Where Books Come to Dance

“Read, Read, Read,

Read Some More...”

This is Literary Disco.

The last book club you'll ever need

We’re Tod, Julia, and Rider — three old friends who love to read, debate, and sometimes even agree.

About Us


Julia Pistell

Essayist & Radio Personality

Julia Pistell
Julia Pistell is a writer, actor, and public relations expert in Hartford, Connecticut. She has worked in many places around the world, including but not limited to: a hairdresser’s in Atonsu, Ghana; a preschool and university in Dongying, China; a mobile bookstore in Manhattan; a dogwalking collective in Harlem; a library in the South Bronx — and now she is the Director of Writing Programs at The Mark Twain House & Museum. A freelance writer, Julia created the Syllable Reading Series and hosts Literary Disco, a podcast about books and reading. Every year she plays a squirrel in Night Fall, and she was selected as one of Mystic Seaport’s 38th Voyagers on the historic whaleship the Charles W. Morgan. She has written an essay for NPR and is currently a contributor to WNPR.org and The Beaker Blog. One of the founding members of Sea Tea Improv, Julia is also in the Advanced Study program at the Upright Citizens Brigade. She has performed in hundreds of improv shows across the United States and is one of the company’s most frequent teachers and coaches. As the Manager of Community Relations, Julia has put together workshops and shows for the homeless, Alzheimer’s caregivers, teenagers, corporate executives, artists, and everyone in between. Follow Julia on Twitter @echochorus.

Tod Goldberg

Novelist & Critic

Tod Goldberg
Tod Goldberg is the New York Times & international best-selling author of over a dozen books, including the novels Gangster Nation, Gangsterland, which was a finalist for the Hammett Prize, The House of Secrets, which he co-authored with with New York Times bestselling author Brad Meltzer, and Living Dead Girl, finalist for the Los Angeles Times Book Prize, as well as the the popular Burn Notice series. His work has been published in over a dozen countries. His essays, journalism, and criticism have appeared in numerous publications, including the Los Angeles Times, Los Angeles Review of Books, & Wall Street Journal, among many others, and have earned five Nevada Press Association Awards for excellence. His essay “When They Let Them Bleed” was selected for Best American Essays 2013 and in 2016, Tod was awarded the Silver Pen Award by the Nevada Writers Hall of Fame. Tod Goldberg holds an MFA in Creative Writing & Literature from Bennington College and directs the Low Residency MFA Program in Creative Writing and Writing for the Performing Arts at the University of California, Riverside.He lives in Indio, CA with his wife, the writer Wendy Duren. His next book, Death of a Gangster, the concluding volume in the Gangsterland trilogy, will be released in Fall 2020. Follow Tod on Twitter @todgoldberg.

Rider Strong

Actor & Filmmaker

Rider Strong
Rider Strong After being cast as Gavroche in Les Miserables at nine years old, Rider Strong began a career that has lasted two decades and spanned a variety of genres and formats. He became best known in his teens for Boy Meets World, which ran for seven seasons on ABC. At 20, Rider secured his place in the independent film world by starring in Eli Roth’s Cabin Fever. He’s been covered in blood for a slew of horror and thriller films since. Back on stage, he starred as Benjamin Braddock in both the First US National Tour and the Australian productions of The Graduate. Along with his brother, Rider has written and directed three short films that have played over 60 festivals worldwide and won both audience and juried awards at multiple fests. The pair also created an award-winning spec campaign commercial in support of Barack Obama that became the first political ad to air on Comedy Central. They now write and direct television and film. Rider graduated magna cum laude from Columbia University and received his M.F.A. in Fiction & Literature from Bennington College. Follow Rider on Twitter @riderstrong.


  • We’re over at Lit Hub!

    Hi folks- we have moved our operations over to Lit Hub. There are dozens more episodes for you to find over there. We’re also in the midst of redoing our format, which will be released in a few weeks. Come and see! – Julia, Tod, and Rider

  • Episode 138: Let The Games Begin!

    No better way to start the new month than with some of Literary Disco’s classic games. First, Rider presents “Judge a Book By Its Cover,” where he reads the first lines of a book and Julia and Tod must guess what the book is with no other context. Then, Tod presents a new game, Rock Paper Scissors, where Rider and Julia must decide what is a real poem, lyrics from a pop song, lines from a Rupi poem, or a poem written by our very own Tod Goldberg. Let the games begin!

