Book Book Book Book
Commentary Commentary RSS Reviews Podcasts_Audio Podcasts RSS Blog Links Archives Indexes
John F. Callahan
Adam Bradley
02-19-10: John Callahan and Adam Bradley and 'Three Days before the Shooting'

"I've moved through the phases of my own life, and I find those phases mirrored in the characters of this novel."
—John F. Callahan

"...capable of brilliance, eloquence and power; that's how I understand the second novel, as we see it in Three Days Before the Shooting, and that's certainly how I understand, and I think how Ellison understood, America."
—Adam Bradley

You never know how close you may come to history.

John F. Callahan is Ralph Ellison's literary executor. Adam Bradley was in high school when he first met Callahan; now he's an associate professor of English at the University of Colorado at Boulder. Callahan was Ellison's friend; he met and spent time with the man. Both men have spent time with his papers, putting together 'Three Days before the Shooting.' These men spent time with history.

For me, at least, I guess I got as close as Free conference call dot worth what you pay for. That'll work for now, but I'd like to meet the men in person.

John Callahan and Adam Bradley and I juggled and bobbed and finally found the time and the number where we could get on the phone to talk about their rather incredible journey. These are the men who were entrusted with Ralph Ellison's second novel ... an American triumph and tragedy.
Ralph Waldo Ellison was a brilliant and complicated man. In retrospect, Ralph Ellison created his only complete novel, 'Invisible Man' in a heartbeat. His truggle to finish his second novel is clearly an epic American experience, and I was privileged to talk to the two men who went through all of his papers and put together 'Three Days Before the Shooting.'

It was a fascinating glimpse into a literary mystery, and the men who, though they could not solve the mystery – the novel was indeed never finished – were tasked with finding the core of what was there and determining how to present it.

The physical challenges alone were significant. Callahan talks about crawling under tables and finding boxes under boxes. And the emotional challenges were also significant. The characters in 'Three Days Before the Shooting' seeped into the lives of those bringing them to readers at large. You can hear my conversation with the two literary detectives who brought us this work by following this link to the MP3 audio file.

Thomas Frank
02-18-10: Speaking Frankly With Thomas Frank

From Tea to Shining Tea

"When I think about what I'm saying, it's so depressing..."

Thomas Frank

The more things change, the more they stay the same. That seems to be the lesson of Thomas Frank's latest columns for the Wall Street Journal. It seems that no matter how thoroughly the Aegean stables of Washington are shoveled clean, the same smell creeps back in with a new name, a new brand ... but the same folks pulling the levers, and the same goals in mind. Some folks, it seems, won't feel free while there are still laws left on the books to obey, and regulations to regulate the transfer of wealth.

It was just the names, really, that alerted Thomas Frank to the never-ending irony that is Our Government InAction. Looking at the top dogs of the new "Tea Party" movement, that ultra-conservative, ultra-free group of roving protestors, Frank noticed some very familiar names. He'd written about them in 'The Wrecking Crew' because they were the ultimate insiders, the wheeler-dealer lobbyists who made the Marianas Islands safe for Sweatshop manufacturing. Now, the same names are calling themselves the leaders of the supposedly grassroots Tea Party movement. It is the sort of irony you could drive a golf ball with — providing that Jack Abramoff had flown you and your aides to Scotland to play the game.

We also talked about the surprisingly pervasive anti-government feeling that manages to keep stepping up to the podium and turning it into the bully's pulpit. It's not surprising that people would be disgusted with government. I would guess that I am not alone in being almost unable to watch TV news these days. But the problems with government, as Frank points out in 'The Wrecking Crew,' stem from the fact that those who were put in charge in the previous administration were against the principles they were supposed to uphold; the regulators didn't regulate.

And finally, I talked to Frank about his process of writing columns, a subject I'm going to delve further into in coming conversations. He told me that he operates in the exact opposite manner of most columnists. And it's not because he's an optimist. You can hear just how optimistic Thomas Frank is by following this link to the MP3 audio file of our conversation.

