to share his Olympic Fever, by recommending a book that the Winter Games inspired him to read: Barbara Demick's study of life in the world's most closed and mysterious country, Nothing to Envy: Ordinary Lives in North Korea.
On this Valentine's week, we celebrate jealousy! Giulia Sissa, Professor of Classics and Political Science at UCLA, joins hosts Eric, Kate, and Medaya to discuss her new book Jealousy: A Forbidden Passion; and elucidate how jealousy, though much maligned, is in fact central to our greatest desire, passionate amorous love. Sure, jealousy can hurt like hell, can be an unstoppable force of (creative) destruction; indeed, the soul-wrenching tales of Medea and Othello have universal resonance - but, as Sissa explains, jealousy is much more than fearful agony. Jealousy operates whenever we desire another, for then we are desiring to be desired by someone who is free to shun us or choose another; and that vulnerability both heightens, and is elemental to, love.
Also, our own Kate Wolf recommends Sam the Cat, a short story collection from 2001 by Matthew Klam with surprising plot twists that challenge the artifice of sexist machismo and have an uncanny resonance in the #MeToo moment.
Befitting the scope of Min Jin Lee's National Book Award-nominated novel Pachinko, this interview sweeps delightfully through a broad range of subjects - the challenges of writing a historical novel, of representing the unique pressures felt by immigrants, 20th Century Korean and Japanese relations, Presbyterian theology, fate, the dangers inherent in the American pursuit of happiness, the importance of valuing suffering and perseverance, and a show stopping meta-moment where we reflect on the possibilities of a LARB Radio interview - animated throughout by the joy and intensity that co-hosts Eric Newman, Kate Wolf, and Medaya Ocher experienced reading Min Jin Lee's masterpiece. Also, Medaya recommends Janet Malcolm's The Silent Woman, a biographical study of Sylvia Plath and Ted Hughes' relationship that uses this legendary, tragic, near-mythical relationship to critique the distorting operation of conventional biographies.
A couple of weeks ago, LARB hosted an event that featured science writer K.C. Cole in dialogue with Actor and Author Alan Alda to discuss the ideas that animate his new book, If I Understood You, Would I Have This Look on My Face?: My Adventures in the Art and Science of Relating and Communicating. A lifelong science-enthusiast, Alda tells how he parlayed his experience hosting a TV series produced by Scientific American into working with scientists to help them better represent their work to the public (and to each other) by teaching them improvisational acting. The results were measurable and impressive; and, if people are willing, the evidence suggests that the lessons are universally applicable, even in a country divided. Also, don't miss the exchange that starts in the 36th minute, when Alda, an outspoken feminist for decades, is asked to reflect on the current #MeToo moment - co-host Medaya Ocher described his response as "by far the most articulate, generous, and kind" description by a man of why this is a great and necessary movement.