    Some of the books discussed in this episode include:

    ben lerner 10:04

    Ben Lerner, 10:44

    A lot of it is about art and reflections on different forms of art, and writers versus. visual artist. It’s really good, and slightly pretentious.

    once and future king t.h. white

    T.H. White, The Once and Future King

    It becomes this great look at the value of experiential education as opposed to book learning.

    within the context of no context

    George W.S. Trow, Within the Context of No Context

    It is a crazy manifesto about the dangers of television and the dangers of what he saw—I guess he was writing this in the seventies—where this country was heading . . . I want to re-read it in the age of Trump because a lot of his predictions and his assessments have proved to be true.

  • Episode 137: There, There

    The debut novel from Tommy Orange has been on almost every Best Of 2018 list, but does the Literary Disco trio agree? In this week’s episode, Julia, Rider, and Tod discuss the complex and multifaceted approach to identity—and how Orange avoids the usual MFA clichés—as There, There follows a collection of Native American characters in the build-up to a powwow in Oakland, California.

    From the episode

    Rider Strong on gaining perspective on Native identity

    If you’re going to write a book that tackles Native American identity—and this goes for every Native American writer, I guess—are you going to make it a book about traditional stories, in the way I think Leslie Marlon Silko inserts those stories into her novels and into her writing, or are you going to avoid all that and just focus on contemporary Indian life and what it means to be an urban Indian in Oakland? I feel like Tommy Orange really manages to spread a wide net by focusing on… I mean, there are so many characters in this book—I guess there are twelve main characters—with their own point of views and every single one of them wrestles with the question of how native they are and what that means. I thought it was incredibly refreshing to have every character conscious and aware of that issue.

    For somebody like me who grew up white, in a very privileged situation, in white privileged society, being able to have an access point where it’s like, What does that mean to not feel native enough or to feel too native or to be embarrassed. There are so many angles. Then there are the characters who feel too white or not white enough.

    Each chapter has a person with their own history, their own life, and their own concept of nativeness and native identity. In every chapter you have to hit the reset button on what that means and what you think that means. By the end of the book, you’re exhausted and it’s taken a lot of work, but you do also feel there is something you walked away with that means something, the layering and the literal intersection of these characters meeting at this powwow, it’s beautiful and meaningful.


    Tod Goldberg on a big novel that “looks out”

    This is a novel that looks out. This is why it’s on the “Best Of” lists this year. This is why it goes beyond the rushed quality of the shooting at the end, and it is something larger because it is asking huge fundamental questions about society and where Native Americans belong in the world today and how they can disappear in an urban landscape like Oakland.

    I grew up in Northern California. I had absolutely no sense of a Native American population in that area whatsoever other than the missions and that Junipero Serra enslaved all of them. But I didn’t know anything about urban Indians living essentially 15 minutes away from me my entire life. Here in Palm Springs it’s part of the fabric of the city. Every street is named for a Native American. The bands and the tribes are a part of every day life here. Even today, I’m recording from my office at UC Riverside and down the hall we have the Native American college that rents space here. For There, There, I feel this book transcends all the sort of normal “staring at my belly button” MFA fiction because it is about something larger and Tommy Orange has something more important to say than how sad people are. There’s something bigger.

  • Episode 136: Tarzan King of the Apes

    Welcome to 2019, the perfect year to dive into the classic tale of… Tarzan! Ok, the first Tarzan was published in 1912, but this year marks the hundredth anniversary of The Jungles of Tarzan, in which a teenage Tarzan grapples with being a teenager. Seriously.

    We all know the story: after the death of his parents a boy is raised by apes, and encounters humans again years later when an expedition enters the jungle. How has this story aged over time? Will Tarzan be Rider’s next project? Join Julia, Rider, and Tod this week to find out!

    Rider Strong: It’s so important that [Tarzan] achieves literacy. He goes through so much work and teaches himself how to read, even though he doesn’t speak English, which actually doesn’t make any sense. If he doesn’t have words to begin with, why would he? He reads what he calls the bugs on the pages in the books that form themselves into letters that then tell the story. It’s so absurd, but then you realize literacy is what Edgar Rice Burroughs had to insert in order for his hero to be better than the savages. If he doesn’t have literacy, then he’s just like the tribal people of Africa that, of course, the book takes such pains to separate him from. ARTICLE CONTINUES AFTER ADVERTISEMENT

    It reminded me that in the 19th century there were a lot of books that revolved around this idea, like Frankenstein, right? He learns language (these noble savages that teach themselves how to read!)… a trope that had to get worked in here even though it makes no sense.

