Hilton Als, joins Eric Newman to discuss his new book, My Pinup, a hybrid memoir-essay that explores questions of race, desire, and autonomy through an intense and intimate focus on Hilton's relationship with and to polymath musician and sexual dynamo Prince. By looking at Prince as a subject of queer desire and being and at his recording career as a study in the struggle between Black excellence and white corporate control, MY PINUP probes the simultaneous allure of Black queer aesthetics and its disavowal in the hostile terrains of the music industry and American culture. The memoir/essay offers us a chance to remember and get close to the Prince that was, and to mourn the Prince that could have been.
Also, Dionne Irving, author of The Islands, returns to recommend A Little Devil in America: Notes in Praise of Black Performance by Hanif Abdurraqib.
Dionne Irving joins Eric Newman to talk about her debut story collection, The Islands. Moving across the United States, Canada, Jamaica, England, and France, the collection explores the female characters’ experience of diasporic dislocation, that feeling of never quite fitting into the rhythms of either their adopted culture or their culture of origin. Dionne’s stories reveal origin — that foundational and orienting sense of where one is “from” — as an eternally unsettled question for her female protagonists, troubling the ways in which they find or make a home for themselves among people and places that never feel entirely theirs.
Also, Peter Brooks, author of Seduced by Story: The Use and Abuse of Narrative, returns to recommend The Shadow King by Maaza Mengiste as well as The Anomaly by Herve Le Tellier.
Kate Wolf and Medaya Ocher are joined by literary critic and scholar Peter Brooks. Brooks is the Sterling Professor of Comparative Literature Emeritus at Yale. He is the author of many books but perhaps most notably of Reading for the Plot, originally published in 1984, which initiated the narrative turn in literary criticism. In it, Brooks focused on the story, how it was told and how it moved forward.
His latest book Suduced by Story returns to narrative as its main subject, 30 years later. Brooks now finds narrative everywhere — from President Bush invoking the “stories” of all of his cabinet members to corporate websites touting the company “story”. What does this narrative takeover mean? Why have we started to privilege storytelling over any other form of expression? Brooks writes “This…suggests something in our culture has gone astray.” Peter Brooks joins us today to discuss, as he puts it, “the misuses, and mindless uses, of narrative.”
Also, Darryl Pinckney, author of Come Back in September, returns to recommend three books: Elizabeth Hardwick's Seduction and Betrayal; Margo Jefferson's Constructing a Nervous System; and Marina Warner's Esmond and Ilia.
In the first half of the show, Kate Wolf and Eric Newman are joined by LARB contributing editor Jon Wiener to remember the historian Mike Davis, who died last week at 76 years old. Jon and Mike were longtime friends and together they wrote Set the Night on Fire: L.A. in the Sixties, Davis's final book. Then Kate speaks with the writer Constance Debré about her novel, Love Me Tender, the first of her books to be translated in English. It follows a woman, who like Debré was once a lawyer, but has quit her job, and vacated the comforts of her former life to devote herself to her writing. She has a son from her marriage named Paul. After telling her husband, who she's separated from, that she has decided to be with women, the narrator’s ex starts to turn Paul against her and prevents her from seeing him. The novel takes place over the span of a glacial court case that will decide the narrator's fate with her son—all the while asking critical questions about the fearsome nature of unconditional love and attachment, the roles of gender and motherhood, and the unassailability of the truth.
Eric Newman and Kate Wolf speak with the novelist and critic Darryl Pinckney about his new memoir, Come Back in September: A Literary Education on West Sixty-Seventh Street, Manhattan. The book recounts Pinckney’s relationship with a legend of American letters: the singular stylist Elizabeth Hardwick. Hardwick was Pinckney’s professor in a creative writing class at Barnard in the early 1970s, and they quickly became close friends. She invited him into her home, into her writing process, and into a world of New York literary culture and gossip, which Pinckney doles out here in generous cupfuls. It was through Hardwick that Pinckney met Barbara Epstein, an editor and co-founder of the New York Review of Books, where he began his writing career. His memoir documents a critical time in both his own life and in Hardwick’s, including the dissolution of her marriage to the poet Robert Lowell, and the composition of her masterful novel, Sleepless Nights.
