In this encore presentation, on the occasion of Fran Lebowitz's new show Pretend It's a City, Eric Newman, Medaya Ocher and Kate Wolf speak with legendary public speaker Fran Lebowitz. In a wide-ranging conversation, the gang flits from the Kavanaugh hearings to how the uber-rich have blighted the landscape of New York, from the escapism of literature (Lebowitz maintains that books are always better than real life) to the changes that have rocked the media environment in which Lebowitz has been a central figure for decades. In her iconic unvarnished style, Fran proves — as if there were ever any need for such a thing — that she’s still one of the most fascinating people to chat with about the lofty and mundane.
Also, Eric recommends classicist Madeline Miller's novel, The Song of Achilles, that brings to life the love affair between Patroclus and Homeric Greece's greatest warrior.
In an encore presentation, Kate and Medaya talk with award-winning screenwriter and novelist Charles Yu about his book, Interior Chinatown; an experimental, yet eminently enjoyable, novel-in-the-form-of-a-screenplay, which won the 2020 National Book Award for fiction. Charles discusses how he came to write such a formally challenging book, in which the central character's world is defined by, and limited to, the horizons available to Asian and Asian-American characters in popular film and television.
Also, J Hoberman, author of Make My Day: Movie Culture in the Age of Reagan, returns to recommend Victor Serge's recently discovered Notebooks from 1936-47, in which the great communist writer lived in exile, from Paris to Mexico.
Author Karla Cornejo Villavicencio joins co-hosts Kate Wolf and Medaya Ocher to talk about The Undocumented Americans, which is both a memoir and a series of essays about immigrant laborers from across the country. Karla shares her own experiences as an immigrant child, the trauma it has caused her; and relates how widespread, and under-acknowledged, such trauma is among immigrants. In a free-flowing conversation, Karla reflects on what motivated her to write the book in the age of Trump, her love of the immigrant communities in Queens where she grew up (as did Medaya), how literary academia continues to fetishize mental illness, and much else.
Also, Alex Ross, author of Wagnerism, returns to recommend Rick Perlstein's Reaganland.
Kate, Medaya, and Eric look back at a year that many of us can't wait to put behind us. Against the background of the pandemic and the politics, the hosts review the books, movies, TV shows, podcasts, and quirky new hobbies that helped them get through this year in their annual best of round-up.
Eric, Kate, and Medaya talk with Kiese about the struggle to buy his work back from the original publisher in order to revise and republish them, an experience that highlights the imbalance of power in the industry and the commodification of a writer’s work. The gang also chats about how the intervening years, including the Trump presidency now coming to a close, shaped his revisions.
Also, Sarah Shun-Lien Bynum, author of Likes, returns to recommend Theory, a novel by Dionne Brand.
Medaya and Eric are joined by Alex Ross, the New Yorker's longtime music critic and author of Wagnerism: Art and Politics in the Shadows of Music. Wagner's wide reaching influence across centuries, thinkers and artists reaches far beyond the realm of music. As they explore the complexity of his impact, the conversation wrestles with the stain of anti-Semitism, in Wagner’s thought and the Nazis embrace of his work, on his legacy.
Also Tom Zoellner, author of The National Road: Dispatches From a Changing America, returns to recommend John Gunther's 1947 classic Inside USA.
This week co-hosts Kate and Medaya are joined by author Sarah Shun-Lien Bynum, whose latest book is the collection of short stories Likes. Sarah discusses the magic of childhood, the difficulties of family life in the current political climate, and ways to see the quotidian in new and unexpected ways.
Also, Richard Seymour, author of The Twittering Machine, returns to recommend Benjamin Taylor's Here We Are, My Friendship with Philip Roth.
Co-hosts Kate and Eric speak with filmmaker Alexander Nanau about his stunning new documentary Collective about corruption in the Romanian Hospital system, government, and the broader society. Alexander discusses the terrifying story at the heart of the film, the state of politics in his home country, and how he produced the film. If a tale like Collective might have seemed from a far off land, or a bygone Eastern Bloc era; the Trumpian mismanagement of the ongoing pandemic - with shortages of PPE's and the unnecessary deaths of thousands of essential workers - delivers the film's unbearable tragedy right to our doorstep.
Also, Bryan Washington, author of Memorial, returns to recommend Rachel Khong's novel Goodbye Vitamin
We’re joined by Tom Zoellner, award-winning author and the LA Review of Books Politics Editor. Tom and the co-hosts talk about the election, the tenor of the online political debate, and the future of patriotism. We also discuss Tom’s new book, The National Road: Dispatches from a Changing America, a collection of essays from Tom’s travels throughout the country.
