The Agony Column

Laughing with Humorist Dave Barry

Play
dave_barry-2014-pgc

Dave Barry’s new book is ‘You Can Date Boys When You’re Forty’.

This program was originally broadcast March 23, 2014.

In this episode, Rick explores Dave Barry’s new book “You Can Date Boys When You’re Forty”, with it’s author. And on the “Time to Read” segment, Carol Cassella discusses her new novel of medical suspense, “Gemini”.

By Rick Kleffel

I thought, I seriously, seriously thought that having read ‘You Can Date Boys When You’re Forty’ would somehow inoculate me from laughing during my interview Dave Barry. I should have sold myself the Brooklyn Bridge while I was at it.

So, here’s the deal. You will hear me, throughout this interview trying, almost always without success, to avoid laughing. My attempts might themselves be laughable, were their humor not dwarfed by Barry’s genial ease. I’ve spoken with Barry before about5 his fiction. but this was the first time we got to speak about his essays, which he can just reel off again and again, every time making you laugh.

We did get to talk a bit about how he does what he does, which is sort of like a live autopsy. Barry is a skilled enough patient / doctor in this equation that we did in one very memorable exchange get to the heart of his skills with language. Barry brings a lot of pertinent experience to the table, and not from a source you’d necessarily expect.

Food & Wine Editor Dana Cowin & NPR’s David Greene

Play
Dana Cowin

Dana Cowin

Audio Interview Part 1: Dana Cowin / Part 2: David Greene (41:45)

Dana Cowin is every bit as unpretentious as her book, Mastering My Mistakes in the Kitchen: Learning to Cook with 65 Great Chefs and Over 100 Delicious Recipes. The book lives up to the title, as does the author. This is smart advice from someone who can help you learn to cook because she had to learn herself.

And this proves much more difficult than you can imagine. The individual recipes are a treat; they are easy, but it’s the state of min that Cowin captures in her open9ing passages that really matters. Keep an open mind; pay attention; read the recipes. It seems so basic that it is easy to mess up. But once you get the basics down, you can have a blast with Cowin. I certainly did.

Just put two people who like to cook, but know the pitfalls (having pit-fallen into them) and that’s a recipe for a fun conversation. Cowin and I talked about her Brussels Sprouts phase, and my version of garlic stuffed Brussels Sprouts. And it was from her that I gleaned that what i thought was my overly-browned Pear + Brown Sugar Upside-Down Cake was in fact just extra deliciously caramelized.

I had my eternal question about bending pastry sheets answered both in person and in the book. This was one of those chats that I made certain was going to bring back some useful, practical information. And yes, that’s the main vibe I get from Cowin. She’s practical, down-to-earth, and funny.

The unwritten rule is often “Don’t ask questions unless you pretty much know the answers.” The idea is, I guess, that the interviewer should control the interview. It’s not without merit, but here especially, I was going to ask for all sorts of geeky tips.

David Greene’s new book is Midnight in SiberiaMore.

Interview with Author Bill Bryson

Play

This program was originally broadcast November 11, 2013.

bill_bryson-2013-pgc

“It was the most amazingly eventful and magical summer…”
—Bill Bryson

Bill Bryson’s new book  ”One Summer: America, 1927″ digs into a transitional year in the history of the United States. His past books include  ”A Walk in the Woods,” “A History of Everything” and several other nonfiction books. KUSP’s Rick Kleffel spoke with Bryson about how he selects the subjects for his books and the importance of Charles LIndbergh to his latest.

Read more.

Interview with Kent A. Kiehl

Play
Author Kent A. Kiehl. Photo: Mark Petersen Photography

Author Kent A. Kiehl. Photo: Mark Petersen Photography

Review by Rick Kleffel:

Kent Kiehl begins ‘The Psychopath Whisperer‘ with his first day of work as a twenty-three year-old graduate student; he’s entering the Matsqui maximum-security prison near the town of Abbotsford, British Colombia to interview the prison’s most violent inmates. “Prison is never boring,” he tells us. As this utterly compelling books proves, for young neuroscientists studying the brains of psychopathic killers, that is certainly the case.

‘The Psychopath Whisperer’ is a fascinating book on a variety of levels. The science is groundbreaking, the characters are riveting, Kiehl’s story arc as a young scientist making his mark in the field is involving, and the way Kiehl brings together all the threads for a stunning denouement is authentically thrilling.

Interestingly enough, for a fellow who speaks with those whom he describes as having a “flat aspect,” Kiehl’s prose is itself rather flat of aspect. It seems a bit odd at first, but as he goes on to interact with and describe some of the most vile humans one might hope never to meet, the reasoning behind this choice, if it is indeed one, becomes quite clear. There’s a clinical precision at work in the prose for this book that is actually quite appealing. The upshot is that Kiehl’s voice is unique and well served by his prose.

(more…)

Interview with Matt Taibbi

Play
Author Matt Taibbi

Author Matt Taibbi

By Rick Kleffel

Alas, I missed Matt Taibbi when he was in town. His schedule was so packed between addressing the Commonwealth Club about his new book, The Divide and working his new venture with Glen Greenwald that my last minute attempts came to naught. But thanks to his fearless publicist and the joys of ISDN connections, we were able to talk, at length, and still have one hell of a good time.

“… the biggest bank robbery in the history of the world …”

— Matt Taibbi

Make no mistake about it. Taibbi is dead serious in his examination of the New American Dystopia, but he and I also managed to laugh, early and often, at his wonderfully tweaked portraits of hell on earth. It’s hard not to laugh at some of the mind-bogglingly outlandish exploits that Taibbi documents.

In our previous interview, he and I discussed material similar to this from ‘Griftopia.’ This time around, we once again were talking about the financial scammers who are real-life Bond villains. It’s all in good fun until somebody steals 45 billion, that’s BILLION with a B, dollars from millions of small investors and pension funds.