Laurie R. King
02-17-10: Laurie R. King Reads at SF in SF on February 13, 2010

" real as Sherlock Holmes..."
Laurie R. King

You are well-advised to remember that in a sense, by definition, all fiction is both fantasy and mystery. It's fantasy, because it's made up. It's mystery because the reader starts at the beginning, with one set of thoughts and winds up after the end having a different set of thoughts. In theory, you start wanting to know the end; the mystery is what happens in-between, and the only solution is to read. One is best served by keeping an open mind and immersing one's self in the author's voice. Laurie R. King has a variety of voices, and perhaps that helps make her such an excellent reader.

Laurie R. King is the kind of reader who can summon visions of a walled, Chinese San Francisco, or wainscoted waiting room of Mycroft Holmes — both in the same reading. It was interesting to note that both readings at this month's SF in SF were rather short. I know that Ms. King prefers to keep her readings short, the better to ensure the audience is entertained.

She really managed this with a dual reading; she started out with a gorgeous travelogue of Meijing, which in the world of 'Califia's Daughters' is San Francisco. Nowadays we'd describe it as rather steampunkish, but she wrote the book well before steampunk became a sort of brand name.

Her second reading was from 'The Game,' her Russell-Holmes novel set mostly in India. The "game" of the title is of course, the Great Game, the cat-and-mouse conflict between Great Britain and Russia for dominance in Central Asia. Of course in the Russell-Holmes universe, and it is a universe, Sherlock Holmes has a rather large part to play, as does a certain Kimball, a boy now grown, but who was once known by a shorter name as the subject of a novel by an author of great repute ... and thus does our world come into delicious contact with that of what we thought to be fiction.

Of course, in our world the line between fact and fiction is even blurrier. I'll leave listeners to enjoy King's delightful take on all this by following the link to this MP3 audio file.

02-16-10: Jedediah Berry Reads at SF in SF on February 13, 2010

The Manual of Detection

Be prepared; not just prepared, but over-prepared, so that when you screw up, and you will screw up, things might just have ahope in hell of turning out okey-dokey.

Readers may or may now know that I was the Cubmaster for Pack 609 of the Cub Scouts, back in the day. I'd get up in front of all the parents, make announcements, and introduce goofy surf music to otherwise staid proceedings to entertain myself, if no-one else. But that whole, "Be prepared" mantra did sink in and in the end, has often produced helpful results.

The upshot of all this reminiscing is that I got some fine audio of
Jedediah Berry and Laurie R. King in their readings at SF in SF on Saturday, February 13. I ued first class microphones and amplifcation. The mic amp I use is the same model that was once employed for presidential addresses. Not cheap, but worth the money. Certainly true when you're amplifying voices like those of Jedediah Berry and Laurie R. King.This is important because they totally rocked. You listen, you'll hear why I'm so enthusiastic about their work.

Jedediah Berry
We'll start the podcasts with Jedediah Berry, reading from his first novel, 'The Manual for Detection.' I loved this book a lot. It's definitely a re-reader, because hearing him read it aloud made me want to go back and immerse myself in all the wonderful details he puts into his dream-walking wonder. Moreover, he's funny, and he brings out the humor in the book.

Or perhaps it's the audience that does this, and here's an important clue why you want to try to get to live readings like this.

And here's where I sidetrack slightly, to one of my favorite and most memorable movie-going experiences. The very first time I saw Re-Animator, I sat in a matinee with an audience that really, really got the movie. The humor and laughter was infectious, in a way it would not have been had I been in the theater alone, or just watching the movie on video. There's something about the laughter of the crowd that makes a movie comedy funnier.

But this is also true for books, which to be frank, I'd never thought of before. However, the reaction of the crowd to Berry's very effective reading was indeed contagious. The more we all enjoyed the reading, the better it got. Berry had a great stage presence and first-class material, which certainly helped. Here's why books are every bit as entertaining to a crowd as any other form of entertainment. We often think of reading as a solitary activity, and that is indeed the case, but it is not solely the case. Book readings can be great crowd pleasers as well. You can hear just how crowd pleasing by following this link to the MP3 audio file of Jedediah Berry's reading.

