An episode from 10/27/22: Tonight, I talk about our love of horror and true crime, and ask: what makes a story truly frightening, instead of just entertaining? What kinds of movies or books, or ways of storytelling, take us beyond entertainment to true horror, to actual fear? For instance, how does the disturbing story of Ed Gein end up, filtered through convention and expectation, as “standard” (even if classic) movies like Psycho, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, and The Silence of the Lambs?
An episode from 7/19/22: Sometimes it’s worth just reveling in the way a great historian tells a story, or details and invention, or brings us face-to-face with a familiar topic. Tonight I read three sections from Jacques Barzun’s book From Dawn to Decadence, where we hear about:
- The expedition of French scholars that followed Napoleon into Egypt
- (about 24: 18) The invention of the printed book, and what it meant to education and literacy
- (about 44:00) On the Salem Witch trials of 1692, and how closely science at the time was allied with superstition
An episode from 1/24/22: How did the evolutionary ability to stand on two feet, freeing our hands for all kinds of practical and creative activities, eventually lead to the development of language? Was the slow and painstaking path that led to what we call creativity, language, art, and religion—was it inevitable? And is it unfortunate what we’ve done with these gifts today?
Tonight, I read a handful of sections from Steven Mithen’s book The Prehistory of the Mind: A Search for the Origins of Art, Religion and Science.
An episode from 10/17/21: The death Ludwig van Beethoven (1770-1827) came after a long series of illnesses. By then, friends, admirers and hangers-on sought out the composer in his last days. Tonight, I read Jan Swafford’s account in his incredible biography, Beethoven: Anguish & Triumph.
Swafford’s book also includes one of the most moving details from any biography: the supreme joy the composer experienced—even as he was wracked with illness and pain—when a complete set of Handel’s scores arrived by post. In his last days, Beethoven was able to sit up and swim through these books, hearing the music in his head.
An episode from 10/14/21: What does culture and education mean when literacy, let alone the owning of books, is so rare? Tonight, I read two chapters from Peter Ackroyd’s book, Albion: The Origins of the English Imagination. The first covers education in eighth-century England, and specifically the life of the Venerable Bede. The second is a brief look into Anglo-Saxon/Old English poetry, and its continued life and reverberations in English poetry to the present day.
An episode from 3/21/21: Tonight, I read from three newspaper articles by George Orwell on the outcry over Allied bombings of German cities during World War Two, and the aftermath of the atomic bombs being dropped on Japan. Nobody writes about war like George Orwell, and it’s refreshing to hear someone suggest that there’s no point in trying to civilize, or be more humane, when it comes war.
An episode from 2/13/21: George Orwell’s 1933 memoir of voluntary poverty, Down and Out in Paris and London, can still rip your heart out. Tonight, I read a few passages from it. Nobody has ever brought written about the reality of poverty as viscerally and sympathetically as him.