The History of Literature #133 – The Hidden Machinery – Discovering the Secrets of Fiction (with Margot Livesey)

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Ever wonder how fiction works? Or what great literature can teach us about writing? Novelist Margot Livesey returns to the show for a discussion of her book The Hidden Machinery: Essays on Writing

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The History of Literature #132 – Top 10 Literary Villains

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Villains! Bad guys ! Femme fatales! We love them in movies – but what about literature? What makes villains so effective (and so essential)? What do they tell us about their authors – and what can they tell us about ourselves? In this episode, Jacke and Mike select the Top 10 Literary Villains of all time.

Works, authors, and characters discussed include Shakespeare, Euripides, Cormac McCarthy, Chuck Klosterman, John Milton, John Fowles, Stephen King, Thomas Harris, Emily Bronte, Othello, Medea, Hannibal Lecter, Iago, Lady Macbeth, Charles Dickens, Star Wars, One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, Judge Holden, Michael Corleone, HAL 9000, Stanley Kubrick, A Clockwork Orange, The Wicked Witch of the West, C.S. Lewis, Ian Fleming, Professor Moriarty, Captain Hook, Long John Silver, Beowulf, Grendel, J.K. Rowling, and J.R.R. Tolkien.

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The History of Literature #131 – Dante in Love (with Professor Ellen Nerenberg and Anthony Valerio)


Italian poet Dante Alighieri (1265-1321) was the greatest poet of his era and one of the greatest artists of all time. His masterpiece, the Divine Comedy (or simply Comedìa or Commedia), written between 1312-1320, which describes his journey through Hell (Inferno), Purgatory (Purgatorio), and Heaven (Paradiso), stands as one of the greatest achievements of Western Civilization. “Dante and Shakespeare divide the world between them,” T.S. Eliot once wrote, “there is no third.”

But years before Dante placed the beloved figure of Beatrice at the heart of the Divine Comedy, he wrote a shorter, more intimate work devoted to his love for her. Called La Vita Nuova (or Vita Nova or A New Life), the combination of poetry and prose tells an astonishing story of his love for Beatrice, from the moment he first saw her (when both were children) to the moment he learned of her death.

In this episode, host Jacke Wilson is joined by two special guests: Professor Ellen Nerenberg, Dean of the Arts and Humanities, Hollis Professor of Romance Languages and Literature, and Professor of Italian at Wesleyan University; and Anthony Valerio, author and editor of several works of fiction and nonfiction, including Dante in Love: Dante Alighieri’s Vita Nuova Reinterpreted, a 2017 translation of Dante’s youthful and enduring masterwork.

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The History of Literature #130 – The Great Love Affair of Anna Akhmatova and Amedeo Modigliani

Anna Akhmatova (1889-1966) began her career as a poet of love and ended it as the poet of suffering and heartbreak, thanks in no small part to the totalitarian Russian regime she suffered under. On today’s special Valentine’s Day edition of The History of Literature, we look at Akhmatova’s poetry and life, and consider what might be her moment of greatest happiness: the youthful affair she had in Paris with Italian painter and sculptor Amedeo Modigliani (1884-1920). What happened when these two soul mates met? How did it affect their art? What happened to them afterwards? And what does it mean for us today?

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The History of Literature #129 – Great Sports Novels (Where Are They!?)



Every year, the Super Bowl draws over 100 million viewers in the U.S. alone, and the Olympics and World Cup will be watched by billions around the world. Movies and television shows about sports are too numerous to count. But where are the novels? Mike Palindrome and special guest Reagan Sova (author of Tiger Island, a novel about sports) join host Jacke Wilson to talk about the world of sports in literature – and attempt to determine why sports are so underrepresented in adult literary fiction.

Works discussed include: Underworld by Don DeLillo, The Pickwick Papers by Charles Dickens, Infinite Jest by David Foster Wallace, Fever Pitch by Nick Hornby, Shoeless Joe (Field of Dreams) by W.P. Kinsella, Bang the Drum Slowly by Mark Harris, The Art of Fielding by Chad Harbach, The Old Man and the Sea by Ernest Hemingway, The Natural by Bernard Malamud, Beowulf, The Shortest Poem in the English Language by Muhammad Ali, Moby Dick by Herman Melville, A Fan’s Notes by Frederick Exley, Rabbit, Run by John Updike, The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald, Humboldt’s Gift by Saul Bellow, The Sportswriter by Richard Ford.