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LARB Radio Hour

The Los Angeles Review of Books Radio Hour is a weekly show featuring interviews, readings and discussions about all things literary. Hosted by LARB Editors-at-Large Kate Wolf, Medaya Ocher, and Eric Newman.
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Now displaying: Page 5
Aug 19, 2022

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.

Aug 12, 2022

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.

Aug 5, 2022

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.

Jul 29, 2022

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?!

Jul 22, 2022

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.

Jul 15, 2022

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.

Jul 8, 2022

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.

Jul 1, 2022

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.

Jun 24, 2022

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.

Jun 17, 2022

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.

Jun 10, 2022

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.

Jun 3, 2022
Novelist and New Yorker staff writer Elif Batuman joins Kate Wolf to discuss her latest book, Either/Or. A sequel to 2017's The Idiot, the novel follows Batuman’s protagonist Selin in her sophomore year at Harvard University in 1996. Endearingly sincere in her efforts to understand the world around her, Selin turns most often to the books she reads for her literature major to do so, especially the titular work by Kierkegaard, which allows her to consider the merits of an aesthetic life versus an ethical one. It’s The Seducer’s Diary portion of Kierkegaard’s book, however, that Selin finds herself most interested in—and horrified by. It helps explain the mystifying behavior of her crush, Ivan, with whom nothing much of consequence has happened. But are books really a reflection of life? And might Selin write a novel of her own? Selin's quest for understanding eventually leads her away from campus and to her native Turkey and then Russia where she connects more deeply with experiences outside of literature and finally finds herself living on her own terms.
Also, Dan Lopez, author of The Show House, drops by to recommend Cuba: An American History by Ada Ferrer
May 27, 2022

Author Shelly Oria returns to speak with Kate Wolf about her latest anthology, I Know What’s Best for You: Stories on Reproductive Freedom. The book compiles a range of fiction, essay, poetry, plays, and comics by twenty-eight contributors that offer perspectives on reproductive rights, health care, bodily autonomy, and family making, among many other things. It was published in collaboration with the Brigid Alliance, a nationwide service that arranges and funds confidential and personal travel support to those seeking abortions. The Brigid Alliance’s Executive Director, Odile Schalit, also joins the conversation.

Also, Hernan Diaz, author of Trust, returns to recommend Harrow by Joy Williams.

May 20, 2022

Eric Newman and Medaya Ocher speak with writer Hernan Diaz about his latest novel Trust, which tells a single story from multiple perspectives, or rather revisions. Trust brings into focus both how storytelling itself, as well as the narratives American culture tells about wealth and money, shape and distort our world.  The conversation moves from the traditions of the 19th century American novel, the vagaries of capital and how Diaz put together this nesting doll-like novel.

Also, Celia Paul, author of Letters to Gwen John, returns to recommend the Complete Letters of Vincent Van Gogh.

May 13, 2022

Kate Wolf and Medaya Ocher are joined by acclaimed artist and writer Celia Paul to speak about her latest book Letters to Gwen John, an epistolary memoir addressed to the Welsh painter Gwen John, who lived and worked in Paris in the late 19th and early 20th century. Paul explores the connections between herself and John, who was a passionate defender of her own artistic practice, as well the lover of a much older, much more established man, the sculptor and painter Auguste Rodin. In her letters to John, Paul considers what it means to be a woman and an artist, as well as a mother and a romantic partner.
Also, Douglas Stuart, author of Young Mungo, returns to recommend Maria McCann's As Meat Loves Salt.

May 6, 2022

Author Douglas Stuart joins Eric Newman to talk about his new novel Young Mungo. Stuart's previous work, Shuggie Bain, won the 2020 Booker Prize and the Sue Kaufman Prize from the American Academy of Arts and Letters. Young Mungo is a coming of age novel about a young Protestant boy, growing up in working class Glasgow, who finds friendship and love with a Catholic boy who lives nearby. Together, they form a bond that promises to heal the wounds inflicted by family, class, and culture, hoping to build a world all their own before it all comes crashing down.
Also, Margo Jefferson, author of "Constructing a Nervous System," returns to recommend "The Deja Vu: Black Dreams and Black Time" by performance artist Gabrielle Civil.

