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Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Wednesday, March 27 - Shawn Vestal

Tonight on Bibliocracy, KPFK 90.7 FM at 8 PM: SHAWN VESTAL.  My guest this week was perhaps given lemons, sour and sweet, by way of family, culture, religion and politics, but out of it he has squeezed literary lemonade indeed, co-opting and transforming and repurposing the myths and tropes and vernacular of his Mormon upbringing into serious, sincere short literary fiction.  Somehow not exactly disrespecting that religion but instead perhaps respecting more the resisters, doubters, overlooked or victimized and even maybe himself, Shawn Vestal has rewritten past and present and future toward creating alternative and transgressive, often funny and frequently very much darker versions of the already dark, weird and fascinating tales of that experience.  Author of the new collection of short stories, Godforsaken Idaho, Vestal takes the iconography, stories, obsessions and cultural practices of the “family home evenings” tradition and reworks them for audiences in a big wink or grimace, you decide, but in nine stories elegant, smart, funny and resonant.  His day job is as a regular columnist for Spokane, Washington’s Spokesman-Review, and these and other stories have appeared in McSweeney’s, Tin House and in the new anthology from Ecotone magazine called Astoria to Zion: Twenty-Six Stories of Risk and Abandon from Ecotone's First Decade.  This is one of my most favorite recent short story collections, covering past, present ant future, from heaven to the mythic stories of the conquest of the American West.  Thanks for listening, on the radio or online, or as a download whenever you like, free from the KPFK audio archives.    

Wednesday, March 19 Tom Zoellner

Tonight on Bibliocracy: TOM ZOELLNER. My guest tonight is a gregarious and engaging social historian and researcher and, most of all, a terrific storyteller.  No matter the subject, Tom Zoellner finds a way in, and along with his unassuming yet authoritative voice he brings vulnerability and nearly ego-less experiential generosity.  His previous nonfiction has considered uranium and diamonds, respectively, the real-life humanitarian behind the Hotel Rwanda story, and offered an urgent cultural case study of the state of Arizona by way of the shooting of its congresswoman.  Train:  Riding the Rails that Created the Modern World, from the Trans-Siberian to the Southwest Chief is perhaps Tom Zoellner’s most ambitious book, and certainly covers the most territory, no kidding.  This one is bound to be an instant travel-writing classic, in the tradition of Paul Theroux and Pico Iyer, and will please both choo-choo fanatics and general readers with its rail-centric view of seven different parts of the world, each considered in relation to the tracks, the trains, the towns and the people, and forces that put them there.  Zoellner rides the rails, across China and India and the USA, looking out the window and looking into the past, with a brief journey into the future by way of high-speed bullet trains. Zoellner teaches at Chapman University, where I spoke with the author of the excellent A Safeway In Arizona, as well as Uranium, The Heartless Stone and An Ordinary Man. For more, see my recent blog post over at OC Bookly: 
Thanks for listening, on the radio or online, or as a free download from the KPFK audio archives.  All aboard!

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Wednesday, March 12 - Gary Amdahl's Debut Novel

Wednesday night at 8 on Bibliocracy:  GARY AMDAHL.  I am an admirer of both the writing of Gary Amdahl and the topics he chooses, of the politics and the dreamful associations, and of that alchemy which seems to occur when he begins a story and, as with few other writers, I am absolutely with him at each and ever step of the story, as if always at the beginning throughout, sometimes so much so that when his beginnings meet up in character kismet and symmetry and poetry and an obviously and creatively calculated or inspired dénouement or pause or plot development I am made giddy and breathless.  Two things you should know about his work:  Amdahl cannot finish a thought, and for that we readers are so much better – as thinkers and co-conspiring imaginists.  And, yet, he simultaneously just does not know when to stop, which is our good luck too, because his peeling of the onion, layering of the story, reassembling of onion and brain and heart and even history is about as much serious, sincere fun you can have, as they say, with your pants on.  Amdahl’s newest is the first novel published by the playwright, poet and short story writer boostered by Sven Birkerts and then Milkweed and now a small house which has established, of all things, the Gary Amdahl Library.  Across My Big Brass Bed is a novel posing as an intellectual and emotional memoir, an elegant and seamless and endlessly self-reinvigorating big story meets autobiography meets political wish fulfillment meets love and sex and empathy-story, with motorcycle racing, music, sex and love, anarchism, the Viet Nam War but always those amazing, long, textured, funny, startling Gary Amdahl sentences, here more than 400 pages of them.  A sane Holden Caulfield, perhaps, a Proustian rememberer and a fabulist, too, Amdahl’s adolescent to recollecting grown, lonely man narrator writes the whole book in a single day, unbelievably or, no, not unbelievable, totally believable for an Amdahl narrator.  It’s a real joy to host Gary Amdahl, and to hear him read from and talk about the new book.  Thanks for listening, on the radio or online, or later as a free download anywhere, any times you like.