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Podthoughts by Colin Marshall: Other People

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Vital stats:
Format: the literary WTF
Episode duration: 1h-1h30m
Frequency: weekly

Damn, are ever there a lot of novels to read. I get this mixed rush of excitement, gratitude, incredulity, and hopelessness whenever I plug into an outlet of contemporary literary culture. In one hour, I’ll hear of dozens of authors and hundreds of books I might want but will never have the lifespan to read. How did this Jenga tower rise? When will it fall? Imagine what a comparable situation in the auto industry: respectable, productive new car companies appear every week; comfortable, well-built new models enter the market every day; lots teem with more vehicles than the entire driving population could reasonably buy and use, let alone fit onto the roads at once; time-tested old cars, some of the finest ever produced, remain abundant and far cheaper than their curiously pricey modern counterparts. Yet automotive design and engineering schools continue pumping out waves of expectant graduates each year, and everyone else seems less and less eager to drive.

From Other People [iTunes] [RSS], a literary version of Marc Maron’s WTF, I get vibrations of this same psychodrama. Host Brad Listi, a novelist-interviewer/novelist interviewer to Maron’s comedian-interviewer/comedian interviewer, sits down with the very people who write all these worthy recent novels to compare notes about growing up, pulling a writing career together, and physically doing the work, in sessions spiced with various opinions and anxieties. After having heard a sizable chunk of the archive, I can assure you that these episodes all have much of interest to offer: rich stories, sudden laughs, ponder-worthy observations, memorable strategies for living. The show’s conversations deliver just what I confidently imagine their participants’ actual books do. But where to start listening?

Selecting Other People interviews to download presents the same seemingly insoluble problems and obscure strains of guilt as selecting novels to read. Browsing Listi’s 77-strong backlog, I muttered to myself the thinnest of justifications: “Jerry Stahl? [MP3] Seemed interestingly ragged when I saw him on that one panel. Ben Marcus? [MP3] I remember some sort war of words about experimental writing between him and Jonathan Franzen where it looked like he was defending my reading interests, but then I only ever read Franzen’s side. Elna Baker? [MP3] That Mormon I heard on The Sound of Young America, and Mormon stuff weirds me out in a way I kind of enjoy. Rex Pickett? [MP3] Seems like we all know strangely little about that guy, considering he wrote Sideways. Vanessa Veselka? [MP3] Someone had me write about her novel once. Heidi Julavits? [MP3] Is that the same as Vendela Vida?” (And of course I grabbed all the ones with people I’ve interviewed myself — Reality Hunger manifesto assembler David Shields [MP3], literary blogger Maud Newton [MP3] — as every interviewer denies doing.)

For the most part, I threw up my hands and chose which Other Peoples to listen to the way I choose which books to read or, frankly, the way I choose pretty much everything: socially. In a world whose sheer number of options renders all of them effectively unevaluatable, picking whatever you happen to know people involved with or want to become like the people involved with at least lifts a burden. Sure, this guarantees that the simple meritocracy for which we clamored as sixteen-year-olds will never come, but we should’ve abandoned that idea long ago. Listi and his guests do seem aware, on some level, of this condition. They also directly acknowledge the bizarre structure of the literary fiction market now and again, though usually in passing. In one of his WTF-style pre-interview monologues, a shaken Listi describes the scene at the annual Association of Writers and Writing Programs conference as “Darwinian.” I’ve gone to those; I know what he means. The chat there, while all kinds of stimulating, tends to float on a bitter current of spite. Let it seep to the surface, and it destroys you.

Listi, to his credit, lets little of this spite seep into his interviews. I come away from Other People remembering mostly what has the least direct relevance to the half-masochistic practice, performed with grim resignation and without apparent incentive, of writing novels: the roach-tainted cheese toast of Newton’s childhood; the questionable warning the college-bound Baker received from her mother about NYU’s roving gangs of lesbians; Veselka’s having emerged from the womb of Nick News W5’s Linda Ellerbee; Marcus’ dreams of college waterskiing. “Introduced” to many of these writers by Listi’s program, I now feel like getting to know them better, and if that means getting their personalities mediated through some fictional narrative, so be it. Maybe it just works this way now: you “meet” someone on a show like Other People, and you can, if you like, get further “acquainted” by reading their books. I would bang out a line here about how the work ought to stand for itself, but I think we’re all feeling a little tired these days.

Comment or suggest a podcast on the Podthoughts forum thread

[Podthinker Colin Marshall hosts and produces Notebook on Cities and Culture [iTunes]. Contact him at colinjmarshall at gmail or follow him on Twitter @colinmarshall.]

My Brother, My Brother and Me 107: Face 2 Face 5

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This episode probably sports our worst audio quality to date, which we apologize for. We figured that an episode that made it sound like we were screaming at you while covered in bees would be better than no episode at all.

Episode 4: Whither Shaggy?

