Island Idylls riffs on books and life with Barry Menikoff. Author of Stone Mother, Brooklyn born and bred, retired Hawaii university professor, international scholar. Evangelical pastor Aaron Menikoff, author of Politics and Piety, spices this dialogue between father and son. Both chasing that elusive line in an old song, What's it all about, Alfie?
30 - Who is Irwin Shaw?
Master. Short. Story. Writer.
Seriously, if you pick up one of his short stories you will be impressed by his engaging and thoughtful writing.
In episode 30, Barry and Aaron revisit their conversation about the nature of true beauty, but they also dig into Shaw. They examine four of his short stories: Main Currents of American Thought, The Fifty-Yard Run, Mixed Doubles, and The Girls in Their Summer Dresses.
Each of these works can be found in his book, Short Stories: Five Decades.
29 - What is Art?
Who even asks this question anymore? Isn’t art whatever gets hung up on a wall in a museum? Barry and Aaron don’t think so--though they don’t agree about why this is the case!
You’ve probably heard that beauty is in the eye of the beholder? But is it? Are there any universal principles that help explain why some art is better than other art?
In this episode, the Menikoffs take a break from their series on short stories and explore what makes some art better than others.
Please listen, and if you have a definition of art or beauty, let them know!
28 - Pale Horse, Pale Rider - Katherine Anne Porter
This past year we’ve all learned about the pandemic of 1918. (By the way, the book to read is The Great Influenza by John M. Barry.) Katherine Anne Porter, a young drama critic in Denver, caught the flu and made it out alive. Her story, Pale Horse, Pale Rider (an allusion from Revelation 6) tells the tale.
Barry and Aaron discuss four of her stories, giving you a taste of this incredible author who married at sixteen, divorced at 25, acted in movies, traveled the word, served the Mexican Revolution, married repeatedly, and won a Pulitzer Prize.
In all the stories Barry and Aaron talk about, death is central. People don’t talk much about death--even as Covid-19 has taken 400,000 American souls! Barry takes comfort in the stoicism of Marcus Aurelius while Aaron asserts the human soul is eternal.
Island Idylls is a podcast about books, life, and sometimes, death.
27 - Capote’s A Christmas Memory
Happy New Year! Before you say goodbye to the Christmas season why not take a break and spend a few minutes listening to Barry and Aaron talk about a beautiful short story, “A Christmas Memory,” by Truman Capote.
Capote is most famous for In Cold Blood and Breakfast at Tiffany’s. He wrote stories and screenplays and wound up something of a celebrity in his day before dying at the age of 60. He had great gifts and they are on full display in this autobiographical account of a few days he spent when just seven years old with his older cousin in a backwater town in the South.
Of course, as usual, Barry and Aaron go down a few rabbit trails. They talk about censorship at the beginning of the episode and theology at the end.
26 - Stevenson and the Short Story
Can you know Truth, with a capital T? Is uncertainty a necessary condition of our existence? After studying the canon of Robert Louis Stevenson, Barry argues the famous writer would have said “no” to the first question and “yes” to the second.
Good writing is not escapism, it’s engagement with life’s deepest questions.
But how do we know Stevenson is right? And can we privilege his materialistic worldview over and against, say, the theistic worldview of the Shema? “Hear, O Israel: the LORD our God, the LORD is one. You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might?” This is one of the “small” questions tackled in this episode!
Episode 26 dives into the history of the short story, the role Robert Louis Stevenson played, and how modernism changed how so many people read and understand life.
Heads up, in episode 27 we’ll be talking about Truman Capote and his short story, “A Christmas Memory.”
25 - Introduction to the Short Story
It’s chilly outside so why not warm up to a brand new season of Island Idylls! If you’re new to the podcast, Barry is a retired English professor with a Jewish background and agnostic faith. He calls Hawaii home. Aaron, his son, is an evangelical pastor who live in Atlanta. The two share a love for reading which is what this podcast is all about.
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The whole series
I know Aaron and want him to know that this podcast has blessed me on 2 important levels. 1. It is informative and I have enjoyed the interchange between father and son. The fact that they do not share the same faith has not shaded their conversation in any way discernable.
On the 2nd level I have been emotionally touched as I wish that I could have shared an exchange like this with my dad before he passed. At 64, I am excited for Aaron and his father that they can experience this time together. I’m looking forward to next season.
I am thoroughly enjoying listening to this podcast. Father and son interplay is neat. Both are great founts of wisdom. Whenever I hear well-read people discuss what they have read, I wish I had paid more attention in high school English class. The suggested reading lists are excellent. I’ve already purchased a few and can’t wait to get started reading some. I’ve listened to five episodes so far and hope to listen to the rest in the upcoming weeks.
Can’t wait until season 2!
Sit Down With Barry and Aaron!
Having them in your living room—or wherever—is an amazing experience. Whatever your interests, you will find that listening in is illuminating and a great pleasure.