Reading and Writing
About this podcast
Read more. Write better.
About this podcast
Read more. Write better.
Reading and Writing
Dostoevsky, Notes from Underground
Jacob, Felix, and I chat about Dostoevsky's Notes From Underground. We discuss how reliable this narrator is, why humans can sometimes enjoy pain and despair, what causes us to act knowingly against our own self-interest, the dangers of Utopian thinking, the limits of human improvement, the relationship between free will and suffering, the limits of reason, the problem of proving the existence of God, what a "whole life" means, and much more.
Derek Walcott 2
Josh and Heather and I talk about a few of our favorite Derek Walcott poems, and the reasons why they're so great. We discuss how being more specific actually helps poems be more universal; what makes the typical Walcott line so taut and vivid; how and why poets can echo the great poets of the past, and much more.
Mary Shelley, Frankenstein
I chat with Tacey and Cassidy about Mary Shelley's novel Frankenstein. We discuss some relevant details of Shelley's life, the novel's innovative structure, the Prometheus myth, the dangers of knowledge, what counts as a human and what counts as a monster, the blank slate theory, nature vs nurture, what makes this novel "Romantic," how it rebels against key Enlightenment tenets, where cruelty comes from, how this novel invented many modern sci-fi tropes, and much more.
Derek Walcott, part 1
William and I enjoy a few early poems by Derek Walcott, and talk about the relationship between talent and practice, how to load your poem with surprises, how to write politically without being didactic, what it means to increase the emotional stakes in a poem, what the bare minimum ingredients for a great poem might be, how to make the particulars of your life seem significant and universal, and much more.
Wordsworth, Tintern Abbey
I swoon with Claire over maybe the best poem in English, and talk about its strange non-title, what makes this poem "Romantic," the relationship between the self and nature, between the past and the present, and between childhood and adulthood. We consider Wordsworth's claim that "all which we behold is full of blessings," how the mind can become a mansion full of lovely forms, and come to the conclusion that every single second of our lives is a potential masterpiece.
John Keats, Ode to a Nightingale
Claire and I chat about maybe the best poem in English, and discuss Romanticism and its varieties, death and immortality, why "but to think is to be full of sorrow," why we long for nature yet feel exiled from it, Eden and its aftermath, how the form of this poem helps contribute to its greatness, why a life of sensations can be more attractive than a life of thoughts, our failed attempt to make a Keats pilgrimage, and more.
Dickens, A Tale of Two Cities, 3
Zach and Kevin and I celebrate the conclusion of Dickens' novel A Tale of Two Cities. We talk about the transformation of Sydney Carton, the rage of Madame Defarge, the heroism of Miss. Pross, how giving even one person comfort counts as success in life, and how important it is to recognize both the hero and villain inside each of us. Throughout, we ask maybe the most important question: what does it mean to live "a life you love"?
Dickens, A Tale of Two Cities, 2
I chat with Liberty and Eliza about the middle third of Dickens' A Tale of Two Cities. We discuss which characters appeal to us the most, the relationship between vengeance and justice, how to overcome the desire for vengeance, and why keeping a list of offenses committed against us is a bad way to live. We also chat about mob mentality and connect this novel to recent events at the US Capitol building: what explains the phenomenon of mob mentality, and how can we balance the benefits of joining collective causes without surrendering our own agency to the momentum of the mob? Lastly, we emphasize the need for mercy--even extreme mercy--towards those who hurt us.
Dickens, A Tale of Two Cities, Part 1
I chat with Megan and Maura about the first 3rd of Dickens' A Tale of Two Cities. We discuss why its opening sentence has become one of the most famous sentences in English, the pros and cons of presenting history through fiction, what makes Dickens' style so appealing, how the first sections of this novel depict both French and English society, and much more.
Elizabeth Bishop, Geography III
Hannah and Rachel and I enthuse over the poetry of Elizabeth Bishop. We read a few of our favorites, and talk about what makes them so beautiful: their mixture of images and abstractions, their emotional restraint, their ultra-specificity, their irony, the way poetic form can mirror content, Bishop's approach to biographical writing, epiphanies, and maybe the most important trait to acquire as a poet: patience.
Sarah, Janaya and I swoon over Claire Wahmanholm's Redmouth, and talk about surprises in poetry, and things like diction, mystery, white space, erasure poetry, how to convey emotions and ideas through images and sounds, how living poets should relate to the tradition, and much more.
Cervantes, Don Quixote
Brooklyn, Riley, and I chat about parts of Don Quixote, asking questions about the nature of fiction and the novel as a genre, honesty, the imagination, idealism vs realism, why books can be dangerous, why the crazy knight and his squire are among the most famous characters in all literature, how ambitious we should be, the difference between ambition and delusion, and much more.
Wisława Szymborska, part 2
Torrin and Brooklyn and I swoon over more of our favorite Szymborska poems, and talk about sentimentality in poetry, the importance of surprise, looking at familiar things from new perspectives, the value of the everyday, how to turn anything into a poem, and more.
King Lear, Act 5
In this final recording about King Lear, I chat with Maile and Reagan about Act 5. We ask ourselves if this play is too sad, if ripeness is all, if the gods are just, what Lear has learned about life and love, what true repentance looks like, whether or not Cordelia is dead, what exactly Lear dies of at the end, and much more. At the end of this recording I offer a few concluding words about the play, and ask one final question about it, maybe the most important and provocative question of all.
King Lear, Act 4
Noelle and Baylee and I enthuse over Act 4 of King Lear, and chat about whether the gods are cruel or gentle, where heavenly spirits are to be found, the relationship between madness and wisdom, if true forgiveness has to be earned, and much more.
King Lear, Act 3
Sally and I swoon over the 3rd act of King Lear, and talk about anger, sin, the battle between the generations, "why we maybe should say "OK boomer," what it means to make moral progress in life, the difference between humans and animals, why we act worse than animals sometimes, noble sacrifices, why bad things happen to good people, why small groups of people can often tyrannize majorities, and much more.
King Lear, Act 2
Anna and Iain and I chat about Act 2 of King Lear, and talk about identity, authority, hospitality, how maybe some "wants" are actually "needs," what makes humans different from other animals, the nature of charity and compassion, and much more.
Wisława Szymborska, part 1
This time, my wife Claire Akebrand and I celebrate the first half of Wisława Szymborska's collected poems, titled Map. We read a few of our favorites, and talk about "poetic" language vs colloquial language, clarity, humor, irony, punctuation, imagery, how to make your poems appeal to a universal humanity, the importance of not knowing and embracing the unknown, how to push the thinking in your poems farther, and much more. Along the way, Claire reads a Szymborska poem that moves her to tears, and we offer a few Szymborska-inspired writing prompts.
King Lear, Act 1
In this first of five podcasts about King Lear, Claire and I examine the play's first act, and talk about love, performance, sincerity, authority, parents and children, gratitude, the fool, comedy, nature, what makes a good king, what the past owes the present (and vice versa), and much else.
How to Read, and Why: Azar Nafisi's Reading Lolita in Tehran
How should we read books? Why should we read them at all? To help us answer these questions, Claire and I turn to Azar Nafisi's Reading Lolita in Tehran, and talk about the freedom to read, reading for pleasure, escapism, why we get joy from reading about horrible things, the relationship between reading and moral instruction, the importance of talking and writing about what you read, and much more.