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Steve and Holly in London
Guests: 
Rob Huebel
Guests: 
Sarah Thyre
Guests: 
Holly Walsh
Guests: 
Steve Hall
Guests: 
Jonathan Coulton

Holly Walsh, Rob Huebel, Sarah Thyre and Steve Hall join special guest Jonathan Coulton and host Jesse Thorn to talk baby punk makeovers and Cockney rhyming slang in another bid to work out which country is best.

If you think you've got what it takes to write a round of International Waters then drop us a line: iw@maximumfun.org and don't be shy, you can like us on Facebook too!

Judge John Hodgman Episode 62: My Dinner with Ennui

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Holly brings this case against her writing partner Todd. They live in Los Angeles, and meet at restaurants to work together on projects at least once a week. Todd prefers to eat at a few agreed-upon, time-tested restaurants to eat one of his dishes of choice. He says that eating the same meals helps keep his mind free to focus on work. Holly feels her creative spirit is stifled by eating at the same places, week in and week out. Should Todd’s habits or Holly’s spontaneity rule?

ALSO, RIP to Awesome Cone, from The Cone-Tractual Dispute.

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Graham Clark's Stand-up Special

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Graham Clark of MaxFun's Stop Podcasting Yourself has just released his online-only stand-up comedy special. Recorded at Vancouver's Waldorf Hotel last month, Graham's is the first in a series of local stand-up specials. Oh, also it's hilarious.

Download it at thestandupcomedians.com. It's just five bucks!

Bullseye with Jesse Thorn: Daniel Handler, The Sklar Brothers, Nico Muhly and the AV Club

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Show: 
Bullseye
Guests: 
Daniel Handler
Guests: 
Randy Sklar
Guests: 
Jason Sklar
Guests: 
Nico Muhly


Culture Picks: AV Club All-Time Favorites

Our pop culture luminaries from The AV Club return for another round of recommendations. Sitting in the hot seat this week are Genevieve Koski and Josh Modell, as they select their all-time favorite records. Josh can't resist the lure of Fiona Apple's 1999 album When The Pawn.... Genevieve, meanwhile, opts for a relative modern selection: it's Dessa's lyrically resonant 2010 release A Badly Broken Code.

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Author Daniel Handler

Daniel Handler delved into his memories of young love and high school frustrations to pen the novel Why We Broke Up -- the twist? He writes the girl's side of the story. The story is illustrated by a collection of items collected during the relationship; the paintings are provided by New Yorker illustrator Maira Kalman. Daniel Handler is also known by his alter ego, Lemony Snicket, who authored A Series of Unfortunate Events. (Originally aired February 14, 2012)

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Nico Muhly: The Song That Changed My Life

Nico Muhly is a classical composer who's worked with a wide range of musicians, from high-profile composer Philip Glass, to Icelandic snger-songwriter Bjork to indie rockers Grizzly Bear. His opera Two Boys is set to debut at the Metropolitan Opera in the 2013-14 season. He talks to us about the song that changed his life -- Steve Reich's Music for 18 Musicians. (Originally aired February 14, 2012)

(Embed or Share Nico Muhly on Bullseye)


Comedians The Sklar Brothers

Randy and Jason Sklar, known collectively as The Sklar Brothers, are comedians and actors perhaps best known for their ESPN Classic show Cheap Seats. They're currently hosting a new TV series called United Stats of America, Tuesday nights on the History Channel. Their latest stand up album is Hendersons and Daughters and you can hear them each week as the hosts of the comedy podcast Sklarbro Country.

They sat down with us earlier this year to reflect on forming identities as stand up comedians (and twins), broadening sports comedy for the average Joe, envisioning the writing process for Grimm's Fairy Tales, and more. (Originally aired February 14, 2012)

(Embed or Share The Sklars on Bullseye)


The Outshot: The Newsroom

Americans enjoyed a wave of cringe-inducing awkward comedy in Curb Your Enthusiasm and The Office. This week Jesse recommends one of their precedents, the Canadian series The Newsroom. (Originally aired February 14, 2012)

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Throwing Shade #32: Bryan Fischer, Texas Sex Ed, Gay Pride Facts, Jay Townsend

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Bryan and Erin are back from Max Fun Con, full of food, friendship and an unwarranted amount of weed. In this very special epi-sode, Bryan talks Bryan Fischer's problems with homosexuals, Erin outlines Texas' sex ed prollem, and they both join in on Pride facts and acid throwing! Summertime! 
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Stop Podcasting Yourself 220 - Brent Butt

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Guests: 
Brent Butt

Brent Butt returns to talk tropes, sneezing, pink shirts, and Bigfoot.

Download episode 220 here. (right-click)

Brought to you by: (click here to see the whole recap)

Jordan, Jesse, Go! Episode 226: Live at MaxFunCon with W. Kamau Bell, Ashkon, Erin Gibson and Bryan Safi

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Guests: 
W. Kamau Bell
Guests: 
Ashkon
Guests: 
Bryan Safi
Guests: 
Erin Gibson

W. Kamau Bell, Ashkon and Throwing Shade's Bryan Safi and Erin Gibson join Jesse and Jordan for a live show at MaxFunCon.

