The History of Literature #429 – Books I Have Loved (with Charles Baxter, Margot Livesey, and Jim Shepard)

429 Books I Have Loved (with Charles Baxter, Margot Livesey, and Jim Shepard)

For years, we’ve enjoyed talking to writers about the books they love best. In this “best of” episode, we go deep into the archive for three of our favorites: Jim Shepard and his youthful discovery of Bram Stoker’s Dracula; Margot Livesey and her love for Ford Madox Ford’s modernist classic The Good Soldier; and Charles Baxter telling us about his love for the poetry of James Wright. Enjoy!

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History of Literature Podcast #63 – Books I Have Loved (with Charles Baxter)


In this special episode, the revered American author Charles Baxter joins Jacke to discuss some of his favorite books, including works by Anton Chekhov, Saul Bellow, James Wright, and Paula Fox.

“Charles Baxter’s stories have reminded me of how broad and deep and shining a story can be, and I am grateful.” — Alice Munro 

CHARLES BAXTER is the author of the novels The Feast of Love(nominated for the National Book Award), The Soul Thief, Saul and Patsy, Shadow Play, and First Light, and the story collectionsGryphon, Believers, A Relative Stranger, Through the Safety Net, andHarmony of the World.  The stories “Bravery” and “Charity,” which appear in There’s Something I Want You to Do, were included in Best American Short Stories. Baxter lives in Minneapolis and teaches at the University of Minnesota and in the MFA Program for Writers at Warren Wilson College.


Podcast: Play in new window | Download (Duration: 1:07:02 — 46.3MB) | Embed

Works Discussed:

Collected Poems by James Wright

Herzog, Henderson the Rain King, and Humboldt’s Gift by Saul Bellow

Desperate Characters and The Widow’s Children by Paula Fox

Selected Stories by Anton Chekhov

Show Notes: 

We have a special episode coming up – listener feedback! Contact the host at or by leaving a voicemail at 1-361-4WILSON (1-361-494-5766).

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Music Credits:

Handel – Entrance to the Queen of Sheba” by Advent Chamber Orchestra (From the Free Music Archive / CC by SA).

“Sweet Vermouth” by Kevin MacLeod (
Licensed under Creative Commons: By Attribution 3.0

The History of Literature Episode 60 – Great Literary Endings

Everyone always talks about the greatest openings in the history of literature – I’m looking at you, Call me Ishmael – but what about endings? Aren’t those just as important? What are the different ways to end short stories and novels? Which endings work well and why? In this episode, Jacke and Mike take a look at great literary endings, with some assistance from David Lodge, Charles Baxter, Leo Tolstoy, James Joyce, Flannery O’Connor, Samuel Beckett, Iris Murdoch, Uncle Wiggily, The Third Man, Donald Barthelme, Alice Munro, Henry James, E.B. White, Fyodor Dostoevsky, Ernest Hemingway, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Mary Shelley, David Foster Wallace, O. Henry, Ian McEwan, Thomas Mann, and Joseph Conrad.


Show Notes: 

We have a special episode coming up – listener feedback! Contact the host at or by leaving a voicemail at 1-361-4WILSON (1-361-494-5766). Continue reading

Small Press Shout-Out: Graywolf Press!

Graywolf Press! We’ve looked at some great small presses recently (including the smokin’ hot Kaya Press and the medieval throwbacks over at Tiny TOE). Soho Press made me want to buy a bundle of international crime fiction for everyone I know.

But Graywolf… ah, Graywolf makes me want to move to Minnesota! You know Minnesota – the land of Charlie Brown’s wintry desolation, and Prince’s purple splash of cool, and all those sneaky-good writers holed up for the winter in their snowed-in lakeside cabins. And Graywolf, drawing on that literary spirit and bringing out title after title from authors we all should be reading. Not the titans of bestsellerdom but some of the most thoughtful and respected writers around, able to write interesting things because a nonprofit publisher like Graywolf is helping them to get out the news.

Do I need to run through the list? Well, why not? Graywolf authors include the extraordinary Charles Baxter (who once made a secret cameo appearance on this blog), Sven Birkerts, Elizabeth Alexander, Robert Boswell, Tess Gallagher, Tony Hoagland, Jane Kenyon, William Kittredge, Carl Phillips, Mark Doty, Alyson Hagy… and many, many others. As you can see, they actually publish poetry. Their catalog is like antimatter to an airport bookstore.

Graywolf is the sort of press where, when you learn that they published a book of poetry that won the 2013 National Book Award, you aren’t surprised at all. You just shake your head and say, “Well, of course they did.”

Where to start? If you love writing, or if you love a writer, I’d start with one of Charles Baxter’s contemplative gems, either Burning Down the House: Essays on Fiction or The Art of Subtext: Beyond PlotFor poetry fans I’d recommend Elizabeth Alexander if you haven’t already enjoyed her works.

But really, the best thing to do is probably just head to the site and roam around… because if Graywolf stands for anything, it’s the spirit of discovery!