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10-02-09: Wrapping Up the World with Thomas Frank

I've been reading a lot of Thomas Frank lately. He's the author of 'The Wrecking Crew: How Conservatives Rule', and 'What's the Matter With Kansas?' Fortunately for readers who enjoy his smart vision and witty prose, he writes stuff between his books, in Op-Ed columns for the Wall Street Journal; for example, "Why Democrats Are Losing on Health Care" and "Liberals and Civility."

I thought it might be fun to get Frank on the phone and talk to him about the week's events, which is something that we really can't prepare for, because things are changing so fast, and the outrageous events pile up so quickly that it's hard to keep track of the lies, the truths, the lies about the truths and the truths about the lies. When I scheduled the interview, I must admit, I told him it was conditional on the phones still working. Anyone who remembers the recent outage in northern California when the lines were deliberately cut will know that's no given. (And note that there was never really a satisfactory explantion given for what could well have been an act of terrorism.) You can hear my conversation with Thomas Frank, covering recent events (phone lines permitting) by following the link to the MP3 audio file.



10-01-09: A 2009 Interview With Richard E. Cytowic, M.D. : 'Wednesday is Indigo Blue'

Yes, the second I saw even the title of 1993's 'The Man Who Tasted Shapes' by Richard E. Cytowic, M.D., I knew I had to have the book. The very concept of synesthesia sounded like something out of a science fiction novel. Hearing colors and tasting shapes? It's the very definition of alien.

Cytowic has returned to the subject this year with '
Wednesday is Indigo Blue,' co-written by David Eagleman, author of 'Sum.' When 'The Man Who Tasted Shapes' was released. the idea of synesthesia sounded pretty good to me. Who wouldn’t want to taste shapes or hear colors? But that sort of phenomenon was very hard to document, since it relied on subjective interpretation — until recently. I talked to Cytowic about the ironically changing perception of this perceptual disorder, which, with the advent of brain scanning techniques has become much better understood. We also talked about the cultural perceptions of synesthesia, a disorder that can foster creativity. Is it then truly a disorder? In a science fiction novel, it might be perceived as a precursor to an evolutionary leap; in a comic book, it might be something that one of the X-Men can do. You can hear my conversation with Richard E. Cytowic, M. D., by following this link to the MP3 audio file.


09-30-09: A 2009 Interview with Nick Douglas

"Some of the people in this book are cashiers, college students, homemakers, and they can all be as funny for one sentence as Shakespeare or Dorothy Parker."
        Nick Douglas

Nick Douglas will surprise the hell out of you. I frankly did not know what I'd have to say to the editor of 'Twitter Wit,' but it turns out we had quite a bit to talk about and that, as I had hoped, there was quite a bit of very interesting literary thought that can be wrapped around messages of 140 characters or less.

The messages may be 140 characters or less, but the number of characters you can encounter on Twitter, and in print via 'Twitter Wit' are practically endless. Douglas may be young but he's a seasoned Silicon Valley insider who did his time at Valleywag before striking out on his own with 'Twitter Wit.'

I was definitely apprehensive, because while I enjoyed the book, it is, after all, pretty much a book of one-line jokes by writers other than Douglas himself. But as we talked about the process of putting together this book and the implications of the limitations of Twitter, my deliberate ignorance about Twitter (simply put, it's read or tweet, and I go with read) bounced off Douglas' deep knowledge thereof in a most entertaining manner. Instrumental in setting up this interview were the folks over at Booksmith, Christin Evans and Praveen Madan, who went so far as to make their house available for the recording. You can hear our conversation on the future of literature consisting of writing less than 140 characters by following this link to the MP3 audio file.



09-29-09: A 2009 Interview with Jacqueline Winspear : Author of the Maisie Dobbs Series

"It's heartbreaking; you see photographs of this young lad, he's 13 and he's going off to war..."
        Jacqueline Winspear

Sometimes, all you need to do is to listen. I met Jackie Winspear at the Book Passage Mystery Conference, and all it took was about a minute of listening to her speak to know, to absolutely know why she was a writer. Her voice was precise and so strong. The stories she told were as well.