Also, Namwali Serpell, author of The Furrows, returns to recommend "Old Boys Old Girls" a short story by Edward P. Jones from his collection All Aunt Hagar's Children.
On this special LARB Book Club episode of the Radio Hour, Boris Dralyuk and Medaya Ocher are joined by Namwali Serpell, to speak about her new novel, The Furrows. One of the most daring and protean literary voices working today, Serpell is a Zambian-born novelist and essayist, and a professor of English at Harvard University. Her debut novel, The Old Drift, a genre-bending saga tracing the legacies of three families, appeared in 2019 and won the Anisfield-Wolf Book Award, the Arthur C. Clarke Award for science fiction, and the Los Angeles Times’s Art Seidenbaum Award for First Fiction. Her equally unclassifiable — a compliment, that — work of nonfiction, Stranger Faces, appeared the following year, as part of Transit Books’ series of Undelivered Lectures, and was a finalist for a National Book Critics Circle Award. Serpell is also the recipient of a 2020 Windham-Campbell Literature Prize, the 2015 Caine Prize for African Writing, and a 2011 Rona Jaffe Foundation Writers’ Award. Like The Old Drift, The Furrows defies narrative conventions and readerly expectations, but it does so with a narrower aim in view, homing in on the after-affects — which are, truth be told, manifold — of a particular, though uncertain, trauma, an event that fractures the protagonist’s life and sense of self at the age of 12. Blamed for the death of her younger brother, Cassandra is haunted by the presence of his absence — or is it simply his presence? — for the rest of her days. What Serpell’s novel tells us is what Cassandra promises to tell us: not what happened, but how it felt.
Also, Kathern Scanlan, author of Kick the Latch returns to recommend Charles Reznikoff's Testimony: The United States 1885-1915: Recitative.
Kathryn Scanlan joins Kate Wolf and Medaya Ocher to discuss her new novel, Kick the Latch. A series of taut, electrifying vignettes based on real-life interviews, the book narrates the life of Sonia, a horse trainer in rural Iowa, who enters the world of competitive racing while still in high school. Sonia’s experiences at the racetrack are by turns exultant and brutal: they take place in an atmosphere in which both human and animal are often pushed to the edge of their lives in the name of winning it all. But Sonia’s grit, devotion, and perseverance serve to counter to the exceptional details of her life and work. In her, Scanlan crafts a uniquely humane and gripping voice that reveals itself in small details, idiosyncratic phrases, and deep tenderness.
Also, Hua Hsu, author of Stay True, returns to recommend Maxine Hong Kingston's Tripmaster Monkey: His Fake Book.
Hua Hsu joins Eric Newman to discuss his latest book, STAY TRUE. The memoir recounts Hua's feeling of being caught between the Taiwanese culture of his immigrant parents and the burgeoning Silicon Valley suburbs in which he was raised. A lifeline of sorts is thrown to him in the form of Ken Ishida, a confident young man from a multigenerational Japanese American family. At first, it seems that Ken has every Hua lacks—the looks, the easy social confidence, a finger on the pulse of American culture. But during their friendship those first years of college, the young men support and lean on each other as they grow into adults with bright—if intangible—futures ahead of them. But one night, a shocking and random act of violence takes Ken away and Hua and his friends must try to makes sense of a senseless tragedy and pull back together the broken lives left in its wake.
Also, Andrew Sean Greer, author of Less is Lost, returns to recommend Julian Delgado Lopera's Fiebre Tropical.
