12-01-12 UPDATE:Podcast Update:Time to Read Episode 76: Justin Cronin 'The Twelve'
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Here's the seventy-sixth episode of my new series of podcasts, which I'm calling Time to Read. The podcasts/radio broadcasts will be of books worth your valuable reading time. I'll try to keep the reports under four minutes, for a radio-friendly format. If you want to run them on your show or podcast, let me know.
My hope is that in under four minutes I can offer readers a concise review and an opportunity to hear the author read from or speak about the work. I'm hoping to offer a new one every week.
The seventy-sixth episode is a look at Justin Cronin, 'The Twelve.'
12-01-12: A 2012 Interview with Charles Burns and Chris Ware
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"..Tolstoy, the greatest writer who ever lived ..."
There's a good reason that I conduct my interviews sort of like science experiments — when I get the chance. With Charles Burns and 'The Hive' and Chris Ware and 'Building Stories,' I had the opportunity to speak with each writer separately one day, and then together the next. And I have to admit I just had fun the second time around, with the both of them. All the prep was done, I had great audio queued up and all I had to do was start the ball rolling — Ware and Burns took care of the rest.
The experiment aspect works like this. First, I isolate each element in its own suspension; that is I get a "baseline" interview with each writer, in this case Charles Burns and Chris Ware. Having spoken with each of them separately, I have a good idea as to what their commonalities are and what their differences are. This gives me a good basis for questioning the elements once they are combined. The third interview is the actual chemical experiment, so to speak.
We met for the second time at Bookshop Santa Cruz, and sat down upstairs to talk about their books, and as it happened, flushing toilets — since the pipes above us seemed particularly talkative. But once I got them together, their long-term friendship and the influences that they have had over one another came to the foreground in a totally fascinating synthesis.
I also got to ask the easy-geek questions about influences and found myself with the honor of having Chris Ware talk about the power of Tolstoy's prose. Charles Burns talked about having to ratchet back his drawings as a reaction to his experience of reading Heavy Metal magazine. Now that brought back memories; not that I am an artist, but like many of my readers, I'm guessing, I do have a stash of the venerable import, printed by the same folks who brought you National Lampoon.
"...an attempt to get at what it feels like to be alive..."
Chris Ware is soft-spoken and articulate. The soft-spoken part is easy to get because he's audibly quieter than Charles Burns in the headphones. I have to turn up the volume a bit as we begin to tuck into our discussion of his book 'Building Stories.' There's a lot to talk about.
Shockingly, to me, Ware does everything just about once, and as he explains it, it does make sense. The art is incredibly time consuming, so his stories grow organically, he tells me. That makes sense; the collection feels like the human equivalent of a redwood forest glade; one tree-organism bursts through the ground in several places. It's all connected underneath, but looks like a collection of different plants.
Ware's influences are fascinating; some of them are surprising and others, while expected ripple through his work in an unexpected manner. I would have guessed that my Dickensian perceptions were based on a deliberate intention on Ware's part, but that's not the case. But who can forget the last time they read Great Expectations?
I spoke with Ware about his use of details, which to me is one of the most powerful elements of his work, both visually, and in the writing, which is unusual. To a degree, Ware provides his readers with an audio soundtrack, the quiet tinks and sighs that punctuate all of our own, lonely lives.
Ware is effusive with his praise for his various collaborators over the years in publishing, from the magazines (like The New Yorker) and other venues where he began seeing his work in print to the folks at Pantheon who helped him put together this massive project. Readers should look for exhibitions of excerpts from this work. It was most recently exhibited in New York, and I think this would be a great way to experience the work, especially if you have already read through the box set.
Ware spoke of his friend and collaborator Ira Glass, from NPR's venerable This American Life, for whom, if I am not mistaken, Ware has done some animation. He is exactly the sort of fellow who can talk casually about the greatest artists of the day because he himself manages to be just that — a casual gentleman and a great artist, in the same moments. You can hear him do so by following this link to the MP3 audio file.
11-26-12:A 2012 Interview with Charles Burns
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"...you're getting information in different ways..."
— Charles Burns
I met Charles Burns and Chris Ware in the lobby at KQED, with the honor of interviewing both; one after the other. They're friends, and they were having a good time chatting in the before I arrived to speak to Burns about 'The Hive' and Ware about 'Building Stories.'
I decided to talk to them in alphabetical order by last name, and thus Burns was first in the booth, while Chris Ware cooled his heels in another studio, working on his laptop. I'd spoken with Burns before, but it had been two years, so it took him a while to place me, especially since last time, we spoke at Bookshop Santa Cruz.
But once you sit down to talk to Burns, you'll find a very serious, and well-spoken artist who manages to neatly combine what to me, at least, seem to be two very different disciplines; visual art and storytelling — in an utterly seamless manner. Burns is a master of dreams made real on paper, of crafting a work that is not an illustrated short story, but instead, is a story that can only be told in words and images. He creates a continuum, and is able to speak about how he does so.
I found it remarkable when he told me that some readers believe he used a computer or a razor to create the muscular images that wrestle their way out of the book and into the readers' minds. To me they seem so forceful, gut-wrenching, really. And that is indeed the case.
It was also fascinating to talk to Burns about his history with the Tintin books, which inform his work in 'X'ed Out' and 'The Hive.' Some of this is obvious, and some not so much. I found myself surprised by the ways in which the influence of these books were made manifest.
With Burns' work in these books, it is refreshingly easy to have a conversation about the material which will inform your reading experience without giving away one iota of what happens between the covers. We did talk about Charles Burns' dreams, and not surprisingly they play a big part in his work. As readers, your own dreams, as informed by your reading (and, I trust re-reading) of 'X'ed Out' and 'The Hive' will similarly inform your enjoyment of our conversation, which you can hear by following this link to the MP3 audio file.
New to the Agony Column
12-11-13: Commentary : KQED: Best Books of 2013 : Our Top Ten Literary Mind Melds