Apr 29, 2022

Writer and critic Margo Jefferson joins Kate Wolf to speak about her latest book, Constructing A Nervous System: A Memoir. A formally inventive and exacting assemblage of personal history and deliberation that delves into Jefferson’s familial legacy, her battles with depression, and the oppressive construct of the model minority, the book is also a cultural reflection. It touches on such subjects as Ella Fitzgerald, Bud Powell, Ike Turner, and Willa Cather, especially as they manifest in the author’s conception of herself. With a kaleidoscopic sense of voice, Jefferson enacts here the constant toggle of the self, from the harshness of the superego to the curiosity, pain and enthusiasm of the child and most of all, the ingenuity of the writer.
Also, Claire-Louise Bennett, author of Checkout 19, to recommend Letters to Gwen John by Celia Paul.

Apr 22, 2022
On this special LARB Book Club edition of the Radio Hour, Boris Dralyuk and Lindsay Wright are joined by Andrey Kurkov, one of Ukraine's leading literary figures. Kurkov was raised in Kyiv and, until very recently, was based in the city. Kyiv is not only the setting of some of his most beloved novels, like Death and the Penguin, but also the position from which he has chronicled his nation's journey towards democracy in works like the Ukraine Diaries, his firsthand account of the 2014 Euromaidan Revolution of Dignity and the subsequent Russian annexation of Crimea and the war in Donbas. His latest novel available in English, Grey Bees, focuses on those devastated eastern and southern regions of Ukraine, two or three years into what is now an eight-year war. Russia's brutal escalation of that war has uprooted Kurkov and his family, along with millions of Ukrainians, making Grey Bees more painfully relevant and its insights more important. Dralyuk happens to be the novel’s translator into English, so this special edition of the Book Club is all the more special for him.
Apr 15, 2022

Kate Wolf and Medaya Ocher speak with musician, author, artist and all-around legend Patti Smith about her latest work, The Melting, an extended piece of prose she began releasing last spring in serial form via the Internet platform Substack. The Melting, started in the early days of the pandemic, finds Smith alone in her apartment, her world tour having just been canceled. As she yearns for the freedom of travel while stuck at home, her living space begins to yield to other spaces: dreams, literature, memory, reflection, and fictions. The melting of the title refers not just to global warming, but to time itself.

Also, NoViolet Bulawayo, author of Glory, returns to recommend Nana Darkoa Sekyiamah’s The Sex Lives of African Women.

Apr 8, 2022

NoViolet Bulawayo joins Eric Newman and Medaya Ocher to talk about her latest novel, Glory, which explores the waning days and political ouster of Robert Mugabe, the authoritarian leader who controlled NoViolet’s home country of Zimbabwe for nearly four decades before he was overthrown in a coup spearheaded by his Vice President, Emmerson Mnangagwa. Allegorized as animals — in the style of George Orwell’s Animal Farm — the major players in Mugabe’s ouster and a chorus of citizens tell the story of utopian promise that becomes totalitarian terror, of ruthless political subterfuge and everyday survival, of a country torn between the righting of old wrongs and the almost cyclical production of new ones. At once an allegory of Zimbabwe’s history and a deeply poignant reading of the fractious moment we are all living through, Glory looks at how leaders command and forfeit power, as well as at the lives of ordinary people caught in the roiling waters of politics.

Also, Danielle Lindemann, author of True Story: What Reality TV Says About Us, returns to recommend Lorrie Moore’s short story collection Self-Help.