Andrew Sean Greer, author of six novels, including The Confessions, joins Eric Newman to talk about Less Is Lost, a sequel to his 2017 Pulitzer Prize winner, Less. This latest installment finds our beloved and bewildered eponymous gay novelist of minor repute dashing across the American Southwest, South, and East Coast as he scrambles to save, and in some ways clarify, his relationship with Freddy Pelu, as well as to pay back some monumental back rent on the charming San Francisco home left to him by his recently deceased lover, Robert Brownburn. As Less takes his fish-out-of-water act on the road, Andrew Sean Greer treats readers to a number of poignant insights into the nature of love, devotion, belonging, and the by turns miserable and, er, miserable condition of being a writer.
Also, Yiyun Li, author of The Book of Goose, returns to recommend Charlotte Bronte’s Villette.
Kate Wolf speaks with celebrated author Yiyun Li about her latest novel, The Book of Goose. A tale of a passionate friendship between two adolescent girls set in a rural village in postwar France, The Book of Goose is told from the perspective of Agnès. Now living in America, many years later, she recounts the devotion and creativity she shared with her best friend, Fabienne, when they were young. Together the two girls composed a book of stories, but, at Fabienne’s urging, Agnès posed as the sole author when the book was eventually published, setting the course of their lives in two very different directions. An examination of friendship, poverty, feminine ambivalence, and death, Li’s novel is most concerned with the nature of stories themselves: where they come from, how they function, and who they belong to.
Also, Rachel Aviv, author of Strangers to Ourselves: Unsettled Minds and the Stories that Make Us, returns to recommend Louis Sass’s Madness and Modernism: Insanity in the Light of Modern Art, Literature, and Thought.
Kate Wolf and Medaya Ocher are joined by New Yorker staff writer Rachel Aviv to discuss her first book, Strangers to Ourselves: Unsettled Minds and the Stories That Make Us. The book collects the stories of people whose mental health crises subvert our usual understanding of diagnosis, treatment, and healing. It begins with Aviv herself, who was hospitalized at the age of six for anorexia, before she even knew the term for her illness. Each chapter is then dedicated to a different person: Bapu, an Indian Brahmin woman, who shortly after giving birth dedicates herself to religious asceticism and mysticism; Naomi, a Black woman, who in her psychosis, despairs of the very real racism and generational oppression that surrounds her; and Ray Osheroff and Laura Delano whose chapters both show the ways in which psychiatry is still grappling with medication and biology. Aviv explores how mental illness can defy psychiatric explanation, requiring a broader view of the economic, social and lived realities of the people who experience it.
Also, Raquel Gutierrez, author of Brown Neon, returns to recommend Dog Flowers by Danielle Geller.
Editors of The LARB Quarterly, Chloe Watlington and Michelle Chihara, join Jeff Weiss of theLAnd and local designer and near-futurist writer, Schessa Garbutt, on a panel at this summer's LITLIT Festival.to discuss the love and labor of print magazines, designing for print, and ongoing debates around the relevance of literary criticism and production today.
On July 30th and 31st, LARB presented the second annual LITLIT, or Little Literary Fair, in partnership with Hauser & Wirth Publishers at Hauser & Wirth’s stunning gallery space in Downtown L.A.’s Arts District. LITLIT brought together 48 small presses and literary arts organizations and over 5,000 visitors for a two-day celebration of independent publishing on the West Coast. All five free panel discussions from the weekend are available to watch back on litlit.org. Today, you’ll hear one of these special conversations, For the Love of Print.
Translators Andrew Way Leong, Bruna Dantas Lobato, Robin Myers, and Magdalena Edwards discuss the Art of Translation on a panel at this summer's LITLIT Festival.
On July 30th and 31st, LARB presented the second annual LITLIT, or Little Literary Fair, in partnership with Hauser & Wirth Publishers at Hauser & Wirth’s gallery space in Downtown L.A.’s Arts District. LITLIT brought together 48 small presses and literary arts organizations and over 5,000 visitors for a two-day celebration of independent publishing on the West Coast, which included five free panel discussions.
