Terry Teachout is to blame for sending me down a YouTube rabbit hole over one lazy weekend. But his biography on Duke Ellington is truly marvelous. I got a chance to chat with Terry for an hour about Duke’s exploitation of Billy Strayhorn, his philandering, and his indelible influence on American music. How influential was Duke? Well, the introductory segment shows specifically how Jimi Hendrix tailored his guitar sound because of Bubber Miley’s solo on “East St. Louis Toodle-oo.”
I met up with Eleanor Catton while she was in New York to discuss her incredible Booker Award-winning novel, The Luminaries. To our mutual surprise, we ended up chatting for 71 minutes about the golden ratio, reader intentions, Douglas Hofstadter’s Gödel, Escher, Bach, how old newspapers are a highly reliable way of knowing an era, literary authors who moonlight under genre, eccentric forms of tax evasion, and the true impact of history and politics on everyday lives. This novel is truly one of my favorites of the year. But I also know that some readers have had difficulty wrapping their heads around the book’s massive structure. So I’ve prepared an introductory segment which illustrates the dichotomy paradox and offers a few hints on what the book is up to. Eleanor was a delight to talk with. But she’s also someone who any literary person should read at the earliest possible opportunity.
We tend to associate Norman Mailer with the stabbing of his wife and the disaster of Jack Henry Abbott. But the latest Bat Segundo episode reveals that there’s a great deal more to Mailer. I got the chance to chat with J. Michael Lennon, author of Norman Mailer: A Double Life, to discuss the man’s many conflicts and contradictions. Did you know that Mailer may have been manipulated by the Kennedys? Or that Noam Chomsky factored into the writing of The Armies of the Night? Or that Mailer was into biorhythms? Well, there’s all that and more in this 62 minute program. And in the show’s introduction, I also own up to impetuous words that I wrote about Mailer in 2007.
Paul Harding returns to Bat Segundo to discuss his second novel, Enon, pinball bowling, the oneiric morass inside the skull, our national history of religiosity, and John Cheever. But it’s also a fine excuse to offer the first of two thematic shows devoted to Halloween this week. Over the course of a few centuries, prayers for the dead have transformed into less uptight celebrations. But what candor did we lose in the transformation? We discuss this American relationship to grief and impermanence with the Pulitzer Prize-winning author!
The incomparable Nicholson Baker returns to Bat Segundo for a special 78 minute conversation. We discuss the Paul Chowder novels. There is quite a bit of music and audio talk, a consideration of Traveling Sprinkler's politics and the difficulty of writing controversial books, vivacious arguments for and against Robin Thicke, a lively dialectic on whether or not Algebra II should be compulsory in today's classrooms, and a vital discussion on alternative terms for certain anatomical areas. This was a tremendously fun conversation. And I'm certain you will enjoy it as much as I did.
I was delighted to meet Kathryn Davis, author of Duplex, in Central Park, where we talked for more than an hour. Her provocative novel challenges the idea of how we know people through narrative and willfully bends time, space, and consciousness to raise vital questions about existence. And our conversation gets into everything from Leibniz’s notion of the multiverse to Michelangelo Antonioni to the difficulties of existence to the intersection of religion and technology. We even end up geeking out about the wonderful Dudley Moore/Peter Cook film, Bedazzled. Duplex is definitely one of my favorite novels of 2013. This was one of those rare conversations where (no joke) I actually found myself compelled to defend the book the longer I talked with Kathryn. And it is my hope that this conversation helps readers to find new ways of embracing this very fascinating novel.
I was fortunate to meet Daniel Woodrell during a recent visit he made to New York City. I have learned since that long form radio conversations with Woodrell appear to be rarer than spotted owl sightings, which is a pity. Because Woodrell is one of our great talents. If you haven’t yet read his masterpiece Tomato Red, I urge you to do so. Our conversation really gets hopping (within minutes) when Woodrell and I both discover that we’re big fans of William Kennedy’s more overlooked novels, but it also gets into the Ozark vernacular, what people get wrong about stew, how you can know all of humanity by living in a small town, Tony Danza’s boxing skills, film noir, real crime and tough guy cliches, and Woodrell’s Marine experience.
You may have caught the recent Guardian story about an atomic bomb that almost went off above North Carolina in 1961. Believe it or not, this only begins to scratch the surface. A few days ago, we met with investigative journalist Eric Schlosser in Central Park to discuss vital issues pertaining to nuclear missile safety. In the mid-20th century, our missiles were maintained with flimsy safeguards and rapidly failing technology. How close were we to Dr. Strangelove? And how safe are we today? Schlosser, author of Command and Control, discusses our remarkably reckless military history, which culminated in several close disasters, and what this means in an age driven by terrorism and religious fundamentalism. The show also features a special four minute introduction revealing how much our insouciant attitude about nuclear strategy (including our language) still informs our debate today.
We had a great time talking with Kiese Laymon under the Manhattan Bridge. This new 55 minute conversation, which features a special prologue devoted to cultural engagement, gets into race, hip-hop, being surrounded by digital ghosts, the rich Mississippi tradition of storytelling, “the worst of white folks,” why 19-year-olds are lunatics to some degree, Miley Cyrus and the politics of twerking, and numerous other topics. It is the first of two programs we are airing this week related to the American epidemic of people who gravitate to mainstream culture in an age of limitless choice.