Your novel The Italian Party is about someone trying to manipulate an election using some very sneaky methods. Are you about to be subpoenaed?

I don’t think so, but it’s a pretty weird coincidence. When I started writing the novel in the summer of 2013, I came across a couple of passing references to how the U.S. had influenced Italian elections starting in 1947 and going forward through the 1950s. I found that very intriguing—I remember pausing in my reading when I came to the phrase “opinion moulders” and staring out the window and thinking, I can imagine bribing someone after an election, but how do you actually throw an election in a foreign country??? The idea was so odd to me that I decided to boil it down to one not very well-trained American trying to sway one small election in one town (Siena), and to make it very hard for him, for all the comic reasons that come to mind in terms of how bumpy it is to try to get anything done in Italy.


Michael and Scottie stood out from the moment they strolled down the gangplank of the sleek ocean liner that carried them and their possessions to Italy. They seemed to have stepped right out of an advertisement for Betty Crocker, Wonder Bread or capitalism itself. He was twenty-four, handsome, always in a nicely cut suit, camera around his neck. She, barely twenty, was a knockout. Blond, pretty, quick to laugh, always in an elegant hat and pearl choker. She had what the Italians call raffinatezza, a word that covers everything that is the opposite of vulgar—a quality Italians deeply aspired to, while at the same time remaining powerless to resist anything gilded, mirrored, shiny or bejeweled. This spring the papers were full of the marriage of Grace Kelly and Prince Rainier, and it was as if Siena’s own version of the royal couple had arrived. Even though there were other Americans coming and going in Siena, those two would become the Americans. Gli americani. Both of them so young, healthy, wealthy and in love. They seemed so free. That was how they seemed.

Now playing on Otherppl, a conversation with Lynne Tillman. Her new novel, Men and Apparitions, is available from Soft Skull Press.

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Tabitha Blankenbiller is the author of Eats of Eden: A Foodoir, published by Alternating Currents Press in March 2017. It’s a collection of personal essays, each ending with a recipe. It’s also a coming-of-age story, charting the author’s parallel development as writer, cook, and human. We follow her ambitions and dreams of perfection—at her desk, in the kitchen, and in the realm of friendship and marriage. We cheer her on as if she were our best friend. Because it feels like she is. Sarah Einstein says, “Reading Eats of Eden is like having a delicious leisurely lunch with a smart, insightful friend.” Melissa Grunow says, “Blankenbiller has packaged longing, self-doubt, body image, and love for others and food into fun and fulfilling narrative recipes for living an authentic life.” I agree. She is our companion and our guide.

Where were you on the evening of December 3, 1979?

I was in a living room with a brown shaggy rug, tangled curls flying, rag doll clutched under my armpit, enormous headphones clamped around my toddler ears. I was dancing, my mouth plugged by my right thumb. A stretchy black coil connected the headphones to a cord, which ran to the wooden wall unit, which held my father’s record player. A 45 spun round, the needle’s gentle connection to the grooves sending the sound—maybe the Eagles; the Bee Gees; Earth, Wind and Fire—back through the wire to my ears. My parents sat on our nubby couch smiling, looking on. This is where everything begins, and where everything ends.


Where will you be on the morning of March 1, 2018?

Probably hiding. My book, California Calling: A Self-Interrogation, comes out that day.

Now playing on Otherppl, a conversation with Troy James Weaver. His new novel Temporal is available from Disorder Press.

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Terry, you have a new poetry collection titled Ruin Porn. What’s the story behind that title?

“Ruin Porn” is a term coined by Detroit writer/photographer Jim Griffioen in Vice Magazine; he critiques the aestheticizing of destruction, which he saw firsthand in many artists’ responses to the devastation within the city of Detroit. By focusing on the “beauty” of abandoned and crumbling buildings and neighborhoods, we ignore the human and economic costs to the communities.

At the same time, we are in the midst of profound disintegration of our society and our culture—the dissolution of gender roles, fragmentation in social relationships and in the psyche, degradation of the environment and of civil society, and the decay of the spirit. I can’t imagine what else to be writing about. “I cannot turn my eyes away…”

Biologists demand a garland
of children, but I have neglected
any theory of origins.
My oven holds another cake,

fluid with cream, a complex miracle
of light and language, Miles Davis
on the radio, friends coming by.
Meaning-filled, the rich batter.

Now playing on Otherppl, a conversation with Azareen Van der Vliet Oloomi. Her new novel Call Me Zebra is available from Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. It is the official March pick of The Nervous Breakdown Book Club.

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I’m thinking about dislocation. About place. Wondering how to set myself in it, like Wallace Stevens’s jar in Tennessee, so I can change the place and the place can change me. An exchange. A connection. But then again, I just reread his poem and the jar gives nothing back to its surroundings. This wasn’t the story I remembered from school. I remembered a more generous jar.

I’m wondering how to make a scene that another person can enter into through words on the page and feel welcome in this story of displacement. I want you to feel out of it while you’re here, like I tend to feel, but in a nice way, so you might want to come back.

Y’all come back now, ya hear!

So, I hear you’ve written another book.

That’s right. It’s called The Infernal Library and it’s a study of dictator literature, that is to say books written by dictators, that is to say the worst books in the history of the world. I trace the development of the dictatorial tradition over the course of a century, starting with Lenin, then exploring the prose of Lenin, Mussolini, Stalin, Hitler, Mao, et al before arriving in the modern era where I analyze the texts of Gaddafi, Saddam Hussein, and assorted post-Soviet dictators (among others). It’s a bit like Harold Bloom’s The Western Canon, only the books are terrible and many were written by mass murderers. It can also be read as an alternative cultural history of the 20th century, with implications for our own troubled times.

Now playing on Otherppl, a conversation with Elif Batuman. Her debut novel The Idiot is available in trade paperback from Penguin.

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How did I get from standing on the bimah for my son’s bar mitzvah three years ago to visiting my son at the adolescent wing of a psych ward? Raphael is here on a 72-hour hold, a “5150.” This is where a social worker from the Psychiatric Emergency Team (PET) evaluates a person under 18 to see if he is at risk to himself or others. This is the first time my son has been put on such a hold related to his escalating drug use. I drive somewhere down the 605 towards Santa Ana to a hospital with an adolescent psych unit. I am buzzed into a locked unit. I enter and sign in, looking eagerly around for Raphael. The large room where the visits take place has posters on the wall. Some are informational—rules—others are friendly with pleasant scenes and inspirational quotes, but it doesn’t take away from the stark, institutional look. This will not be one of Raphael’s favorite places for a psych hold. Subsequent adolescent wards and treatment centers we pass through will have bright murals, and I will not remember where this one was, that it was only a waystation to the next step that I had hoped would arrest the downward slide. But the physicality, the geographic location, of this first 72-hour hold he goes on, will mostly be a giant blank in my memory. I’ve been told that trauma can do this, above and beyond the normal menopausal memory loss.

Your book Getting Off is about your struggle with sex and porn addiction, but it’s also about your journey towards shame-free womanhood, so I’m just going to ask you what everyone’s wondering—did you ever get into bestiality porn?

That’s what everyone’s wondering?

Well you write that some porn is bad, right? What about sloshing? Is that bad too? If I like bestiality and sloshing does that mean I have a problem?

I think you may have misunderstood something. Did you read the book?

How about hentai?

Now playing on Otherppl, a conversation with Willy Vlautin. His new novel Don’t Skip Out On Me is available from Harper Perennial. It is the official February pick of The Nervous Breakdown Book Club.

This is Willy’s second appearance on the program. He was the guest in Episode 258, on March 9, 2014.

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