Today, you’ll hear one of these special conversations, The Art of Translation, produced in partnership with the Center for the Art of Translation in San Francisco. Andrew Way Leong, Bruna Dantas Lobato, Robin Myers, and Magdalena Edwards, four eminent translators, discuss the hard-fought, increasing visibility of their art and offer insight into their methods and projects.
Are you a literary translator who has not yet publishing a book-length work? Know an emerging translator? Consider applying to the new LARB + Yefe Nof Emerging Translation Residency in Lake Arrowhead this winter. Applications are due September 14. Learn more and apply today at lareviewofbooks.org/events.
An encore presentation from early 2021 that speaks to our current summer of floods, droughts, blazing temperatures and extreme weather across the northern hemisphere:
Hosts Kate and Medaya are joined by New Yorker staff writer and Pulitzer Prize-winning author Elizabeth Kolbert, whose new book is called Under a White Sky: The Nature of the Future, in which Kolbert explores the many ways humans intervene in nature. Kolbert discusses invasive species, the sinking of New Orleans, the triage plan for climate change and how solar geoengineering might bleach our skies.
Also, Karla Cornejo Villavicencio, author of The Undocumented Americans, returns to recommend Children of the Land by Marcello Hernandez Castillo.
On this special LARB Book Club episode of the Radio Hour, Boris Dralyuk and Lindsay Wright are joined by K-Ming Chang to discuss her collection of stories, Gods of Want. Chang made her debut with the 2018 poetry chapbook Past Lives, Future Bodies, which she followed up in 2020 with the novel Bestiary. A New York Times Book Review Editors’ Choice long-listed for the Center for Fiction First Novel Prize and the PEN/Faulkner Award, Bestiary is a strikingly imaginative, fable-like tale of three generations of women who immigrate to the United States from Taiwan. Some of Bestiary’s motifs — hauntings, queer desire, violence, and unexpected transformations — recur in Chang’s 2021 chapbook Bone House, a phantasmagoric spin on Wuthering Heights, and also in Gods of Want. Shifting between genres, modes, and degrees of gravity, the collection displays the young Taiwanese American author’s striking inventiveness, both at the level of imagery and of language, as well as her cutting humor.
Architectural critic Alexandra Lange joins Kate Wolf and Eric Newman to discuss her latest book, Meet Me by the Fountain: An Inside History of the Mall. As its title suggests, the study explores the beginnings and development of the American shopping mall, rewarding our nostalgic gaze with a fascinating look at the mall as architectural challenge and sociological phenomenon. As a response to the changing relationships to consumerism and urban space in the United States in the post-World War II period, the shopping mall soared in popularity in large part because it offered at once a space for consumerist escape and nearly complete environmental and social control. It shaped its own social culture, shot through with all of the prejudices of the world outside but with the promise of experiential transformation. In Meet Me by the Fountain, the shopping mall emerges as a uniquely postmodern public space grounded in the perennial human longing for social connection, and the nostalgia we feel for that space in the present demonstrates its ongoing appeal, even in the present, when it is considered to be, if not dead, all but certainly dying.
Also, Elvia Wilk, author of the essay collection Death by Landscape, returns to recommend both Austrian author Marlen Haushofer’s 1963 novel The Wall, available in Shaun Whiteside’s English translation, and Ned Beauman’s new novel Venomous Lumpsucker.
Elvia Wilk joins Kate Wolf to discuss her latest book, Death by Landscape, a collection of essays, including one originally published by the Los Angeles Review of Books. The pieces in Death by Landscape invite us to look closer at the narratives that persist in this time of environmental collapse and cataclysm. Reading a range of fiction and theory — including the work of writers such as Mark Fisher, Margaret Atwood, Amitav Ghosh, Jeff VanderMeer, Octavia Butler, and Karen Russell — Wilk explores the stories and genres that might allow us to decenter our human perspective of Earth and reimagine old divisions, such as those between people and plants, dystopia and utopia, role play and reality, and existence before and after apocalypse.