(Sorry the audio's not perfect - we got a little excited on stage and recorded a little hot.)

Podthoughts by Colin Marshall: The Bike Show

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Vital stats:
Format: talk about all aspects of cycling and cycling culture
Episode duration: typically ~30m, with occasional longer specials
Frequency: weekly

London’s Resonance FM broadcasts not what we would think of as straightforward talk programming, and not what we would think of as straightforward music programming, but something called “radio art.” This broad label turns out to cover a badly underutilized patch of radio’s philosophical spectrum, one safely distant from both bland jukeboxing and tiresome politicking. Eschew traditional news, sports, hits, and complaints, and you open up the creative space for shows a thinking listener might actually enjoy. This I realized when I Podthought about the podcast of every Resonance FM broadcast available in that form. I’d previously written up The Wire magazine’s Adventures in Modern Music, the most straightforward music show I’ve heard on Resonance (and The Wire has R. Stevie Moore on its cover this month). Now I’ve cycled back around, as it were, to listen hard to a program no other station has produced, or possibly could produce: The Bike Show [RSS] [iTunes].

When first I heard The Bike Show, host/producer Jack Thurston impressed me not only with his professionalism and stealthy production skill — qualities not immediately associated, alas, with freeform radio — but a dedication that had him not only chatting in the studio but recording out in the field, on long trips, and even while riding. (These signature “rolling interviews” have their own page on the show’s site.) But back then I lived in Santa Barbara, where cycling meant only an idyllic way to commute. Now that I’ve dropped myself into the vast complexity of Los Angeles with my old brown Nishiki as primary means of transport, cycling has taken a rather more essential place. An encounter with David Byrne’s Bicycle Diaries made me consciously grasp a fact my lifestyle had already incorporated: no more efficient, absorbing, and intellectually or aesthetically connected form of urban transportation exists. I had much to learn; I had to catch up on The Bike Show immediately.

You might find yourself in a similar position, but, especially if you live in the United States, you might not turn to this show’s guidance out of two fears: one, that Thurston gears it toward other Londoners, and two, that he gears it toward other, er, gearheads. Resonance’s location does mean that The Bike Show and its guests tend to discuss cycling in Engand and continental Europe. But I don’t mind that, since cycling across the pond seems locked into less of a garrison mentality than it does here; cultural changes are indeed underway, but America’s legacy of marginal, abrasive, spandex-coated car-loathing eccentrics dies hard. London, by comparison, would seem to boast a robust population of well-rounded, normally dressed, non-aggrieved riders, yet Thurston and his coterie bring up concern after concern about their city’s lack of sufficient infrastructure and basic regard for the two-wheeled. Denmark and the Netherlands, where toddlers and octogenarians alike ride helmetless and fearless for their every errand, come up again and again as the consummately bike-friendly countries against which all others must be judged. The term “Copenhagenize” sees much use.

Los Angeles, it will shock you to learn, has taken few pains to Copenhagenize. Happily pedal though I may over these 500 square miles — especially when we’ve got a CycLAvia going on — it only takes hearing a conversation between Thurston and the British and European bike enthusiasts, bike builders, bike racers, bike collectors, and bike writers he brings into the studio or connects to by Skype to suspect I might lack something in the way of accommodation. But thanks to Thurston’s enthusiasm, the briskness of his operation, and the variety of perspectives he brings tgether, this doesn’t actually discourage me. Quite the opposite, in fact; the next time I feel burnt out after a long, loud, lonely ride down one of this city’s bike routes in name only — Venice Boulevard, say — I’ll click on an episode or two of The Bike Show for an instantly revitalizing shot of cycling culture. I can’t listen at home without wanting to get right back on the streets, inhospitable as they may sometimes feel.

And this brings me to address that second fear: cycling culture, on this program, means more than ranking derailleurs. Thurston occasionally invites guests who sound like they’d gladly rank derailleurs for the duration of the broadcast and beyond, and perhaps he himself longs to do the same, but The Bike Show sounds dedicated to not drilling too far into any one subtopic. This is not a show about the mechanics of cycling, the business of cycling, the science of cycling, the sport of cycling, the history of cycling, or (heaven help us) the politics of cycling: it’s a show about all of them and everything else besides. As driving a car steadily becomes a stodgier, more expensive lifestyle choice, the humble bicycle has its chance to recapture the imagination of a large, able, willing, developed-world population outside of Copenhagen. But to do so, it needs as few monomaniacs as it can get. Every skillful essayist treats their chosen subject as a nexus of all subjects; in each episode of The Bike Show, we have from Jack Thurston and his collaborators a skillful essay indeed.

Comment or suggest a podcast on the Podthoughts forum thread

[Podthinker Colin Marshall hosts and produces Notebook on Cities and Culture [iTunes]. Contact him at colinjmarshall at gmail or follow him on Twitter @colinmarshall.]
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