Apr 1, 2022

This week it’s a LARB Radio doubleheader. In the first half of the show, Kate Wolf talks with John Markoff about his latest book, Whole Earth: The Many Lives of Stewart Brand. Brand is probably best known as the creator of the Whole Earth Catalog, a countercultural magazine he published regularly between 1968 and 1972, and then infrequently up until 1998. With influences ranging from the Beat poets whom Brand met as a youth in San Francisco to his experimentation with LSD, the wisdom of indigenous cultures, and the philosophy of Buckminster Fuller, Whole Earth Catalog featured articles on sustainable living, ecology, and emerging technologies. As Markoff shows in his book, Brand — who’s worked as a photographer, writer, political advisor, and environmental activist, among other things — is not an easy person to pin down. His sympathies have ranged from libertarianism to eco-pragmatism, which stresses “useful technologies,” including nuclear power. Brand is now 83 and Markoff’s book is based on many years of interviews with him.

In the second half of the show, Kate is joined by artist Ulysses Jenkins on the occasion of his first, long overdue retrospective, Without Your Interpretation, which runs until May 15th at the Hammer Museum in Los Angeles. Jenkins’s career spans five decades and he’s known especially for his pioneering video and performance art pieces, which often explore questions of race, multiculturalism, ritual, representation, and technology. Born in Los Angeles in 1946, Jenkins has been integral to the artistic evolution of the city, collaborating and forming collectives with many other important artists, including Senga Nengudi, Maren Hassinger, David Hammons, Nancy Buchanan, Harry Gamboa Jr., May Sun, and Kitt Galloway and Sherrie Rabinowitz.

Mar 25, 2022

Danielle Lindemann joins Eric Newman and Medaya Ocher to talk about her latest book, True Story: What Reality TV Says About Us. Drawing on the ideas of major thinkers in modern sociology, including Emile Durkheim, Michel Foucault, and others, the book explores how reality TV both reflects and reproduces real-world social tensions, inequities, and slippages around class, race, gender, sexuality, and other categories of being. Rather than merely trash TV — or perhaps in addition to being trash TV — Lindemann argues that our favorite shows are lenses through which we can better understand our world, our social lives, and the powerful forces that shape them and us.

Also, Jonathan Alexander drops by to recommend Mia McKenzie’s Skye Falling.

Mar 18, 2022

Adam Phillips joins Kate Wolf to discuss his two latest books, both published this year, On Wanting to Change and On Getting Better. The series looks at the very human impulse toward transformation, from religious and political conversion, and the conversion to family life from which one must ultimately emerge, to the aims and practices of psychoanalysis, along with more quotidian ideas of self-betterment. As always in his work, Phillips attends in these books to the aspects of ourselves that can be hardest to bear, and that can lead us to desire more rigid structures — intellectual or otherwise — or desire to be someone else, while also quietly petitioning for a more complex and thoughtful mode of change in which, as Socrates encouraged his pupils, we learn only to be ourselves. How might we get better, Phillips wonders, at talking about what it is to get better?

Also, Pankaj Mishra, author of Run and Hide, returns to recommend Josep Pla’s The Grey Notebook.

Mar 11, 2022

Pankaj Mishra joins Medaya Ocher and Eric Newman to talk about his new novel, Run and Hide, which takes up many of the themes explored in his political nonfiction. The book explores the lives of the literary translator Arun — our narrator — two of his friends from college, and Alia, a woman with whom he has an impactful romance, as they all grapple with the moral and emotional scars of economic globalization. Their story, as Run and Hide frequently points out, is also the story of modern India, a country in which rapid changes to centuries-old inequities bear both great boons and great costs.

Also, Claire-Louise Bennett, author of Checkout 19, returns to recommend Celia Paul’s Letters to Gwen John.

Mar 4, 2022

Kate Wolf and Medaya Ocher are joined by Claire-Louise Bennett, whose new novel is Checkout 19. It follows an unnamed young woman born into a working-class family, who is slowly discovering her own sense of self through the many books she reads and the stories she writes. Her relationship to her own experiences is partly filtered through the words of other writers, as she eventually attends college, finds work as a checkout clerk, in a grocery store, and dates a few inadequate, jealous men with literary ambitions of their own. The book seamlessly moves between literary analysis, fantastical storytelling, and life itself, eventually confronting the realities of sex, violence, and death.

Also, Isaac Butler, author of The Method, returns to recommend Amanda Vaill’s Somewhere: The Life of Jerome Robbins.

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