Wednesday, May 20, 2009


Back when I was getting my fancy big-city education, I had this class with Stephen Metcalf, which I loved partly because of the nerdy journo books we read (Paul Berman, Claudia Roth Pierpont, Murray Kempton) but mostly because of Metcalf's awesome vocabulary and labyrinthine sentence structure. He would throw down phrases like "Raskolnikovian garrett-dwelling troglodites" on a regular basis, all casual. It was impossible to identify, much less answer, any of his questions on first listen - they were paragraphs long, full of Chinese-box clause-upon-clauses, speckled with dangerous wormholes leading to alternate universes, and they were more likely to end in a closing parentheses than a question mark. They warped space and time - is that exaggerating? Anyway, he was a lot of fun to listen to, if intimidating to converse with.

All of which is just to preface a recommendation: Metcalf hosts the now-weekly Culture Gabfest podcast on Slate, and I stacked up a bunch of episodes on my beloved iPod before coming to Sweden. They're great - almost like being back in class, only with a tighter focus and without the enormous tuition bill or the expectation of intelligent response. And you can rewind. Check them out if you like hearing very smart people talk about the issues of the day and/or Tom Cruise.

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