Today we go all the way upriver into the depths of madness/basketball greatness with a look into Joseph Conrad's 1899 novella about depravity moral decay in turn-of-the-century Congo. Our discussion touches on what Conrad really means by the phrase 'heart of darkness' (and why he seems afraid to say so), whether Apocalypse Now has sapped the book's power in our culture, and if it's possible to square its anti-colonialist streak with its reprehensible depictions of Africans. Then we pivot to the NBA, where we continue to be amazed night-in and night-out by the individual performances of Russell Westbrook, James Harden, Kevin Durant, and others. Who among them deserves to be MVP, if the season ended today? Or should it go to LeBron or Giannis or Chris Paul? The list goes on and on.
No basketball talk today, as we devote the full hour to one of the big books of 2016, Colson Whitehead's The Underground Railroad. We are joined by our friend Ben Felton to unpack the ways in which Whitehead re-imagines America during the time of slavery, and what this book has to say about the America we're still living in. For our next pod, we'll be returning to our normal format, with a discussion of Joseph Conrad's Heart of Darkness, as well as a look at the state of the MVP race in the NBA as we near the midpoint of the season.
There's a lot to like in this installment of the pod, as we celebrate the exciting start of the NBA season and gush over our favorite stories in Tobias Wolff's collection Our Story Begins. We recommend you read some of Wolff's stories before listening--at least do yourself a favor and track down Bullet In The Brain--since we go into the plot details of a few as we try to figure out where he fits in the firmament of short story writers. On the NBA side, we make a list of some of the players who've been really fun to watch so far this season and marvel at how great the NBA's "product" is overall at the moment. NB: we decided to postpone our discussion of The Underground Railroad, but we'll be tackling it in our next installment, along with a look at what to expect from the college basketball season as it moves into conference play.
We recorded this "emergency" pod a few weeks ago, back when the word "emergency" had a quaint, ironic connotation in American culture. It's about America's relationship with the sometimes icky, sometimes wildly entertaining sport of football. We're thankful to our friend, the writer Chris Drangle, for joining us for the discussion. A programming note: our next book will be Colson Whitehead's The Underground Railroad, winner of the 2016 National Book Award. Look for it in the next couple weeks.
To close out our offseason cities series, we're focusing on George V. Higgins' slim 1970 book The Friends of Eddie Coyle, which Elmore Leonard called the greatest crime novel ever written. Ostensibly set in Boston but with a reach that expands out to all points in Massachusetts, not to mention New Hampshire and Rhode Island, this books packs a ton into 183 pages of mostly dialogue. Don't miss Jesse's live reading of the final two pages in two baroque Boston accents! On the basketball side, we discuss the Celtics' free agency grab of Al Horford and what they still need in order to get past the Cleveland Cavaliers.
(NB: Basketball talk begins around the 32 minute mark.)
It's a disappointment pod this week, as Jesse, a Saul Bellow fan, admits to being underwhelmed by Seize The Day, Bellow's short 1956 novella, and calls on Adam to make a case for its durability. On the basketball side, they discuss the bizarre offseason for the Chicago Bulls, and whether their Frankenstein roster has any chance of succeeding.
(NB: the book discussion runs for the first 41 minutes. Next up is the last of our summer series linking books to NBA cities, and we'll be looking at the Boston Celtics and George V. Higgins' wonderful little crime novel The Friends of Eddie Coyle--grab a copy and join us next week!)
For our New York episode, we looked at Paula Fox's strange, slim novel from 1970, Desperate Characters, about a Brooklyn couple whose marriage may or may not be disintegrating. A marvel that fell out of print for a few decades, we highly recommend readers seek this book out. On the basketball side, we discuss the chances for a new-look Knicks team, which brought in ex-Bulls Derrick Rose and Joakim Noah this summer. Will they be good and for how long, and what does this mean for the long-term development of Kristaps Porzingis?
(NB: We discuss Desperate Characters for the first 38 minutes of the podcast, then move on to the Knicks. And feel free to pick up a copy of Saul Bellow's Seize The Day and read along for our discussion next week--it clocks in at a breezy 114 pages!
Also, we now have a twitter account (@fansnotespod) as well as an email address (email@example.com) so hit us up with any books you'd like us to read and discuss or other ideas for literature & sports discussions you'd like to see us undertake on the pod. Thanks for listening!
The novelist, short-story writer and noted sports-agnostic J. Robert Lennon drops by the pod for a conversation about whether sports and literature can ever make nice, or if they'll just keep circling each other warily and talking shit behind each other's backs. Along the way we bemoan the utter disposability of most sports writing as well as the obsequiousness of dude writers who deploy sports in their work as a signifier of working class credibility. We may not have achieved a cease-fire between the warring factions yet, but we thank John for coming on and offering his reasoned repartee.
In addition to winning the coveted prize of being the first guest to appear on the Fan's Notes podcast, J. Robert Lennon's newest novel, Broken River, is being published by Graywolf Press in May, 2017. Pre-order it y'all!
"I think we are well advised to keep on nodding terms with the people we used to be, whether we find them attractive company or not. Otherwise they turn up unannounced and surprise us, come hammering on the mind's door at 4 a.m. of a bad night and demand to know who deserted them, who betrayed them, who is going to make amends." That is Joan Didion, from her essay "On Keeping a Notebook,' from her classic collection Slouching Towards Bethlehem. We chose this book because we thought it might shine some light on the plight of the Lakers--things fall apart; the centre cannot hold--but in point of fact all it did was make us think of other Didion lines. "We tell ourselves stories in order to live." "We are here on this island in the middle of the Pacific in lieu of filing for divorce." "Innocence ends when one is stripped of the delusion that one likes oneself." Chock full of some of the greatest essays ever committed to paper, Slouching Toward Bethlehem begs to be read and read again. Our apologies if our discussion of the anemic 2016-2017 Los Angeles Lakers roster pales when placed alongside it. (NB: we discuss the Didion collection until around the 38 minute mark, then dive into our low expectations for the upcoming Lakers season. Also, stay tuned for our emergency pod with the novelist J. Robert Lennon on whether or not sports and literature have anything to say to one another. The answer may surprise you!)
In the first of our city/author mashups we'll be doing this summer, we picked Elmore Leonard and Miami. Yes, we are aware that Leonard is most closely associated with Detroit, but we've selected one of his Palm Beach/Miami books, 1995's Riding The Rap, which features his flinty lawman Raylan Givens, a hippie-dippie psychic and a botched ransom plot. We discuss Leonard's genius for quick-sketch character and razor-sharp dialog, as well as whether he should be considered a "genre" or a "literary" author. Then we keep things in South Florida with a look at the Miami Heat's offseason and potential for 2016-2017. Were they right to let Dwyane Wade walk? Will Chris Bosh ever play again? Can their youthful core of Tyler Johnson, Josh Richardson, Justise Winslow and Dion Waiters make the leap this year? All that and more in this episode of the Fan's Notes podcast. (NB: we talk about Riding The Rap until the 35 minute mark, then the Miami Heat talk begins. Also, for our next episode, we'll be reading Joan Didion's seminal 1968 essay collection Slouching Towards Bethlehem, and looking at what the future holds for the Los Angeles Lakers. Look for it the week of August 15th!)