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.