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#203: The Sorceresses’ Amanuensis

Alice Hoffman’s 1995 novel, Practical Magic, is the story of two sisters, Sally and Gillian Owens, who are born into a family of witches. The catch is that their ancestor, Maria Owens, cursed the family, so that any man one of them falls in love with dies an untimely death. It’s a classic fairy tale, and like most fairy tales it didn’t have a sequel—until this year. After going back to the 1960s generation of the family with The Rules of Magic, and all the way back to the 1600s with Magic Lessons, Hoffman returns this year to the present with the fourth and final story of the Owens family, The Book of Magic, which sees the youngest Owens, Kylie, maybe—finally—break the curse for good.


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More Episodes

11/26/2021

#207: Spinning 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 theNew York Timesbest-sellingKnitlandia. 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’sVanishing Fleece: Adventures in American WoolPeruse her reviews of yarn and other woolly wares on theKnitter’s ReviewwebsiteWatch yarn company Brooklyn Tweed’s gorgeous video series on howwoolen-spunandworsted-spunyarn is made—and how greasy fleece isscouredinto clean, fluffy combed woolSome of the woolly companies mentioned in this episode:Allbirdswool shoes,Farm to Feetwool socks,Catskill Merinoyarn (the source of her 676-pound bale), Lani Estill’s carbon-neutralBare Ranch,ElsaWoolbreed-specific yarnsTune 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@TheAmSchoor onFacebook.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.
11/19/2021

#206: Nature’s Pharmacy

Cassandra Quave,an ethnobotanist at Emory University, searches for plants that may be used to treat life-threatening illnesses. Her lab has discovered compounds—found in chestnuts, blackberries, and a host of other plants—that can help treat antimicrobial resistance by stopping bacteria from communicating with each other, adhering to our tissues, or producing toxins. In her new memoir,The Plant Hunter, Quave discusses how a childhood staph infection and its lifelong complications motivated her deeply personal fight against antibiotic-resistant bacteria. In her quest for new treatments, she has explored the rainforests of the Amazon, the mountains of Italy, Albania, and Kosovo, and the swamps of Florida. Quave joins us on the podcast to talk about how she discoveredwhyandhowplant-based folk medicines work.Go beyond the episode:Cassandra Quave’s The Plant Hunter: A Scientist’s Quest for Nature’s Next MedicinesTune into her Foodie Pharmacology podcastExplore (or volunteer with!) the Emory University Herbarium, which Quave curatesRead Ellen Wayland-Smith’s essay from our Spring 2021 Issue, “Natural Magic,” on modern medicine’s roots in alchemy, astronomy, and the apothecary shopYou may have noticed that Smarty Pants has a predilection for plants: some of our other favorite nature-centric episodes include an interview with plant psychology evangelist Lucy Jones, forestry legendSuzanne Simard, rewilding queenIsabella Tree, plant messiahCarlos Magdalena, and cherry blossom enthusiastNaoko AbeTune 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@TheAmSchoor onFacebook.Subscribe:iTunes•Stitcher•Google PlayHave 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.
11/12/2021

#205: People of the Parchment

Manuscript scholars have long marveled over the marginalia left in books, particularly handwritten books, and what the different layers of a text tell us about the people who made it. Look beyond the pages—to the bindings, the illustrations, the pages themselves—and a surprising material history reveals itself. Mary Wellesley, a tutor at the British Library, has written an ode to the ordinary people who wrote such manuscripts by hand, illustrated them, bound them, preserved them, and did all of the necessary labor to ensure that they survived the centuries intact, or perhaps only slightly nibbled by mice.She joins us on the podcast to talk about her new book, The Gilded Page.Go beyond the episode:Mary Wellesley’s The Gilded Page: The Secret Lives of Medieval ManuscriptsYou can flip through the only known copy of Margery Kempe’s autobiography on the British Library websiteOr peruse Anne Boleyn’s elaborately illuminated Book of Hours, in which Henry VIII scribbled love notes, and her miniature girdle Book of Psalms:Geoffrey Chaucer’s manuscripts are so well-known to us because they were great, yes—but also because of his social and financial standing. Listen to our interview with Marion Turner, author of the first biography of Geoffrey Chaucer in a generationTune 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.Subscribe:iTunes•Feedburner•Stitcher•Google Play•AcastHave 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!