New Feature: Leave Me a Message!

Testing… testing… 1, 2, 3… is this thing on?

I’m trying out a new feature for the blog/podcast: voicemail! And I could use your help.

But first, why am I doing this? Because, because, because – you guys are really the stars of this blog. Always have been, always will be. The comments are routinely better than the posts! And now I’m launching the new podcasts, I’d love to find a way to bring your feedback into the mix. I can read them aloud, of course, but then it’s just me, me, me all over again. Anyway, that’s the idea: spice up the show with the wit and sparkle you guys have brought to this blog. Connect.

How will I use these? My plan is to cite the comments on the blog and eventually use the messages as part of the podcast. That’s it. DON’T TELL ME ANYTHING YOU WOULD NOT WANT BROADCAST. I’ve set out some more ground rules below.

Okay, onto the help. I’m testing a couple of different options here. If you could try one or both, it would be a great help for me in deciding which one to use going forward.


The easiest is probably to give me a call from your phone. This isn’t a scam or anything like that – it’s just a Google Voice account that lets me listen to your voice message. I don’t track your numbers or call them back or anything. Just you, your message, and my ears. The number to call is


Let me know what you’re thinking! Tell me your favorite book ever and why it deserves a spot in The History of Literature! Or tell me what you find funny that no one else does, or what everyone else finds funny that you don’t. (I gave you a few of my own examples in Monday’s show. Am I the only person in America who doesn’t laugh at fart jokes? Am I the only person in the world who hates puns? Let me know if I’m not!)

Option #2

No phone required! All you do is visit this page – there are no gimmicks or signups, I promise. All you do is click a button and record a message. (You do need to have a microphone, but the built-in one in your computer or phone or tablet should work fine.)

Leave Jacke A Message

You get 90 seconds to get whatever you want off your chest. Feel free to leave any feedback at all. Tell me your favorite book of all time to make sure I cover it in the History of Literature series. Or tell me your favorite one-liner. No strings attached!

If this thing works we’ll eat like kings!

The ground rules:

I won’t be giving out addresses or phone numbers or god forbid social security numbers or anything like that on the air. (Are you someone who would give out your social security number to a blogger on a voicemail? Don’t be that person.)

BUT if you say something like, “Hi Jacke, this is Kate in Los Angeles. I just wanted to say I love the show, especially the plays you’ve written for Kate Winslet and Bryan Cranston. Keep up the good work.” I will run the entire message.

In other words: you determine how much info to reveal about yourself. Through your own words.

Other than that, no ground rules. Tell me something funny, tell me something interesting, tell me something smart, ask me a good question. All voices welcome! I can’t wait to hear from you!

Steve Martin not wild, not crazy…

Brilliant reader MFA commented on the Steve Martin reference:

My daughter and I still mist up at the Steve Martin backyard basketball scene in “Father of the Bride”. Not taking away from the Spencer Tracy Elizabeth Taylor version.

Here’s the clip:

Argh, this is heartbreaking. Was there really a version of me who would once have seen this as overly sentimental? Because now I can barely see the screen thanks to the dust that just flew into my eyes. Parenting…what saps it turns us into.

Watching the middle-aged Martin play this character is fascinating to contrast with the young-man joke I analyzed in Episode One of the Restless Mind Show. (You’ll have to listen to the episode to hear which Steve Martin bit it was.) In the clip here there’s no bluster, no bravado…just a very human guy. Playing a dad.

Steve Martin’s own relationship with his father is agonizing – that part of his memoir alone is worth a read if you haven’t heard about it before. I don’t think it takes psychiatrist’s license to think that Martin’s Wild and Crazy Guy period was his way of blocking all that out. And when he set that persona aside and starting playing the teary-eyed dad, he must have had a deep well of longing to draw upon. A son’s wish for the father-son relationship he hadn’t had.

Powerful stuff coming from unexpected corners. Thanks for the tip, MFA!

Restless Mind Show #1 – Comedy and Authority


The Restless Mind Show! Jacke and Gar take a break from the history of literature to examine the nature of comedy and what makes us laugh.


What’s the Greatest Joke Ever? Sneak Preview of an Exciting New Podcast!

Hello, friends! Just a quick note to let you know that The History of Literature podcast takes its regularly scheduled departure this week… and it’s such a departure, we’re calling it by a whole new name! (It’s a branding thing.)  In any event, it goes by the name of The Restless Mind Show and it will be available on Monday.

We’re using the same feed, so subscribers to The History of Literature will get this show automatically.

Why are we doing this? Don’t ask. It’s just how we’re doing it.

The first episode takes a look at different kinds of funny. What do Steve Martin, Will Ferrell, and Chief Wiggum have in common? Why  are they funny? Why was Kafka hysterical? We’ll take a look!

Listen To The Epic of Gilgamesh (read in its original language)

What was it like to listen to the oldest epic poem we have? Press the play button, close your eyes, and travel back 4,000 years….

Open Culture has more.

