New Year’s Thank You: The Top Podcast Episodes of the Year

Dear Readers and Listeners:

It’s time for another humble thank you from your old friend Jacke. This year was another good one in Jackeland. No new books (alas), but a newly launched podcast, plenty of blogging inspiration – and most importantly, the community of readers and listeners who make everything worthwhile.

I owe you more than I could ever express.

But I’ll keep trying! Or at least, I’ll keep trying to express something. We may be uncertain about the role of literature, and we may have more failures than successes, but the creative spirit is still endlessly fascinating and apparently indefatigable. Let’s hope it’s the same – for you as well as me – in 2016, as it was in 2015.

I’m going to take a quick run through the most popular episodes of The History of Literature, as selected by you the listeners. Here we go from 10-6:

#10 (tie) – Gar Discovers a Lost Recording of Walt Whitman!

Gar finds a lost recording of Walt Whitman reading his own poetry! Plus: Author Jacke Wilson gives an update on the Greatest First Lines contest.

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#10 (tie) – Greek Comedy – Aristophanes

Author Jacke Wilson examines the life and works of Aristophanes, whose comic plays included The Clouds, which pokes fun at philosophers such as Socrates, and Lysistrata, where the females of Athens and Sparta go on a sex strike in an attempt to end the war.

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#10 (tie) – Proust, Pound, and Chinese Poetry

A young Jacke Wilson immerses himself in great books on his way from Taiwan to Tibet – and finds out what Ezra Pound, Marcel Proust, and Chinese poetry can teach him about literature and life.

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#10 (tie) – A Jacke Wilson Holiday

Jacke offers some holiday thoughts on loneliness, his failures with women and the theater, and a teary trip to the Nutcracker.

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#9 – Odysseus Leaves Calypso

Responding to a listener email, author Jacke Wilson takes a deeper look at one of the Odyssey’s most famous passages. Why does Odysseus leave Calypso, and what does it tell us about Homer and his genius? And is it fair to compare Achilles and Odysseus with Yosemite Sam and Bugs Bunny?

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#8 – Greek Tragedy (Part Two) – Aeschylus, Sophocles, Euripides

Author Jacke Wilson examines the works of three great Greek tragedians, Aeschylus, Sophocles, and Euripides – and attempts to solve the mystery of why Friedrich Nietzsche admired two of the three and despised the other.

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#7 – Sappho

Ancient Greece viewed her as Homer’s poetic equal; Plato referred to her as the “tenth muse.” As a fearless and lyrical chronicler of female desire, she had a profound impact on literature and society. Author Jacke Wilson takes a look at the genius of Sappho, the first great female writer in the history of literature.

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#6 – Nietzsche’s Children

Continuing the discussion of Greek tragedy, Jacke takes a look at Nietzsche and the impact he has on eager young philosophers. This episode includes the Jacke Wilson story “My Roommate’s Books” from the History of Jacke in 100 Objects series.

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Onward and upward, everyone!

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Little Black Dress? Yes. Little Black Penguin Classics? Also Yes!

Some things are so classy they just never go out of style. Like little black dresses, and little black classics from Penguin Books. Here’s another gift idea for this holiday season (along with Edward Gorey).

Eighty Penguin Classics, presented in bite-sized form (i.e., novellas, short essays, selections of poems, or excerpted passages from longer books).

Yes, it’s a bit of a commitment ($75 or so), but that’s cheap for what you’re getting, and think of the possibilities here. Close your eyes, grab one, tuck it into your pocket, and head out to face the day. Give yourself a little surprise: a bit of Chekhov, maybe, or a touch of Sappho. Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday,: Suetonius, Charlotte Perkins Gilman, Montaigne.

Will it work? Can I make my year better through this strategy of randomizing my brain expansion? Stay tuned!

Amazon description:

The Little Black Classics feature works by Jane Austen, Anton Chekhov, Samuel Coleridge, Edgar Allan Poe, John Milton, Nikolay Leskov, Charlotte Perkins Gilman, Fyodor Dostoyevsky, Gustave Glaubert, Nikolai Gogol, Samuel Pepys, Washington Irving, Henry James, Christina Rossetti, Sophocles, Leo Tolstoy, Oscar Wilde, Boccaccio, Gerard Manley Hopkins, Thomas de Quincey, Apollonius of Rhodes, Robert Louis Stevenson, Petronius, John Peter Hebel, Hans Christian Andersen, Rudyard Kipling, John Keats, Thomas Hardy, Guy de Maupassant, Aesop, Joseph Conrad, Brothers Grimm, Katherine Mansfield, Ovid, Ivan Turgenev, H. G. Wells, Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, Charles Dickens, Herman Melville, Michel de Montaigne, Thomas Nashe, Mary Kingsley, Honoré de Balzac, C. P. Cavafy, Wilfred Owen, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, Plato, Ryunosuke Akutagawa, Giorgio Vasari, Friederich Nietzsche, Suetonius, Friedrich Engels and Karl Marx, Dante, Henry Mayhew, Hafez, Geoffrey Chaucer, John Ruskin, Pu Songling, Jonathan Swift, Walt Whitman, Kenko, Baltasar Gracián, Marco Polo, Matsuo Basho, Emily Bronte, Richard Hakluyt, Omar Khayyam, Charles Darwin, Catullus, Homer, D. H. Lawrence, Sappho, Virgil, Herodotus, Shen Fu, and others.

