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03-05-11: A 2011 Phone Interview with Peggy Orenstein


"The thing about Bella is that she is completely ... bland."

—Peggy Orenstein

Peggy Orenstein is not one to mince her words, and she knows how to follow the trail of bizarre, peculiar cultural infatuation to the source. Of course, she's also the mother of a young daughter, and understandably concerned. Young girls these days have a four billion dollar target on their foreheads. Who would resist?

Orenstein, for one. She first voiced her concerns in an essay for The New York Times Magazine, and the response was so strong she knew she'd hit a nerve. She followed the advice that a gentleman who called himself Deep Throat gave Woodward and Bernstein so long ago, and followed the money. The result is her new book, 'Cinderella Ate My Daughter: Dispatches from the Front Lines of the New Girlie-Girl Culture' (Harper / HarperCollins ; January 25, 2011 ; $25.99), a funny and rather frightening look at the marketing juggernaut aimed pre-pubescent girls.

I gave Orenstein a phone call to talk to her about her book before her appearance at the Capitola Book Café. You can hear our conversation by following this link to the MP3 audio file.



03-02-11: Panel Discussion with Terry Bisson, Rudy Rucker and Diana Paxson at SF in SF on January 15, 2011


"I was very much into Jack Kerouac and William Burroughs."

—Rudy Rucker

"I said there were five sequels."

—Diana Paxson

Given the quality of the readings on that Saturday evening, it was a foregone conclusion that the panel discussion for SF in SF on January 15, 2011, with Terry Bisson, Diana Paxson and Rudy Rucker would be equally grand. Now you can hardly imagine two more different authors with more different approaches and even different material. That said, these two complemented one another perfectly.

For the first thing, both had incredibly compelling personal stories tied to their work. Rudy's story was his story, in fact, history. I have to say again that I loved his reading and I think that 'Nested Scrolls' may turn out to be his most lauded work, which is, course, saying quite a bit! But Diana's story, about which I knew nothing, was equally compelling. I'll let her tell the tale.

Keeping all this afloat is Terry Bisson, whose insightful questions and deep personal history in and out of the genre and the publishing business give him a great perspective. He's known all these players forever, so he's on solid ground no matter what he's asking about.

Of course, their approach to fiction is also very different. Diana's is sheathed in history while Rudy takes a "transreal" approach. But the end result, though apparently starkly divergent has, I think, the same effect. Both writers use a unique combination of the real and the fantastic to tell the larger truth.

You can hear the truth writ large by following this link to the MP3 audio file.



03-01-11: The Agony Column Live, February 12, 2011 with Matt Stewart and Joshua Mohr


"It's much rarer these days that everybody reads the same books and talks about it."

—Matt Stewart

"...if we all see the same thing, we're all seeing entirely different things...""

—Josh Mohr If you've not listened to the readings from last week, then I heartily suggest that you do so before going on to listen to the discussion that Matt Stewart, Joshua Mohr and I had about their work. But if you have, you're in for a treat, because these gentlemen come from a similar place — San Francisco — with similar attitudes but very different literary inclinations.

How could I not have fun with these two after readings like that? Mohr told us in the course of our conversation that his first three books are all set in the same environs, but tell very different stories. And the center point for everything a pretty seedy bar. To be quite honest, if you can imagine a quick-witted discussion between two highly-intelligent and talented writers in a Hubert Sebly, Jr. bar, then you're getting close.

The real treat is that Capitola Book Café is tucked away in the heart of one of the few really suburban mall-ish places in Santa Cruz county. Have I written about the windows that look out on the crowd that queues up for the movies. They look at us, all seated fairly proper, holding books and holding forth, talks and chatting and communicating. Little do they know the sordid nature of what we're talking about! What's being discussed in our staid little Book Café would get an NC-17 rating on the screens next door.

It's my guess that most of my reader won't need to hear more than the readings to send them to the bookstore to order these books. But as you hear our discussion, you'll at least feel like you made a good decision, especially when you follow this link to the MP3 audio file.



02-28-11: A 2011 Interview with Richard Matheson


"I'm a disbeliever in genre...I think there should just be stories."

—Richard Matheson

Matheson is certainly correct in his assertion that genre does not exist; at least in his own work. For a man who has already created some of the most poignant and pertinent myths of the 20th century, he's a pretty restless guy. He still has quite a bit to say and he is hard at work getting it into print.

I spoke with Matheson at his home in the secluded woody hillsides beyond Los Angeles. It did not seem so far from the forests of Gatford. To be honest, I did not expect to get very much of his time. He is very busy and very private. But as we sat down to talk time seemed to simply move out of our general vicinity.

Yes, I did want to talk about his latest novel, 'Other Kingdoms,' but I also wanted to talk about a long legacy of fiction. Matheson's career began when science fiction, fantasy, horror, mystery and suspense were all young genres, and his perception that there is no genre is founded in his strong sense of story. For Matheson, genre is more about setting or tone than it is about working within the limits of a genre, using the tropes to tell a story.

I would have thought that as a young man, Matheson would have read lots of science fiction and naturally gravitated towards that genre. Instead, for Matheson, his writing is all about realism. His first short story sale, to Anthony Boucher, at the time editing The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction, was a story he did not perceive to be science fiction. He was just telling a story.

Sitting in Matheson's living room, surrounded by his research, we also talked about his influences, in particular, Harold Percival, who work can be found at The Word Foundation. Matheson had some surprising things to say about the nature of reality Percival's writings and his own work. You can make time stop for a few moments by following this link to the MP3 audio file of our conversation.



New to the Agony Column

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

Agony Column Podcast News Report : A 2014 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 2014 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

03-01-15: Commentary : William Ury on Getting to Yes with Yourself: And Other Worthy Opponents : To the BATNA, Robin!

Agony Column Podcast News Report : A 2015 Interview with William Ury : ...he proceeded to shout at me for approximately 30 minutes..."

Agony Column Podcast News Report UPDATE: Time to Read Episode 198: William Ury : Getting to Yes with Yourself: And Other Worthy Opponents

02-22-15: Commentary : Jennifer Senior Experiences 'All Joy and No Fun: The Paradox of Modern Parenthood' : Reading Fun for the Whole Fambly!

Agony Column Podcast News Report : A 2015 Interview with Jennifer Senior : "...it becomes a source of enormous tension once a baby comes along..."

Agony Column Podcast News Report UPDATE: Time to Read Episode 197: Jennifer Senior : All Joy and No Fun: The Paradox of Modern Parenthood

02-09-15: Commentary : Stewart O'Nan Looks 'West of Sunset' : Twilight of the Great

Agony Column Podcast News Report : A 2015 Interview with Stewart O'Nan : "...we see him as a tragedian because is life is a tragedy..."

Agony Column Podcast News Report UPDATE: Time to Read Episode 196: Stewart O'Nan : West of Sunset

02-04-15: Commentary : Armistead Maupin Maps 'The Days of Anna Madrigal' : Swiftly Flow the Years

Agony Column Podcast News Report : A 2015 Interview with Armistead Maupin : "I could see what silliness was going on while it was happening..."

Agony Column Podcast News Report UPDATE: Time to Read Episode 195: Armistead Maupin : The Days of Anna Madrigal

01-31-15: Commentary : Christine Carter's Path to 'The Sweet Spot: How to Find Your Groove at Home and Work' : Neurohabits

Agony Column Podcast News Report : A 2015 Interview with Christine Carter, Ph.D. : "...a real tipping point..."

Agony Column Podcast News Report UPDATE: Time to Read Episode 194: Christine Carter, Ph.D. : The Sweet Spot: How to Find Your Groove at Home and Work

01-23-15: Commentary : Jake Halpern Pushes 'Bad Paper: Chasing Debt from Wall Street to the Underworld' : Non-Fiction 21st Century Noir

Agony Column Podcast News Report : A 2015 Interview with Jake Halpern : "...he goes to Las Vegas to this debt-buyers' convention..."

Agony Column Podcast News Report UPDATE: Time to Read Episode 193: Jake Halpern : Bad Paper: Chasing Debt from Wall Street to the Underworld

01-19-15: Commentary : David Shields and Caleb Powell Assert 'I Think You're Totally Wrong' : The Power to Bicker

Agony Column Podcast News Report : A 2015 Interview with David Shields and Caleb Powell : "I read no book reviews any more; the level of discussion is really pedestrian." David Shields "I'm just saying it's a conflict of interest!" Caleb Powell

Agony Column Podcast News Report UPDATE: Time to Read Episode 192: David Shields and Caleb Powell : I Think You're Totally Wrong

01-17-15: Commentary : Charles Todd Expects 'A Fine Summer's Day' : We Interrupt This Program...

Commentary : Charles Todd Engages In 'A Test of Wills' : The Politics of Passion and Policing

Agony Column Podcast News Report : A 2014 Interview with Charles and Caroline Todd : "...let them be themselves and sort it out..." Caroline Todd "...it's more on a personal level..." Charles Todd

Agony Column Podcast News Report UPDATE: Time to Read Episode 191: Charles Todd : A Fine Summer's Day

01-13-15: Commentary : Rosalie Parker Unearths 'The Old Knowledge' : The New Old World

Agony Column Podcast News Report : A 2014 Interview with Ray Russell and Rosalie Parker : "I thought I'd write something for fun.." Ray Russell "..there was a side of me of that was interested in the strangeness..." Ros Parker

01-12-15: Commentary : Richard Ford 'Let Me Be Frank with You' : The Default Years

Agony Column Podcast News Report : A 2014 Interview with Richard Ford : "...most of our politicians are morons..."

Agony Column Podcast News Report UPDATE: Time to Read Episode 190: Richard Ford : Let Me Be Frank with You

01-06-15: Commentary : Bessel van der Kolk 'The Body Keeps the Score' : Human Trauma

Agony Column Podcast News Report : A 2014 Interview with Bessel van der Kolk : "...being able to see what happens in the brain really helps us to understand certain things..."

Agony Column Podcast News Report UPDATE: Time to Read Episode 189: Bessel van der Kolk : The Body Keeps the Score

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