The writer and critic Raquel Gutiérrez joins Kate Wolf and Eric Newman to speak about their debut collection of essays, Brown Neon. The book follows Gutiérrez’s peregrinations across time and place, particularly the West and Southwest, from their upbringing and youth in 1990s Los Angeles as a member of post punk bands and inside of a queer community of color, to their years as an arts administrator in Northern California, as well as their more recent experiences in the borderlands of Arizona and Texas. With an approach that is both intimate — many of the artists they write about are close friends — and expansive, the book takes on issues of identity, gender, class, ownership, and legacies of violence, with nuance, historical perspective, and rapt attention to place.
Also, Joseph Osmundson, author of Virology, returns to recommend C. Russell Price's poetry collection oh, you thought this was a date?!
Joseph Osmundson joins Eric Newman to discuss VIROLOGY, his new collection of essays published in June by Norton. Joe is a professor of microbiology at NYU, critic, essayist, and co-host of the Food4Thot podcast.
Part memoir, part COVID diary, part essayistic journey into questions of risk, identity, and modern culture, Virology loosely explores what queer thought and experience can help us see and understand about viruses, and what a close look at viruses can help us understand about ourselves and our relation to others and the world. Two major pandemics saturate the book—the legacy of the HIV/AIDS crisis of the 1980s and 1990s, and the COVID19 pandemic of the past several years. In looking at how queerness, risk, and social bonds intersect with moments of peak medical crisis, Joe searches out how we have been challenged and changed by pandemics and what new worlds we can build out of that experience.
Also, Ruth Wilson Gilmore returns to recommend six books, which, taken together, renew her faith in "human internationalism from below." The titles and authors are: Sinews of War and Trade by Laleh Khalili, Almanac of the Dead by Leslie Marmon Silko, Those Bones are Not My Child by Toni Cade Bambara, Return of a Native by Vron Ware, The Common Wind by Julius S. Scott, and the collection As If She Were Free edited by Erica L Ball, Tatiana Seijas, and Terri L Snyder.
Kate Wolf speaks with the renowned French filmmaker Claire Denis about her latest feature, Both Sides of the Blade, out in theaters now. It stars Juliette Binoche and Vincent Lindon as Sara and Jean, a couple who have been together for almost a decade. Sara works in broadcasting, and Jean is a former rugby player looking for a job, but finding it difficult after serving a prison sentence some time ago. Sara used to be with a different man, François, Jean’s old co-worker. When François remerges in their lives, Sara is overcome by yearning, returned to a love that never really went away. Jean is more circumspect but begins to work with François again, and the drama unfurls from there. The film probes the power of female desire and the possibilities of escaping one’s past, while subtly examining bureaucracy as well as racial and class tensions in France.
Also, Nell Zink, author of Avalon, returns to recommend Croatian novelist Robert Perišić’s No-Signal Area, translated by Ellen Elias-Bursac.
Ruth Wilson Gilmore joins Kate Wolf and Eric Newman to talk about her new collection, Abolition Geography: Essays Toward Liberation, which covers three decades of her thinking about abolition, activism, scholarship, the carceral system, the political economy of racism, and much more. For Gilmore, these are not siloed issues; rather, they are braided effects of an unjust political, economic, and cultural system that must be dismantled in order for liberation to take place. Gilmore reminds us that we must look for connections beyond the academy, where theory meets praxis, where the vulnerable are not an abstraction but a concrete human reality. Her thought and work are a much needed shot in the arm for a political and intellectual culture that has, in the view of many, atrophied or been co-opted by the extractive loops of late capitalism.
Also, Natalia Molina, author of A Place at the Nayarit: How a Mexican Restaurant Nourished a Community, returns to recommend two books on Latinx Los Angeles, George Sanchez’s Boyle Heights: How a Los Angeles Neighborhood Became the Future of American Democracy, and Pierrette Hondagneu-Sotelo and Manuel Pastor’s South Central Dreams: Finding Home and Building Community in South LA.
Kate Wolf and Eric Newman are joined by historian Natalia Molina to discuss her most recent book, A Place at the Nayarit: How a Mexican Restaurant Nourished a Community. The book follows Molina’s maternal grandmother, Doña Natalia Barraza, who immigrated to Los Angeles from Mexico in the 1920s and went on to open a series of restaurants. The most successful and longest lasting was the Nayarit, which opened on Sunset Boulevard in Echo Park in 1951. The Nayarit served the ethnically diverse and historically progressive and queer neighborhood for over two decades. As Molina, a MacArthur Fellow, shows, it was a refuge for members of the city’s Latinx community, many of whom were recent arrivals in the United States. At the Nayarit they “could come together for labor, leisure, and access to a ready-made social network,” and this act alone would shape the face of Los Angeles for years to come.
Also, Ottessa Moshfegh, author of Lapvona, returns to recommend Dr. Mike Bechtle's The People Pleaser’s Guide to Loving Others without Losing Yourself.
Author Ottessa Moshfegh returns to speak to Kate Wolf about her latest novel, Lapvona. The book is set in the eponymous medieval village, a place beset by violence and extreme cruelty. Its ruler is the loutish Villiam, who engineers massacres of Lapvona’s inhabitants whenever dissent grows, and also steals their water during a deadly drought. Villiam’s distant relative, Jude, is a shepherd who beats his son, Marek, and lies about the fate of Marek’s supposedly deceased mother. Marek weathers his father’s abuse through his devotion to God and the soothing of the village wet nurse, Ina, but his piety doesn’t keep him from committing brutal acts of his own. In a fatal twist, he ends up in the care of Villiam, on the hill above the suffering villagers, increasingly complicit in Lapvona’s corruption — a turn of events as germane today as it was a thousand years ago.
Also, Elif Batuman, author of Either/Or, returns to recommend Nino Haratischvili’s The Eighth Life, translated from the German by Charlotte Collins and Ruth Martin.
Author Nell Zink joins Eric Newman and Kate Wolf to talk about her latest novel, Avalon. The book is a coming of age novel centered on Bran, a young woman abandoned by her parents, left to fend for herself on a Southern California farm where she helps raise and sell exotic plants amid the looming presence of a biker gang. When Bran meets Peter, a college student thick on theory and philosophy, she glimpses the possibility of a lush new world of ideas and possibility. The two share a tortured and sweet romance through which Bran enters the world of ideas as a young writer coming into her identity, a relationship that promises an escape to a new life she glimpses just on the horizon.
Also, Shelly Oria, editor of the anthology, I Know What’s Best for You: Stories on Reproductive Freedom, returns to recommend four books (the first three by contributors to the anthology): Notes on Your Sudden Disappearance by Alison Espach; The Stars are not yet Bells byHannah Lilith Assadi; American Estrangement, a short story collection, by Said Sayrafiezadeh; and A Lie that Someone Told You about Yourself by Peter Ho Davies.
Kate Wolf and Medaya Ocher are joined by the revered writer and artist Renee Gladman to speak about her latest book, Plans for Sentences. Plans for Sentences is a collection of ink and watercolor drawings paired with texts, each duo labeled as a “figure,” making 60 figures in all. The drawings combine the loops and scribbles of words and letters with the lines of cityscapes and buildings. The text meanwhile outlines what the titular “sentences” of the book will do. Together, Gladman seems to create a new kind of architecture, made up of a blend of words and images, solid and in flux at the same time. The plans here are for the future.
Also, John Markoff, author of The Many Lives of Stewart Brand, returns to recommend Kim Stanley Robinson's The Ministry for the Future.