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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“A Crisp and Merciless Clarity”: Mary Beard’s SPQR

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I haven’t read the latest book by Mary Beard yet, but this NY Times review is certainly enough to whet my readerly appetite:

How on earth did they do it? The Greek historian Polybius, writing in the second century B.C., was the first to ask the question: “Who could be so indifferent or so idle that they did not want to find out how, and under what kind of political organization, almost the whole of the inhabited world was conquered and fell under the sole power of the Romans in less than 53 years?” It was not as if Rome was a promising spot: a swampy piece of ground up a barely navigable river surrounded by scrubby hills, its few thousand inhabitants alternately flooded out and ravaged by malaria….

In “SPQR,” her wonderful concise history, Mary Beard unpacks the secrets of the city’s success with a crisp and merciless clarity that I have not seen equaled anywhere else.

For those of you not familiar with Mary Beard, she’s worth checking out. She’s one of my favorite guests on the In Our Time show (with Melvyn Bragg) and one of my favorite reviewers in the New York Review of Books. When it comes to the ancients, she’s as consistently excellent (and reliable) as we have.

You can find it here:

The Restless Mind Show 5 – Gar Discovers a Lost Recording of Walt Whitman!

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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.

Play

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.

History of Literature Episode 1 – The Epic of Gilgamesh

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

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H.G. Wells and the Bumbling Interview


God bless H.G. Wells. He seems like kind of a decent guy, and as a kid I loved his books (The Invisible Man, The Time Machine, War of the Worlds, etc.). My parents had a set of a History of the World he’d written, which I tried to read about a million times but could never get beyond five pages. I don’t think they had either; it had the classic feel of “Oh, that was that year that everyone bought that one book that nobody actually read.”

Something about him always made me think he was kind of a bumbler. Why? Because I realized that other respected writers didn’t take him seriously? I’m not sure. It may have been the cover of my copy of The Time Machine, which had a desperate looking man on it. I always thought that was him. Earnest. Forthright. A Serious Person in capital letters. And…sort of buffoonish. Maybe this is unfair. But it stuck with me.

And then yesterday I ran across an interview he did…of Joseph Stalin.
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Penelope Fitzgerald and Failure (and Free Fiction!)

Still thinking about Penelope Fitzgerald and being drawn to failure. And it made me think of this passage in The Race: A Novella (available now at Amazon.com!), in which the narrator first meets the Governor’s wife:

“Who’s he?” Tina said to the Governor in the foyer.

“My biographer!”

I explained that it was actually an autobiography – I was just helping him do some organization.

“Don’t sell yourself short!” the Governor said, gripping my shoulder.

I had not intended this comment to be self-deprecating – in fact it was something of the opposite. I wanted her to know that he had been writing his memoirs, that he was paying me – not that I was so drawn to his story that I, on my own initiative… I was not a vulture looking to feast on their marital carcass… but at that moment one of his boys crossed through the room we were standing in and disappeared into the hallway and the Governor chased after him to see how he was doing.

I stayed with Tina in the foyer. She clearly didn’t know what to do with me. I had no options but to stand there. Finally she invited me into the living room where we did not sit down but ventured into small talk.

It surprised me that she recognized my last name.

“Are you Mandy’s brother?”

“She’s a second cousin,” I said.

“And you live in D.C. now? What do you do there?”

I saw a flicker of approval, or at least curiosity. I was one of the ones who had left. Yet I was not such a success that she’d heard of me. I told her I was basically a lawyer.

“Basically?” She smiled faintly. I got the sense that she liked people. She hated her husband, but he was not in the room at the moment.

“I guess I am one,” I said. “It’s not something I ever thought I’d be.”

“A long story?”

I nodded.

She looked down the hallway. Now I saw her full smile; it dazzled me. “We’ve got time,” she said with a shrug.

“It’s strange,” I began, “to feel, every minute of every day, that you’re only pretending to be something that you’re not. I went to law school, I’m a member of the bar, I get paid to do the tasks that lawyers do. I meet with clients, go to court, conference with judges – and yet I never feel like it’s me doing these things. It’s not what I feel like I really am.”

She smiled warmly. “And what do you feel like you really are?”

“A failure,” I said.

 

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The Race: A Novella by Jacke Wilson is available now at Amazon.com. A longer excerpt is available here.

Copyright 2013 by Jacke Wilson. All rights reserved.