Exciting Discovery Revealed Tomorrow!

WOW!

I don’t want to overpromise until I hear more details, but it sounds like tomorrow will be a Very Big Day for The History of Literature Podcast. Here’s a hint:

Walt Whitman
Walt Whitman – silent no longer?

Come back tomorrow for the Restless Mind Show when all will be revealed. Or just subscribe to the History of Literature Podcast (iTunes | Android | RSS | More Subscribe Options).

See you then!

Sneak Preview: Homer in Ian McKellen’s English

Yesterday we brought you a snippet of the Iliad in the Original Greek. How about The Odyssey in Ian McKellen’s sonorous rendition?

All there on Youtube, all for free. I love the twenty-first century so much.

Come back Monday when The History of Literature takes a look at Homer. In the meantime, you can catch up on Episode 1 – The Epic of Gilgamesh and Episode 2 – The Hebrew Bible.

Restless Mind Show #1 – Comedy and Authority

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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.

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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.

No.

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!

history-of-literature-db

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, historyofliterature.com.

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

Enjoy!

zelda-scott-laughing
F. Scott Fitzgerald, Zelda Fitzgerald, and Scottie Fitzgerald.

Small Press Shout-Out: Black Balloon Publishing!

Okay, today’s small press is definitely on the quirkier side. How quirky? Quirkier than that. It just might be the quirkiest of any of our small press shout-outs thus far.

First things first. Black Balloon’s website is gorgeous. Not very quirky! Just elegant and beautiful. But then there’s this motto:

We champion the weird, the unwieldy, and the unclassifiable.

The gauntlet has been thrown! Let’s see some freak flags flying!

Hang on, hang on…weird and unwieldy and unclassifiable are easy words to throw around, but what exactly do they mean? In Black Ballon’s case, they mean this:

Black Balloon books are risky but not gimmicky, whimsical but never light, intelligent but not precious. We cater to writers who kick conventions curbside, who provoke without sentiment, who make the despicable somehow appealing. We blur lines between disciplines—think an autobiographical account of an identity broken, then rebuilt, scene by scene, via the perspectives of loved ones. Think recipes sung word-for-word and packaged inside a collaborative, illustrated cookbook. Think a quixotic coming-of-age novel told through inside jokes.

We’re partial to paradoxical characters—hermit architects, pill-popping priests, lacquered dandies with night terrors. We take delight very seriously. We are not offended by the hokey, necessarily. We crave simplicity and elegance and have no idea what that means. We enjoy a nice narrative slap with our breakfast tea.

Sounds good…but this is still a little intangible. Let’s see some examples, Black Balloon!

How about Nine Rabbits by Bulgarian author Virginia Zaharieva, which continues Black Balloon’s mini-tradition of bringing out “exceptional English language translation[s] of literary fiction from an underrepresented country fraught with political and social instability”?

Very specific, sure, but is that unclassifiable? I don’t think so! Come on, Black Balloon. Give us the quirky!

Okay, how about their Clementine Classics, a series in which classic works of literature (e.g., Sister Carrie, The Age of Innocence) are annotated by a hedgehog?

Now we’re getting somewhere!

Or there’s this one:

Maverick Jetpants in the City of Quality by Bill Peters

Rochester, New York, 1999: An arsonist is loose on the streets of a city in decline. Gone are the days of Rioting in the Vomit Cruiser, searching for a possible Tokyo Rocking Horse.

Ah yes. Who among us hasn’t felt a little nostalgic for those lost days of Rioting in the Vomit Cruiser? Now it’s just fading photographs and listening to the Springsteen songs Oh No Tokyo (My Lil’ Rocking Horse) and Got My Gas Tank Full and My Vomit Cruiser Ready to Roll. 

But there’s more!

In this hilarious, wildly original debut novel, Nathan Gray and best friend Necro live by the code of Joke Royalty, a system of in-jokes known only to a select few. But as the reality of full-time employment, possible spouses, and Neo-Nazis encroaches, their friendship unravels, threatening their dreams of becoming Kodak Park Winjas.

Among the gravest Hellstacheries: Necro’s strangely vicious drawings and his sudden interest in a group of weapons enthusiasts who may or may not be responsible for the fires erupting through downtown. With no Holy Grail Points left to his name, Nate ventures into Rochester’s strangest corners to find out if his best friend is a domestic terrorist Pinning Bow Ties on the Dead or simply Maverick Jetpantsing on with his life—perhaps even beyond The City of Quality.

Weird, unwieldy, unclassifiable…Black Balloon Publishing, I think we hit the trifecta!

Everyone (freaks and curious onlookers alike) should head over to Black Balloon to see what they’ve got on their sidewalk display. It will be worth your time! You can see the results of my own small press efforts by checking out the paperback edition of The Race.

Previous Small Press Shout-Outs: