117 episodes

A podcast from The American Scholar magazine. Tune in every two weeks to catch interviews with the liveliest voices from literature, the arts, sciences, history, and public affairs; reports on cutting-edge works in progress; long-form narratives; and compelling excerpts from new books. Hosted by Stephanie Bastek.

Smarty Pants The American Scholar

    • Books

A podcast from The American Scholar magazine. Tune in every two weeks to catch interviews with the liveliest voices from literature, the arts, sciences, history, and public affairs; reports on cutting-edge works in progress; long-form narratives; and compelling excerpts from new books. Hosted by Stephanie Bastek.

    #116: The Meaning of Minimalism

    #116: The Meaning of Minimalism

    Everywhere, all the time, it seems like we’re being sold on the idea that getting rid of things will solve our problems—from the life-changing magic of Marie Kondo to the streamlining of all those DVDs into digital subscriptions—and it’s all being sold under the label of minimalism. In his new book, The Longing for Less, Kyle Chayka criticizes this trend as a kind of upscale austerity designed to get you to buy and consume things. Maybe fewer things, but things nonetheless. Have we lost the true meaning of minimalism? Chayka takes readers through a history of art, design, and philosophy that goes much further back than the 1960s work of Agnes Martin, Donald Judd, and John Cage, to show that maybe the most meaningful part of “minimalism” is the search for meaning. Chayka has written for The New York Times Magazine, n+1, and The Paris Review, and he joins us in the studio to offer up a brand of minimalism that won’t bankrupt you, emotionally or financially.


    Go beyond the episode:
    - Kyle Chayka’s The Longing for Less: Living with Minimalism
    - Watch a short documentary about the painter Agnes Martin from the Tate
    - View Donald Judd's massive installations in Marfa or New York, and be sure to stop by Walter De Maria’s The Earth Room while you're at it
    - Poke around Philip Johnson’s Glass House
    - Listen to Julius Eastman's hypnotic composition “Stay on It” (and read more about him here)
    - Two Japanese touchstones of minimalism: Sei Shōnagon’s The Pillow Book and Junichirō Tanizaki’s In Praise of Shadows


    Tune in every week to catch interviews with the liveliest voices from literature, the arts, sciences, history, and public affairs; reports on cutting-edge works in progress; long-form narratives; and compelling excerpts from new books. Hosted by Stephanie Bastek. Follow us on Twitter @TheAmScho or on Facebook.


    Subscribe: iTunes • Feedburner • Stitcher • Google Play • Acast


    Have suggestions for projects you’d like us to catch up on, or writers you want to hear from? Send us a note: podcast [at] theamericanscholar [dot] org. And rate us on iTunes! Our theme music was composed by Nathan Prillaman. For information regarding your data privacy, visit acast.com/privacy

    • 23 min
    #115: The Global Garage Sale

    #115: The Global Garage Sale

    In his previous book, Junkyard Planet, journalist Adam Minter went around the world to see what happened to American recyclables such as cardboard, shredded cars, and Christmas lights around the world as they became new things. In his new book, Secondhand, Minter looks at what happens to all the things that get resold and reused, objects that end up in Arizona thrift stores, Malaysian flea markets, Tokyo vintage shops, and Ghanaian used-electronics shops. Who’s buying the tons of goods that get downsized, decluttered, or discarded every year? Does the fact that we can just pass something off to a thrift shop justify our buying more things? What about the sheer scale of it all? Minter joins us in the studio to talk about how we filled the world with all this stuff, and what really needs to change for us to get out from under it—no matter where we live.


    This is our last episode of 2019. We’ll be back at the end of January, refreshed and ready to introduce you to some of the most interesting voices writing today. See you in 2020! ’Til then, take care, and stay sharp.


    Go beyond the episode:


    - Adam Minter’s Secondhand: Travels in the New Global Garage Sale
    - Want to learn more about the impacts of fast fashion on consumption and waste? Listen to our episode “Fashion Kills” with Dana Thomas
    - For our Autumn 2019 issue, Rob G. Green visited Kumasi, Ghana, to write about another problem created by the secondhand market—toxic scrap-tire fires
    - Where does the money that Goodwill makes from selling donations actually go?
    - Learn more about the staggering scale of Anglo-American consumption in Susan Strasser’s Waste and Want: A Social History of Trash
    - Abandon your idols: Mari Kondo has begun selling you junk to replace the junk you just KonMari’d
    - Read more about why local textile industries are dying in Ghana and African countries more broadly
    - Might recycling pose a similar “moral hazard” to wearing seat belts? Some consumer psychologists suspect that the option to recycle might actually increase resource consumption
    - Learn more about the Right to Repair movement


    Tune in every week to catch interviews with the liveliest voices from literature, the arts, sciences, history, and public affairs; reports on cutting-edge works in progress; long-form narratives; and compelling excerpts from new books. Hosted by Stephanie Bastek. Follow us on Twitter @TheAmScho or on Facebook.


    Subscribe: iTunes • Feedburner • Stitcher • Google Play • Acast


    Have suggestions for projects you’d like us to catch up on, or writers you want to hear from? Send us a note: podcast [at] theamericanscholar [dot] org. And rate us on iTunes! Our theme music was composed by Nathan Prillaman. For information regarding your data privacy, visit acast.com/privacy

    • 25 min
    #114: House of Mirrors

    #114: House of Mirrors

    Two years ago, Carmen Maria Machado pushed the weird and gothic into the mainstream with her debut short story collection, Her Body and Other Parties, which was a finalist for the National Book Award and made her a Guggenheim Fellow. Now she’s back with In the Dream House, a memoir of a harrowing relationship told in a splintered, fractured style. The list of chapters reads like an introduction to literary tropes 101: dream house as an exercise in point of view, as a memory palace, as a stranger comes to town, as a plot twist. Ultimately it is, as one title puts it, an exercise in style, but one in which Machado considers all the territory surrounding the dream house: stereotypes about lesbian relationships as safe or as hysterical, her religious adolescence, the insufficiency of the law, and the absence in the archives of stories that don’t fit traditional demographics of abuse.


    Go beyond the episode:
    - Carmen Maria Machado’s In the Dream House (and read the prologue)
    - Read the collection that inspired the devious chapter, “Dream House as Choose Your Own Adventure,” Kevin Brockmeier’s The Human Soul as a Rube Goldberg Device
    - Read about the 1940s thriller that gave us the phrase “gaslighting” in J. Hoberman’s essay, “Why ‘Gaslight’ Hasn’t Lost Its Glow”
    - Two essays Machado cites in her afterword, both about intimate partner violence: Conner Habib’s “If You Ever Did Write Anything About Me, I’d Want It to Be About Love” and Jane Eaton Hamilton’s “Never Say I Didn’t Bring You Flowers”


    Tune in every week to catch interviews with the liveliest voices from literature, the arts, sciences, history, and public affairs; reports on cutting-edge works in progress; long-form narratives; and compelling excerpts from new books. Hosted by Stephanie Bastek. Follow us on Twitter @TheAmScho or on Facebook.


    Subscribe: iTunes • Feedburner • Stitcher • Google Play • Acast


    Have suggestions for projects you’d like us to catch up on, or writers you want to hear from? Send us a note: podcast [at] theamericanscholar [dot] org. And rate us on iTunes! Our theme music was composed by Nathan Prillaman. For information regarding your data privacy, visit acast.com/privacy

    • 19 min
    #113: Getting Physical

    #113: Getting Physical

    When thinking of the past, one of the hardest things is to imagine what it would have been like to inhabit a physical body in a world so different in look, smell, and feel from our own. What was it like to go to the doctor 800 years ago? If you cut your finger and bled, what would that blood mean to you? What about the blood of saints—would that be different? What about exercising, eating, giving birth, having sex, burying the dead? The way we think about these experiences fundamentally changes how we experience them. So how has our thinking changed since the Middle Ages? Jack Hartnell’s new book, Medieval Bodies, explores the answers to these questions through a series of vivid objects, stories, texts, and paintings, starting with the head and meandering through skin and heart and stomach all the way to the feet. Along the way, he constructs a living, breathing body of evidence that helps us understand our physical past.


    Quick note: In our sign off, we promised a Thanksgiving episode—but a holiday cold has made liars of us, and we cannot put one out! We'll be back with a brand new interview on Friday, December 6th. Til then, take care, and stay warm!


    Go beyond the episode:


    - Jack Hartnell’s Medieval Bodies: Life and Death in the Middle Ages (read an excerpt here)
    - View a slideshow of related bodily medieval images on the episode page
    - For more on medieval women’s medicine, check out Monica Green’s Making Women’s Medicine Masculine or her paper, “Gendering the History of Women’s Healthcare”
    - For another unusual angle of medieval history, check out our interview with Marion Turner, who wrote an innovative biography of Geoffrey Chaucer


    Tune in every week to catch interviews with the liveliest voices from literature, the arts, sciences, history, and public affairs; reports on cutting-edge works in progress; long-form narratives; and compelling excerpts from new books. Hosted by Stephanie Bastek. Follow us on Twitter @TheAmScho or on Facebook.