Chitra Bannerjee Divakaruni
02-15-10: A 2009 Interview with Chitra Bannerjee Divakaruni

"I have to work through the novel and then it comes to me, how it's going to end."
Chitra Bannerjee Divakaruni

I do a lot of interviews in a lot of places, and generally, I'm well organized. I have a kit for home that pretty much stays home. I have a to-go kit that pretty much stays in a variety of luggables.

Listeners to my radio show might have noticed that of late, my readings for the grant announcements seem a little bit ... slicker. This would be because I've been pre-recording the whole show and laying them in at home, and hat gives me the option to do it right. But it also presents one little challenge. I record the announcements in my "studio," a book-lined room that presently has fifteen three-foot stacks of books on the floor. My show is on Sundays and that is often when I record the announcements. So when I have an interview on a Monday, as I did with Chitra Bannerjee Divakaruni, I have to have everything packed.

I'm guessing that readers can see where this is going. I show up early at Capitola Book Café on Monday, and just as I'm unpacking and setting up my to-go "studio" in their wonderful little office that serves as a recording home base here in Santa Cruz, I note that I've managed to leave the mic cables behind. Two seconds later, I turn around to greet Chitra Bannerjee Divakaruni, and tell her ... "Nice to meet you; I'll be back in twenty minutes with the mic cables to do our interview."

Fortunately, the California Highway Patrol was elsewhere occupied, and I was able to make it back in a minimal amount of time; not that I broke any laws. And when I did sit down with Chitra, we had a wonderful conversation about her new book, 'One Amazing Thing,' which she says is quite a departure for her in a number of ways. To my mind, for a book that is really rich and filled with characters, it is wonderfully terse. It's an all-meat extravaganza. Moreover, I have to admit that I totally forgot about the "pilgrims telling stories" aspect of the novel as I read it, because the arc narrative about the nine people trapped after an earthquake was really compelling, involving and strongly written. Once you're embedded, you get the gift of stories, and they are indeed gifts; quite surprising.

Now all this is just my verbiage, but all you have to do is to go hear Divakaruni talk to hear her total enthusiasm, as well as her rather pertinent anecdote relating what inspired her to write the story in the first place. She's a great speaker, so if you get a chance, attend. And even if you did, you can hear my conversation with her in the backroom office of Capitola Book Café by following this link to the MP3 audio file.

New to the Agony Column

09-18-15: Commentary : William T. Vollman Amidst 'The Dying Grass' : An Epic Exploration of Simultaneity

Agony Column Podcast News Report : A 2015 Interview with William T. Vollman : "...a lot of long words that in our language are sentences..."

09-05-15: Commentary : Susan Casey Listens to 'Voices in the Ocean' : Science, Empathy and Self

Agony Column Podcast News Report : A 2015 Interview with Susan Casey : "...the reporting for this book was emotionally difficult at times..."

Agony Column Podcast News Report UPDATE: Time to Read Episode 213: Susan Casey : Voices in the Ocean: A Journey into the Wild and Haunting World of Dolphins

08-24-15: Commentary : Felicia Day Knows 'You're Never Weird on the Internet (Almost)' : Transformative Technology

Agony Column Podcast News Report : A 2015 Interview with Felicia Day : "I think you have to be attention curators for audience in every way."

08-22-15: Agony Column Podcast News Report UPDATE: Time to Read Episode 212: Felicia Day : You're Never Weird on the Internet (Almost)

08-21-15: Agony Column Podcast News Report : Senator Claire McCaskill is 'Plenty Ladylike' : Internalizing Determination to Overcome Sexism [Incudes Time to Read EP 211: Claire McCaskill, Plenty Ladylike, plus A 2015 Interview with Senator Claire McCaskill]

Agony Column Podcast News Report : Emily Schultz Unleashes 'The Blondes' : A Cure by Color [Incudes Time to Read EP 210: Emily Schultz, The Blondes, plus A 2015 Interview with Emily Schultz]

08-10-15:Agony Column Podcast News Report : In Memory of Alan Cheuse : Thank you Alan, and Your Family, for Everything

07-11-15: Commentary : Robert Repino Morphs 'Mort(e)' : Housecat to Harbinger of the Apocalypse

Agony Column Podcast News Report : A 2015 Interview with Robert Repino : " even bigger threat. which is us, the humans..."