Also, former LARB intern Jenna Beales returns to recommend Starting Point 1979-1996, a collection of essays by Hayao Miyazaki, the legendary animator and co-founder of Studio Ghibli.
This week's show opens with Kate, Eric, and Medaya sharing their thoughts on the morning after Election Day. At the time, Joe Biden seemed to have a pathway to victory; but the trauma of the previous evening when, for a few hours, Trump seemed destined to repeat his improbable feat from four years earlier. The conversation revolves around a shared sense of incredulity that Trump's outrageous, nightmarish Presidency could be embraced by half the country; which leads to the observation that Bryan Washington's Memorial is a perfect book for this moment. Indeed, when Washington joins the show to discuss his new novel, Memorial, the conversation focuses upon the necessity of building bridges between people who can seem so far apart. Certainly, a poignant theme for our time.
This week, we have filmmaker Garrett Bradley discussing her new documentary Time, which follows a larger-than-life matriarch, fighting for the release of her incarcerated husband. Bradley discusses the idea of time in her film — time served, the slowness of justice and the accumulation of grief and joy. Later in the episode, we have one of the founding members of the Guerrilla Girls, alias Kathe Kollwitz, on to discuss the legendary Guerrilla Girl movement, misogyny and racism in the arts, the battles ahead and the battles won.
Richard Seymour, author of The Twittering Machine, joins Eric and Kate to discuss the “social industry" — online platforms that monetize and manipulate our need to share our lives online. Seymour moves beyond the negative effects social media has on us as individuals and as a community, bringing into view a bigger picture: the social, economic, and political perils that are now at our fingertips.
Also, Ayad Akhtar, author of Homeland Elegies, returns to recommend Saul Bellow's Ravelstein
A special episode, featuring Alain Mabanckou, author of "Black Moses," our latest pick for LARB’s members-only Book Club. Mabanckou is an award-winning Francophone novelist who was born in Congo-Brazzaville in 1966 and grew up in a time of political upheaval and repression. Mabanckou joins LARB editors to discuss his novel, his childhood, and his experience of religious schooling and revolution. He also discusses his relationship with the French language, his move to the US, and his thoughts on contemporary American politics.
Also, former LARB intern and writer Yi Wei returns to recommend Emily Jungmin Yoon's collection of poems, A Cruelty Special to Our Species.
Akhtar talks about his new book Homeland Elegies, a hybrid of memoir, cultural criticism, psychological study, and loosely plotted novel that uniquely responds to the chaos and confusion of contemporary American life. The hosts also talk with Akhtar about the political, social, and affective entanglements of diaspora consciousness and experience (in this case, for Muslims from Pakistan living in the US), and about the Whitmanian fantasy of a diverse nation.
Also, Vivian Gornick, author of Unfinished Business: Notes of a Chronic Re-Reader, returns to recommend a collection she has returned to her entire life, Natalia Ginzburg's The Little Virtues.
Author, activist, and novelist Arundhati Roy joins us from Delhi to discuss her new collection of essays, Azadi: Freedom. Fascism. Fiction. Roy is well known for her impassioned political writing, as well as her two novels, The Ministry of Utmost Happiness, and The God of Small Things, which won the Man Booker in 1997. She talks with us about the rise of Indian nationalism, Modi’s descent into fascism, the oppression of Muslims in India, and the role of fiction and literature in the world today.
Also, Yaa Gyasi, author of Transcendent Kingdom, returns to recommend Saidiya Hartman's groundbreaking Wayward Lives, Beautiful Experiments: Intimate Histories of Riotous Black Girls, Troublesome Women, and Queer Radicals.
Author Sigrid Nunez, who won the National Book Award for 2018's The Friend, joins Kate and Eric to talk about her new novel, What Are You Going Through, which focuses on the narrator's close relationship to a friend with a terminal illness. The work revolves around witnessing the lives and needs of others; intertwines with themes of friendship, mortality, bravery, and even transcendence, amidst the commonplace. The conversation touches on how we contend with death in our society, and in relation to the pandemic. Nunez discusses contemporaries who have inspired her as they faced their mortality.
Also, Joni Murphy, author of Talking Animals, returns to recommend Matthew Goulish's 39 Microlectures in Proximity of Performance.