    Subscribe: iTunes • Feedburner • Stitcher • Google Play • Acast


    Have suggestions for projects you’d like us to catch up on, or writers you want to hear from? Send us a note: podcast [at] theamericanscholar [dot] org. And rate us on iTunes! Our theme music was composed by Nathan Prillaman. For information regarding your data privacy, visit acast.com/privacy

    • 22 min
    #112: A Good Yarn

    #112: A Good Yarn

    If you’re a person who has despaired over ever finding a nice 100 percent wool sweater and decided to knit your own, odds are you’ve heard of Clara Parkes. Parkes, who started out in 2000 with a newsletter reviewing yarn, now has six books under her belt, including the New York Times best-selling Knitlandia. Her seventh book, Vanishing Fleece, is a yarn of a different kind—the unlikely story of how she became the proud proprietor of a 676-pound bale of wool and, in the process of transforming it into commercial yarn, got an inside look at a disappearing American industry. Parkes journeys across the country from New York to Wisconsin and Maine to Texas. Along the way, she meets shepherds, shearers, dyers, and the countless mill workers who tend the machinery that’s kept us in woolens for more than a century, but which for the past 50 years has been on the verge of collapse.


    Go beyond the episode:
    - Clara Parkes’s Vanishing Fleece: Adventures in American Wool
    - Peruse her reviews of yarn and other woolly wares on the Knitter’s Review website
    - Watch yarn company Brooklyn Tweed’s gorgeous video series on how woolen-spun and worsted-spun yarn is made—and how greasy fleece is scoured into clean, fluffy combed wool
    - Some of the woolly companies mentioned in this episode: Allbirds wool shoes, Farm to Feet wool socks, Catskill Merino yarn (the source of her 676-pound bale), Lani Estill’s carbon-neutral Bare Ranch, ElsaWool breed-specific yarns


    Tune in every week to catch interviews with the liveliest voices from literature, the arts, sciences, history, and public affairs; reports on cutting-edge works in progress; long-form narratives; and compelling excerpts from new books. Hosted by Stephanie Bastek. Follow us on Twitter @TheAmScho or on Facebook.


    Subscribe: iTunes • Feedburner • Stitcher • Google Play • Acast


    Have suggestions for projects you’d like us to catch up on, or writers you want to hear from? Send us a note: podcast [at] theamericanscholar [dot] org. And rate us on iTunes! Our theme music was composed by Nathan Prillaman. For information regarding your data privacy, visit acast.com/privacy

    • 23 min
    #111: A Rather Haunted Episode

    #111: A Rather Haunted Episode

    To get into the Halloween spirit, we’ve invited Assistant Editor Katie Daniels and Editorial Assistant Taylor Curry, the hosts of [Spoiler Alert], our online book club, to interview the literary critic Ruth Franklin. Their October book is Shirley Jackson’s We Have Always Lived in the Castle, the suspenseful tale of the two Blackwood sisters and the mysterious murder that took place at their house. For a long time, Jackson’s hard-to-categorize novels and humorous parenting memoirs took the backseat to her (in)famous short story, “The Lottery.” That’s starting to change, thanks to film and television adaptations—and Ruth Franklin’s critically acclaimed biography, Shirley Jackson, which argued that her writing is an important contribution to the American gothic tradition.


    Go beyond the episode:
    - Ruth Franklin’s Shirley Jackson: A Rather Haunted Life, which won the Phi Beta Kappa Christian Gauss Award for biography (and read our glowing review)
    - Join [Spoiler Alert], our monthly online book club and tune in today at 5 PM EST for a live discussion
    - Watch the spooky trailer for the 2019 adaptation of Jackson’s We Have Always Lived in the Castle


    Tune in every week to catch interviews with the liveliest voices from literature, the arts, sciences, history, and public affairs; reports on cutting-edge works in progress; long-form narratives; and compelling excerpts from new books. Hosted by Stephanie Bastek. Follow us on Twitter @TheAmScho or on Facebook.


    Subscribe: iTunes • Feedburner • Stitcher • Google Play • Acast


    Have suggestions for projects you’d like us to catch up on, or writers you want to hear from? Send us a note: podcast [at] theamericanscholar [dot] org. And rate us on iTunes! Our theme music was composed by Nathan Prillaman. For information regarding your data privacy, visit acast.com/privacy

    • 21 min

Customer Reviews

jeffanderson007 ,

Great podcast about literature

Stephanie Bastek is a great interviewer. She comes to the table prepared and unafraid to probe into the process of writing and the subject material as well. This is a wonderfully insightful program. I look forward to this podcast each week.

emily174317 ,

Interesting

I enjoy the stories from this podcast and always find new books to read!

Scholar Reader ,

Love it!

This is a perfect podcast for my morning commute.

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