Agony Column Podcast News Report UPDATE: Time to Read Episode 208: Robert Repino : Mort(e)

07-05-15: Commentary : Dr. Michael Gazzaniga Tells Tales from Both Sides of the Brain : A Life in Neuroscience Reveals the Life of Science

Agony Column Podcast News Report : A 2015 Interview with Michael Gazzaniga : "We made the first observation and BAM there was the disconnection effect..."

Agony Column Podcast News Report UPDATE: Time to Read Episode 208: Michael Gazzaniga : Tales from Both Sides of the Brain: A Life in Neuroscience

06-26-15: Commentary : Neal Stephenson Crafts an Eden for 'Seveneves' : Blow It Up and Start All Over Again

Agony Column Podcast News Report : A 2015 Interview with Neal Stephenson : "...and know that you're never going to se a tree again..."

Agony Column Podcast News Report UPDATE: Time to Read Episode 207: Neal Stephenson : Seveneves

06-03-15: Commentary : Dan Simmons Opens 'The Fifth Heart' : Having it Every Way

Agony Column Podcast News Report : A 2015 Interview with Dan Simmons : "...yes, they really did bring those bombs..."

Agony Column Podcast News Report UPDATE: Time to Read Episode 206: Dan Simmons : The Fifth Heart

05-23-15: Commentary : John Waters Gets 'Carsick' : Going His Way

Agony Column Podcast News Report : A 2015 Interview with John Waters : " change how you would be in real life...”

Agony Column Podcast News Report UPDATE: Time to Read Episode 205: John Waters : Carsick

05-09-15: Commentary : Jeffrey A. Lieberman, MD and 'Shrinks' : A Most Fashionable Take on the Human Mind

Agony Column Podcast News Report : A 2015 Interview with Jeffrey A. Lieberman, MD : "..its influence to be as hegemonic as it was..."

Agony Column Podcast News Report UPDATE: Time to Read Episode 204: Jeffrey A. Lieberman, MD : Shrinks: The Untold Story of Psychiatry

04-29-15: Commentary : Barney Frank is 'Frank' : Interpersonally Ours

Agony Column Podcast News Report : A 2015 Interview with Barney Frank : "...while you're trying to change it, don't ignore it..."

Agony Column Podcast News Report UPDATE: Time to Read Episode 203: Barney Frank : Frank: A Life in Politics from the Great Society to Same-Sex Marriage

04-21-15: Commentary : Kazuo Ishiguro Unearths 'The Buried Giant' : The Mist of Myth and Memory

Agony Column Podcast News Report : A 2015 Interview with Kazuo Ishiguro : ".... by the time I was writing this novel, the lines between what was fantasy and what was real had blurred for me..."

Agony Column Podcast News Report UPDATE: Time to Read Episode 202: Kazuo Ishiguro : The Buried Giant

04-17-15: Commentary : Erik Larson Follows a 'Dead Wake' : Countdown to Destiny

Agony Column Podcast News Report : A 2015 Interview with Erik Larson : "...said to have been found in the arms of a dead German sailor..."

Agony Column Podcast News Report UPDATE: Time to Read Episode 201: Erik Larson : Dead Wake

04-15-15: Commentary : Peter Bell Reflects 'A Certain Slant of Light' : Strange Stories of Modern Scholars

Agony Column Podcast News Report : A 2014 Interview with Peter Bell : "...I looked up some of the old books..."

Agony Column Podcast News Report UPDATE: Time to Read Episode 200: Peter Bell : Strange Epiphanies and A Certain Slant of Light

03-14-15: Commentary : Marc Goodman Foresees 'Future Crimes' : Exponential Potential

Agony Column Podcast News Report : A 2015 Interview with Marc Goodman : "...every physical object around us is being transformed, one way or another, into an information technology..."

Agony Column Podcast News Report UPDATE: Time to Read Episode 199: Marc Goodman : Future Crimes: Everything Is Connected, Everyone Is Vulnerable and What We Can Do About It

Commentary & Podcast Archive
Archives Indexes How to use the Agony Column Contact Us About Us