Yaa Gyasi’s latest novel, Transcendent Kingdom, takes on family and the gulfs of diaspora experience through an intimate narrative of a neuroscientist trying to come to grips with her brother’s drug overdose and her mother’s crippling depression. Gyasi joins us to reflect on the different ways in which faith and science attempt to answer the unfathomable and inchoate, and talks about the addiction narrative, so often seen through the lens of white, rural poverty. Gyasi also describes a friendship that led her to fascinating impasses in what remain fundamental mysteries in the neuroscience research on addiction.
Also, Kelli Jo Ford, author of Crooked Hallelujah, returns to recommend David Heska Wanbli Weiden's highly acclaimed first novel, Winter Counts.
Hosts Kate and Medaya talk to Kelli Jo Ford, author of the new novel, Crooked Hallelujah, a multi-generational story about Justine — a mixed-blood Cherokee woman — and her daughter Reney. Kelli Jo Ford, a citizen of the Cherokee Nation of Oklahoma, discusses her love of landscape, her childhood, and how she has come to consider about faith, even in the most difficult of times.
Also, Melissa Faliveno, author of the collection of essays Tomboyland, returns to recommend Heavy: An American Memoir by Kiese Laymon.
Hosts Kate, Eric, and Medaya are joined by renowned Chinese writer Yan Lianke, whose latest book is the memoir Three Brothers, about his childhood growing up during the Cultural Revolution. Calling in from Beijing, Yan discusses his life as a writer, being banned and censored in his own country and how he thinks literature can influence politics. Nicole Liu translates from the Chinese.
Also, Nicole Liu recommends Fleche, a book of poetry by Hong Kong author Mary Jean Chan.
Co-hosts Kate and Medaya are joined by writer Joni Murphy, whose new novel, Talking Animals, takes place in a fictional New York City, populated entirely by animals. Joni discusses why she chose an alpaca and a llama as her protagonists, and how animals might allow us to talk about climate change, politics, and culture differently.
Plus, Akwaeke Emezi, author of The Death of Vivek Oji, returns to recommend Sacrament of Bodies by Nigerian poet Romeo Oriogun.
Hosts Eric and Medaya are joined by the writer Awkaeke Emezi, whose new novel The Death of Vivek Oji, explores the life and death of a young transgender person, Vivek, who is discovering and navigating his identity in contemporary Nigeria. We talk with Akwaeke about what inspired this story, their own life and childhood in Nigeria, and how they think about work as an “artist and writer based in liminal spaces”, as they put it.
Also, Aminatow Sow, co-author of Big Friendship, returns to recommend Nessa Rapoport's new novel Evening.
Eric and Melissa Faliveno, author of Tomboyland, parse the history of the tomboy, its queer geographic and temporal character, as part of a broader discussion about how gender remains a wonderfully incoherent experience for so many of us, yet one that social and cultural norms is forever trying to fit into neat, rigid boxes. As she reflects on her debut collection of essays, Faliveno talks about bisexual erasure, not feeling “queer enough,” her love of roller derby, and the essay as a beautifully flexible genre.
Also, Ann Friedman, co-author of Big Friendship, returns to recommend Kathryn Scanlan's touchingly human and poetic Aug 9 - Fog.
Authors Aminatou Sow and Ann Friendman join co-hosts Kate and Medaya to discuss their exploration of their friend, and close adult friendships in general, Big Friendship: How We Keep Each Other Close. The discussion opens up with Aminatou and Ann telling the story of their friendship, how they met, bonded, grew inseparable, and have remained emotionally-so through trials, tribulations, and major life changes. The conversation then addresses how close non-romantic adult friendships, particularly among women, remain a difficult fit in contemporary America - even as bonding among women is given lip service throughout much of mass culture - and, as Aminatou and Ann testify, the upside to Big Friendship is immeasurable.
Also, Frank B Wilderson III, author of Afropessimism, returns to recommend USC Assistant Professor Zakiyyah Iman Jackson's new book Becoming Human: Matter and Meaning in an Antiblack World.
Mieko Kawakami, whose poignant and pointed debut novel Breasts and Eggs is this season’s LARB’s Book Club selection, joins Medaya Ocher and Boris Dralyuk to discuss her career as a musician, poet, blogger, and author, the challenges facing women around the world, the state of Japanese literature, and the wonders of translation.
Also, Eric Cervani, author of The Deviant's War: The Homosexual Vs. the United States of America, returns to recommend James Baldwin's classic Giovanni's Room.