The History of Literature 1A – The Discovery of Gilgamesh (Bonus episode)


What happens when a Victorian-era archaeologist thinks he’s made the discovery of a lifetime? The answer may surprise you…


Is Literature Dying?

Okay, the new podcast is off to a great start! Many thanks to all the listeners, wherever you are, and whoever you may be.

It seems that a lot of you have the same question I do:

Is literature dying?

I know what you’re thinking: sounds like a straw man! I get it, I get it. Ninety-nine times out of a hundred that kind of question results in a “No, it isn’t!” We all tune in for the fake drama, and in the end the host concludes what we all knew that he or she would. Literature’s not dying! It’s stronger than ever! Thank you for listening.

But…this might be that one hundredth time!

More to the point, I am not sure of the answer yet.

That’s right! I didn’t come up with this question as a clever way of attracting attention. This is not a disguised way of setting up a podcast about how great literature is, and let’s celebrate how wonderful it all is, and aren’t we all just spectacular beings for celebrating it all together, here in this celebration. This celebration of literature. And us. The lovers of literature.


Don’t get me wrong, I’ve always thought that literature is great. I’ve always thought it was powerful. A force for good. I believed in it.

Now I look around and…well, I’m not so sure we need it anymore.

What did we get from literature and great books that we can’t get elsewhere?

Reading is wonderful, of course…but so were handwritten letters. So was a morning newspaper.

We’ve moved on from those things. And maybe we’ve simply moved on from literature.

We don’t read as much as we used to–well, that’s not exactly true, is it? We probably read more than ever. And we probably write more than ever. We have a very literate society. It’s just that it’s all taking place on the internet.

Do we sit down and read big novels like Anna Karenina or Middlemarch? Maybe a few of us do, now and then. And some contemporary novels still sell copies, and some of those are weighty and important and cover serious topics and deserve their place on the shelf of Great Books. Some people still read them, just as some people still get their morning newspaper.

But are they essential?

It’s easy to blame ourselves for the declining sales and reduced position that literature has in today’s world. It’s all our fault! We’re easily distracted! We’re stupid! We prefer our phones or our videogames or social networking because we’re lazy and dumb. We used to be so much better.

I don’t think that’s the whole story.

I think we need to look harder at literature itself.

Why did we read before? For entertainment? Escapism? Moral instruction? Curiosity? Empathy? To better understand what it’s like to be another person in a world different from our own?

Isn’t all of that available now on Facebook? Blogs? Netflix?

Maybe it’s not our fault that literature has lost some of its relevance. Maybe literature just isn’t good enough at delivering what it’s supposed to deliver. Maybe it can’t compete.

So in that spirit, I have a podcast called The History of Literature. And yes, the title suggests that it’s a straightforward narrative. You know how those go. Book, book, book, author, author, author, period, period, period. We march from one phase to the next as easily as slipping out of our robe and into a warm bath.

But this isn’t a warm bath. It’s more of a quest. I feel like I’m out there battling monsters.

Yes, I’m going to cover as much great literature as I can. And yes, there will be times when I’ll be swept away with enthusiasm, because I’ll forget my concerns and embrace the power of literature. I know the feelings I get when I encounter the sublime. I recall the energy, the enthusiasm, the passion I’ve felt for novels and poems and stories and plays in the past.

In the past. Did you catch that? In the past.

Is it the same now? Or has something changed? Are we headed toward a sunset?

That’s what we’ll be exploring. Yes, these are undeniably great books. We can enjoy them, admire them, celebrate them–and we’ll be doing plenty of that, I’m not a zombie or a robot or a masochist.

But we’ll also be asking this more difficult question: What can these great books offer us today?

Join us on the quest!


I’d love to hear your thoughts! Do you read as much as you once did? If not, why not? Where do you turn instead for the things that literature used to provide? Let us know in the comments!

For podcast listeners (or those of you new to the idea), the easiest way to get the podcast automatically downloaded to your phone (or tablet or computer or whatever else you like to listen to) is probably to subscribe via iTunes. You can direct download the mp3s, stream episodes, and find more subscription options at the main site,

Do you have another preferred delivery mechanism I’m not providing? Let me know!


F. Scott Fitzgerald, Zelda Fitzgerald, and Scottie Fitzgerald.

History of Literature Episode 1 – The Epic of Gilgamesh


Starting our journey with the surprisingly modern story of an ancient warrior-king whose restlessness drives him to seek immortality.


Next Episode: The Epic of Gilgamesh

Sneak preview of the next episode in The History of Literature (a new podcast I’ve been asked to host)…

I know there are a lot of good translations out there (and a lot of bad ones). I’ve found this one by Stephen Mitchell to be the best. But is a fresh new translation enough to make us care about some old king blah blah fighting monsters with an axe blah blah blah?

We’ll find out!

Episode 0 – Battling the Beast

Here we go! Episode zero of our new podcast, The History of Literature, right here on Let me know what you think!


Introducing the wildly unqualified host, Jacke Wilson.