(more…)

Interview with Author Ben Tarnoff

Play
Author Ben Tarnoff

Author Ben Tarnoff

By Rick Kleffel

Ben Tarnoff is an amazing speaker; he’s so precise, so knowledgeable and so much fun to talk to that I can’t imagine anyone not already convinced by the title alone not going out to buy The Bohemians: Mark Twain and the San Francisco Writers Who Reinvented American Literature after hearing our conversation.

“How do you build a time machine? And it feels like narrative is the best way to do that.”
—Ben Tarnoff

Believe me, we left pretty much all the really juicy parts out of the book, but talked about what he wrote and how he wrote it in a manner that I found to be breathtaking even as we recorded the interview. Tarnoff was kind enough to come to my house, where we sat in the living room and discussed history, the Internet of telegraphy, and especially culture.

I really enjoy reading about history, and Tarnoff writes one hell of a ripping yarn about the men that we often think of as inventing the ripping yarn. The real danger with a book centered on Twain, as this one is, is that Twain is not an unfamiliar figure. He wrote about himself extensively, and has himself been well-served by many writers.

That said, by looking at his early career and putting Twain in perspective amidst his peers and by re-creating the intense literary scene that Twain came into his own in, Tarnoff manages to give us yet another good look at Twain, tell a hell of a story at the same time.

To my mind, Tarnoff should be on the lecture circuit, perhaps with David Talbot who wrote engagingly about a very different San Francisco in ‘Season of the Witch.’ Clearly, Tarnoff’s ability to speak about his book comes from his ability to craft the past as a world, then live in and write about that world.

Small Pieces Of The Madness Of This World – Lorrie Moore / “Your Inner Fish” With Niel Shubin

Play

9780307594136_custom-944489ff003da542eeadae562662e441e0fdd603-s2-c85Lorrie Moore discusses the stories in her new collection, Bark, which look at post-divorce hysteria, middle-aged dating and classic grifter themes.  Stories full of desperation and sadness with characters who exist in the context of modern times. Despite their darkness, these stories are also deeply humorous. Laugh until you cry or let them both happen at the same time.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

14_EP02_SAThen in the second half of the show it’s an interview with University of Chicago Paleontologist and evolutionary biologist Neil Shubin from our archives. Shubin’s first book was Your Inner Fish: A Journey into the 3.5-Billion-Year History of the Human Body. Now he’s hosting a short PBS series titled “Your Inner Fish.” In this interview he discusses the book and how human biology reflects an evolutionary process visible in fossils.

Interview with Carol Cassella

Play

Carol Cassella discusses medical ethics, brain death, identity and the health care system. She also talks about her new novel, ‘Gemini’, which combines medical mystery, love story and an exploration of family dysfunction.

Author and anesthesiologist Carol Cassella.

Author and anesthesiologist Carol Cassella.

By Rick Kleffel
Talking about ‘Gemini’ does present some challenges, because there are aspects of the plot that one simply does not want to discuss. Readers know that in my interviews, I try to preserve the reading experience, and we’ve done that quite handily here. It’s a tribute to how much Cassella packs into this slim, tense literary thriller.

“… we could provide good care for everyone…”
—Carol Cassella

Cassella wrote me after our interview and asked if I’d include this statement from her in my write up of the interview. It certainly bears thinking about and is pertinent to the book.

“The one thing I forgot to share with your audience is that there are good estimates that around 30% of our healthcare dollars are wasted now, on inappropriate care, medical errors, pricing failures, and a cumbersome administrative bureaucracy. If we could capture that waste and reallocate it, we could provide good care for everyone who needs it.”

GEMINIcover-final-web

Well said, and certainly pertinent to and present in the novel, which uses fiction to craft an emotional vision of the less than thrilling facts about our current healthcare system.

Annie Jacobsen Files ‘Operation Paperclip’

Play
Author Annie Jacobsen

Author Annie Jacobsen

Posted by Rick Kleffel:

My interview with Annie Jacobsen about ‘Operation Paperclip’ proved to be something of an operation itself. Her stopover in Northern California was brief, and the schedule was pretty tight. We were supposed to talk on a holiday; but the flight was delayed.

After more back and forths on my part than an episode of Get Smart, we finally managed to meet at KQED, for great sound superb ambience and a great conversation. As ever, my goal in the conversation was to give readers a sense of how the book feels to reading without giving them the feeling that they have already read it. And while generally, I might have tried to keep the discussion a bit more abstract, I could not resist asking Jacobsen about putting together what were for me some of the key scenes that read like something out of a John LeCarré novel.

And for this I have to here thank Jacobsen for her ability to both convey the sense of the scenes and some of the specifics while also being able to circle back and offer readers a behind-the-scenes glimpse of just how she managed to do what she did. What you can’t help but hear is her passion for both the subject itself and the process as well.

Author Jeff VanderMeer Seeks ‘Annihilation’

Play

vandermeer-annihilationJeff Verdermeer visits with KUSP’s Rick Kleffel – reading from his new book, Annihilation. They discuss the book and also the business of art and self-publication.

Jeff VerderMeer

Jeff VerderMeer

 

Rick Kleffel wrote:
Vandermeer’s latest exploration into the literary landscape is markedly different from what has come before. ‘Annihilation’ unfolds in a world that is recognizably ours, caught in the act of becoming something else. The prose is stripped bare, the world is scrubbed clean, left gleaming with potential.

VanderMeer crafts for his readers the mystery that is right in front of our eyes, every waking and dreaming moment. These moments are rendered with a crystalline beauty and precision that makes it rather difficult to discern the difference. It is in fact rather difficult to discern the import of any difference.

Read more.