He read as others pray, as gamblers follow the spinning of the roulette wheel, as drunkards stare into vacancy; he read with such profound absorption that ever since I first watched him the reading of ordinary mortals has seemed a pastime. This Galician second-hand book dealer, Jacob Mendel, was the first to reveal to me in my youth the mystery of absolute concentration which characterizes the artist and the scholar, the sage and the imbecile; the first to make me acquainted with the tragical happiness and unhappiness of complete absorption.
—Stefan Zweig, “Buchmendel”
During a Chicago trip for my day job, I sat down with cartoonist, author and professor Ivan Brunetti for an upcoming episode of The Virtual Memories Show! We talked comics, influences, Chicago, emigrating from Italy at 8 years old, his new book, Aesthetics: A Memoir, and more! Check back for that one!
“I had neither the wisdom of country boys, who knew beasts and the axioms of hardware stores, nor the real toughness of the city.”
—James Salter, Burning the Days
What if good institutions were in fact the product of good intentions? What if the cynicism that is supposed to be rigor and the acquisitiveness that is supposed to be realism are making us forget the origins of the greatness we lay claim to — power and wealth as secondary consequences of the progress of freedom, or, as Whitman would prefer, Democracy?
—Marilynne Robinson, When I Was a Child I Read Books
More and more, I sense that focused reading, the valuing of the kind of scholarship achieved only through years spent in libraries, is no longer central to our culture. We absorb information, often in bits and pieces and sound bites; but the slow, steady interaction with a book, while seated quietly in a chair, the passion for story that good novels generate in a reader, what has been called the pleasure of the text — this entire approach to learning seems increasingly, to use a pop phase, “at risk.” Similarly, even a basic knowledge of history, classical mythology, and the world’s literatures now strikes many people as charmingly antiquarian. Or irrelevant. Or just sort of cute.
— Michael Dirda, “Millennial Readings: Dec, 5 1999,” Readings
Over at Virtual Memories, I wrote a post about GQ Magazine’s 21st century literary canon: http://t.co/qPuYHBy8Pb
Virtual Memories - season 3 episode 6 - Cartoon Character
“Political cartoonists have it easy: we turn on the TV or computer and Sarah Palin has said some inane thing … and the cartoons can write themselves. In the world of cartooning, we’re the lazy bastards.”
Matt Wuerker, winner of the 2012 Pulitzer Prize for Editorial Cartooning, joins The Virtual Memories Show to talk about his career (including his fascinating non-comics work and his prescient move to the online world with POLITICO), the experience of winning “the Academy Award for cartoonists”, his artistic and political influences, what it takes to get on the NRA’s Enemies List, the opportunities for editorial cartoonists in a post-print world, how his parents felt about his decision to become a cartoonist, whether he had it easier during the Bush/Cheney era or the Tea Party era, and why he thinks the golden age of cartooning is still ahead of us!
“One of the great cosmic quandaries for cartoonists is that what’s bad for the world is great for cartooning.”
About our Guest
Matt Wuerker has been POLITICO’s editorial cartoonist and illustrator since its launch in 2007. In 2012, he won the Pulitzer Prize for Editorial Cartooning, POLITICO’s first Pulitzer win. In 2009, he was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize in editorial cartooning. Over the past 25 years, his work has appeared in publications ranging from The Washington Post, The Los Angeles Times and The New York Times to Smithsonian and the Nation, among many others. Along the way, he’s also pursued other artistic tangents that have included claymation, outdoor murals, teaching cartooning in prison (as a visitor, not as an inmate), book illustration and animating music videos. Matt thinks Saul Steinberg is a cartoon god and the Peter Principle explains pretty much everything, and he also thinks the maxim “If you’re not confused, you’re just not thinking clearly” is one of the wisest things ever said. Matt lives in Washington, D.C., in close proximity to the National Zoo and the Swiss Embassy. Depending how bad things get, he hopes to find asylum in one or the other.
Credits: This episode’s music is Nobody’s Home by Ulrich Schnauss. The conversation was recorded at the Hay-Adams Hotel in Washington, D.C., on a pair of AT2020 mics, feeding into a Zoom H4n recorder. I recorded the other material on a Samson Meteor Mic USB Studio Microphone into Audacity. All editing and processing was done in Garage Band.
At a certain point in life, one’s gaze shifts from the future to the past. Instead of looking forward to new bestsellers, we yearn to go back to childhood favorites. Rather than spend an evening with Don DeLillo or A.S. Byatt, we think it would be fun to reread some of the Tarzan books. “I had this story from one who had no business to tell it to me, or to any other.” Booksellers know that elderly men will suddenly call up and ask for all the issues of Amazing Stories from 1934 to 1938, the years when the eminent surgeon or retired executive was only a teenager who used to stare, dimeless, at the chrome spaceship or tentacled monster on those shiny pulp covers. Past 70, that boy still dreams of galactic adventure. Or rather he dreams of his youth. We hope by opening again The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes or Rebecca or Tik-Tok of Oz, that we somehow, if only for an hour or two, can erase the passage of years. “Backward, turn backward, O Time, in your flight, / Make me a child again just for to-night!” It never really happens. Adults know too much. In a sense, our lives have poisoned the books that formed us. We may still admire and appreciate a great or even shlocky classic from the golden age of reading — early adolescence — but it can never again be a waking dream, a preview of the wonders that lie hidden behind Curtain No. 3. Art, we have learned, always exaggerates. No Ruritania awaits our derring-do. Only some Bosnia, with its carnage and horror.
—Michael Dirda, “Light of Other Days,” Readings
Amid such an internal tohubohu, is it any wonder that I think fondly of the man of one book, the hedgehog who — in the phrase made famous by Isaiah Berlin — knows one big thing and doesn’t need to know any other? In very low moments I sometimes think that a passion for omnivorous reading has seduced me into a lifetime of one-night stands, while the less promiscuous have managed to find a single true and more fulfilling love. But it’s too late for me and my kind to change now, n o matter how much we may year for those carpet slippers and one or two well-worn volumes. How, after all, can I resist that flashy new thriller or sloe-eyed biography, let alone the new novel that promises hitherto unimagined pleasures? Sirens all. Of the reading of many books there is no end.
—Michael Dirda, “The One and The Many”, Readings
Soon we are rushing along an alley of departure, the houses of the suburbs flashing by, ordinary streets, apartments, gardens, walls. The secret life of France, into which one cannot penetrate, the life of photograph albums, uncles, names of dogs that have died. And in ten minutes, Paris is gone. The horizon, dense with buildings, vanishes. Already I feel free.
—James Salter, A Sport and a Pastime