I sat down and talked with Winspear about the world of her Maisie Dobbs novels, set in the aftermath of World War One. She evoked not just her research but that world, in the stories she told of combing through archives, of her understanding that she might be the first person to see a particular letter from a soldier in fifty, sixty, eighty years. Like most Americans, I know a bit about WWI; the heroism and the horror, to be sure. But Winspear managed to evoke not just heroes and horrors, but the people in a manner that made them like people I might have met, that turned abstraction in humanity. All in that perfect, powerful voice, which you can hear by following this link to the MP3 audio file.



09-28-09: A 2009 Interview With Karen Armstrong

"At the center of religious life, for all these faiths, was compassion."
        Karen Armstrong

As much as I am inclined to distrust organized religion, I still find it a fascination subject to read about. Back in 2006, I read Karen Armstrong's 'The Great Transformation,' an engrossing history of the beginnings of religion. Her latest book, 'The Case for God,' is even more pertinent for these troubled times when religion is such a divisive issue. As I read the book and her elegant, intelligent language unpacked ideas, I could literally feel my ability to think being challenged and changed.

I spoke with Karen Armstrong at KQED studios in San Francisco, on a brilliant autumn afternoon. I had looked a bit into her background and her autobiography 'Up the Spiral Staircase,' and we started at the beginning of her spiritual journey. I wouldn't exactly call her books spiritual, though they explore the ideas of spirituality. Armstrong is a woman with a strong inclination towards logos, which she uses to explore the world of mythos. She's smart and intuitive and utterly compelling. You can hear our conversation by following this link to the MP3 audio file.


New to the Agony Column

10-19-14:Agony Column Podcast News Report UPDATE: Time to Read Episode 179: William T. Vollmann : Last Stories and Other Stories

10-16-14: Commentary : Alix Christie Hires 'Gutenberg's Apprentice' : Fifteenth Century Start-Ups

Agony Column Podcast News Report : A 2014 Interview with Alix Christie : "This was the world's first tech start-up."

10-15-14:Agony Column Podcast News Report UPDATE: Time to Read Episode 178: Alix Christie : Gutenberg's Apprentice

10-13-14: Commentary : Maureen Corrigan 'So We Read On: How The Great Gatsby Came to Be and Why It Endures' : The Power of Re-Reading

Agony Column Podcast News Report : A 2014 Interview with Maureen Corrigan : "On his death in 1940, there were remaindered copies..."

10-08-14:Agony Column Podcast News Report UPDATE: Time to Read Episode 177: Maureen Corrigan : So We Read On: How The Great Gatsby Came to Be and Why It Endures

10-03-14: Commentary : Lawrence Wright ' Thirteen Days in September: Carter, Begin, and Sadat at Camp David' : Suspension of Belief

Agony Column Podcast News Report : A 2014 Interview with Lawrence Wright : "...peace is possible..."

10-01-14:Agony Column Podcast News Report UPDATE: Time to Read Episode 176: Lawrence Wright : Thirteen Days in September: Carter, Begin, and Sadat at Camp David

09-30-14: Commentary : Rebecca Alexander Will 'Not Fade Away' : A Memoir of Senses Lost and Found

Agony Column Podcast News Report : A 2014 Interview with Rebecca Alexander : "...like your hands are, and their arms are, engaged in this poetic dance..."

09-28-14:Agony Column Podcast News Report UPDATE: Time to Read Episode 175: Rebecca Alexander : Not Fade Away: A Memoir of Senses Lost and Found

09-23-14: Commentary : Lauren Beukes Builds 'Broken Monsters' : Dream Reapers

Agony Column Podcast News Report : A 2014 Live Interview with Lauren Beukes : "...fiction allows you to step into someone's head..."

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