Transcript / LoLT: The 'Pack One Bag' Podcast and Two New Books — 12 July 2024

Transcript / LoLT: The 'Pack One Bag' Podcast and Two New Books — 12 July 2024

Friday, 12 July, 2024

This is a transcription of LoLT: The ‘Pack One Bag’ Podcast and Two New Books — 12 July 2024

[cheerful music]

Melissa: Coming up, a memoir about living the dream in France.

David: A literary gothic thriller set at a summer camp.

Melissa: Plus, our distraction of the week. I’m Mel.

David: I’m Dave. This is the library of lost time.

Melissa: I’m only a few chapters in to the new memoir ‘A Season for That’ by Steve Hoffman, but I can say with confidence that it’s a keeper. The author’s day job has mostly been as a tax preparer, but he’s also a food writer. And he’s no slouch in that department. He won a James Beard Award in 2019 and a slew of other food-writing honors.

Melissa: Like many of us, he learned French in high school and fell in love with the idea of France. When he was in his 20s, he even lived in Paris for a while. Fast forward a few decades: Hoffman was a full-on adult living in Minnesota with his wife, two kids, and a still-flickering desire to live in France. His kids attended a local school that immersed them in the French language. Why not use their language skills to live the good life in France for a while?

Melissa: So he and his family packed themselves off to Autignac in southern France. Population: 800. The book opens with the family gathered around a café table after their first tour of the town. I want to read you a bit:

‘What do you think?’ asked Mary Jo.

A knife edge of Mediterranean sunlight sliced the central square in two. To our right, in a hot wedge of shade, the white plastic tables and… chairs outside the Café du Commerce were talkatively half-occupied. Two bikes leaned against the nearest table. A pair of men sat across from each other in tight jerseys and half shorts, with two glasses of white wine sweating on the table between them.

‘I think it’s a perfectly beautiful village,’ I said. ‘It’s just not a particularly beautiful village.’

Melissa: That faint praise launches into a story about the simple act of ordering lunch. It’s equal parts hilarious and heartbreaking. The family’s formerly useful French betrays them. To their dad’s disappointment, the kids order cheeseburgers and Cokes — which are, of course, served sans ice. Dad, meanwhile, orders the cuttlefish which, he says, tastes like an ‘ocean-infused dumpling.’ When he tries to sip his beer with what he hopes is insouciance, his cafe chair overturns, dumping man, beer, and glass loudly on the pavement. Welcome to Autignac.

Melissa: One of the things I find refreshing and endearing about Hoffman’s writing is his ability to vividly describe the French culture he loves — and to share how much it hurts when reality butts up against his dreamy expectations.

Melissa: If you’re looking for an escape to France in the company of an engaging, thoughtful writer who loves food and wine, this is the summer read of your dreams. It’s ‘A Season for That: Lost and Found in the Other Southern France’ by Steve Hoffman.

Melissa: I should also mention that his wife Mary Jo Hoffman is also an artist and author. Her photography book ‘Still: The Art of Noticing’ came out in May. Each page features an element from nature — a fiddlehead fern, a feather, a perfect fairytale mushroom, a shell — photographed like precious jewels. It’s just lovely.

David: My book is ‘The God of the Woods’ by Liz Moore. This is a suspense novel that reads like literary fiction. It starts with the disappearance of a teenage girl from a summer camp in 1975. One morning, a camp counselor goes to look for her, but there’s just an empty bunk. That girl is the daughter of a wealthy family who owns the camp. They’re the Van Laars.

David: The daughter is not the first person from the Van Laars family to disappear. Her older brother went missing 14 years earlier — and he’s never been found.

David: The novel jumps back and forth in time as it unravels both mysteries. We got to know the Van Laar family and their dark secrets. And we get a lot of camp life: swimming, hiking, sing-a-longs, creepy legends around the campfire, everyone sneaking around after dark. There’s a map in the front of the book that shows the layout of the buildings. I love a pre-story map.

David: Reviewers have praised the evocative summer camp setting and gripping story. The Minneapolis Star Tribune said, ‘Moore has written an atmospheric family drama, a social novel, and the best kind of missing person story, one that’s fun to read and think about.’

David: This is a gothic tale. You’ve got your stately family home, a sense of isolation, a hint of the supernatural, lots of tragedy and drama, and the threat of wild nature.

David: The author, Liz Moore — her last book was ‘Long Bright River,’ which was a bestseller, and one of Barack Obama’s favorite books on 2020.

Melissa: I loved this book and recommended it in our Strong Sense of Place episode about Pennsylvania. I’ll put a link in show notes. The audio is fantastic and would be awesome for a road trip.

David: If you enjoy a good thriller and you’re looking for your next summer read, this is a solid candidate. It just came out last week. It’s ‘The God of the Woods’ by Liz Moore.

David: And now our Distraction of the Week. [magical sound effect]

Melissa: I recently discovered the podcast ‘Pack One Bag,’ and when I say I can’t wait for new episodes to be released on Wednesdays, I really meant it. I eagerly await each new installment of this story.

Melissa: ‘Pack One Bag’ is a podcast documentary series. It’s a love story, an examination of fascism, a celebration of family, and a testament to the power of archives.

Melissa: The documentarian narrating this podcast is a film maker from Austin. His name is David Modigliani. When he was a kid, his grandfather won the Nobel Prize for economics. But David was always more interested in the love story about his romance, their escape from Fascist Italy, and what happened to the people who had to stay behind.

Melissa: His investigation unfolds like a procedural, and we get to join David in each step of his journey. He digs through boxes and boxes of his grandparents’ papers and love letters. He finds a cache of Fascist spy documents and personal diaries. He goes to Italy and meets family members for the first time AND has a meeting with the Italian Prime Minister.

Melissa: He also does a remarkable job of connecting the dots between these past events and where we are right now with politics. He grapples with the question, ‘If Fascism takes over your country, do you stay or do you try to flee? And what happens if you can’t?’

Melissa: The audio on the show is so well done. It’s a movie for the ears. David Modigliani’s narration is just perfect — filled with love, awe, curiosity, and gratitude. There’s a handful of voice actors, too, including Stanley Tucci They bring the grandparents to life through imagined conversations. There are also field recordings from Italy that transport you right there, and great music.

Melissa: This true story unfolds like a thriller with an epic romance at its heart. It’s suspenseful and emotionally engaging. Often delightful and sometimes makes my blood run a little cold. The description of his young grandmother leaving behind her house in Italy — and her dog — to cross the ocean into the unknown brought me to tears. It was great!

Melissa: There will eventually be 10 episodes. Number 7 was just released this week, so you can jump in and get caught up. I need everyone to listen to this so we an talk about it.

Melissa: It’s the ‘Pack One Bag’ podcast, and it’s available on all the podcast players right now.

Melissa: Visit strongsenseofplace.com/library for more on the books we talked about today and my new favorite podcast.

David: Thanks for joining us on the library of last time. Remember to visit your local library and your independent bookstore to lose some time yourself.

Melissa: Stay curious. We’ll talk to you soon.

[cheerful music]

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