    Julia Pistell: But he’s not a noble savage, he’s a savage noble. He has to learn how to read.


    RS: Can you insert a white person into an African landscape without it being a colonialist fantasy? Or do you tell the story of Tarzan from the perspective of an African kid that was raised by gorillas, and what is that story about? Julia really nailed it when she said so much of this seems to be based on “nature vs. nurture,” and playing that out in story. And obviously the point of playing that out for Edgar Rice Burroughs was to assert the authority of Western white men, and I don’t even know if you can approach this story without it. That’s why I’m surprised that Disney still makes versions of it. How do you avoid that problem? In a way I think there is probably a lot of racist, colonial stuff in King Kong too, but there’s something so fantastical and otherworldly about that story that you can approach it in an interesting way, or a new way. But the very basis of Tarzan is steeped in something awful.

  • Episode 135: Sabrina, Men in Underpants, and Bruce Springsteen

    Nick Drnaso’s Sabrina is the first graphic novel to be nominated for the Man Booker Prize. It’s also a beautiful and heartbreaking rendering of the contemporary American psyche and a pointed commentary on how media has allowed conspiracy and paranoia to run absolutely rampant in the absence of answers.

    Join Literary Disco‘s Julia, Rider, and Tod as they discuss this very important work, along with the graphic novel’s realistic depiction of the male human body (mostly in underwear), feeling empathy for those with views unlike ours, and a brief tangent on the recent Springsteen on Broadway Netflix special.

    From the episode:

    Julia Pistell: I was so riveted by how many of these panels [in Sabrina] were about silence, especially the boyfriend [Teddy] sitting alone in a home that isn’t his and not knowing what to do with himself and deciding to listen to this conspiracy theory radio, and how little of this novel is spoken words or thoughts of the character, but just zoomed in on them, isolated.

    Tod Goldberg: It touches on the isolation, desperation, malaise, and fear that the American experience has become. And also the interconnectivity that media has allowed conspiracy and paranoia run absolutely rampant in the absence of answers for something that are definitive, chaos and conspiracy always going to be the thing that certain parts of fringe society holds onto.

    Rider Strong: An important part of the art is that it focuses on the body. This people are real, leading boring, banal lives, being naked and being unattractively naked and being depressed and sitting on couches … To be in the presence of another human being wearing a Snuggle is something you don’t plan on, especially something you don’t plan on reading in a comic book, right? That’s the antithesis of comic books. Comic books are supposed to make the visuals exciting, with violence if anything, sex maybe, and supposed to spice up real life and make it the most interesting read you can. This book does the exact opposite. It starts with blank faces, people getting coffee, people carrying their cats from room to room, people starting out of windows, people listening to a radio show. There are like 20 pages of a radio, just a close-up of a radio and a guy naked listening to it. That’s anti-comic book writing.

    It is so profound because so much of the message of this book is these people have bodies, these people have lives, they have lovers, they have thoughts, they have friends, they have childhood friends and shitty jobs, and if you take that away from them, if you remove their personhood and physical reality, it is so easy to say they are crisis actors or they are manipulating or lying. We all as a culture, we are so easy to dismiss other human beings. I know I do it on the level of Trump voters. It’s so easy for me to think the average Trump voter as someone I don’t understand, who I have a couple images in my head and it’s out there and I don’t really think about them. And these people lead real lives and everyday experiences and their shitty jobs, and this book is such a little empathy bomb. To say whichever side in any situation, whether it’s a murder that gets politicized in this case or something you’re hearing about on the radio, there’s a human being on the other side of that experience that’s having to live that. That message, I haven’t felt that more in years than I did with this book.

  • Episode 134: The Books We Loved in 2018

    This week, Julia, Rider, and Tod discuss the best books they read in 2018, including Tara Westover’s Educated, Arthur Krystal’s This Thing We Call Literature, and Jonathan Weisman’s (((Semitism))): Being Jewish in America in the Age of Trump. 

  • Episode 133: Hark! The Herald Angels Scream

    It’s the holidays! A time to deck the halls, grab some eggnog, and curl up with the SCARIEST book you can find…

    That’s right. Christmas horror. It’s a real thing. And Blumhouse and editor Christopher Golden have put together a collection of short fiction just in time to fill you with holiday fear.

    Join us as Tod, Rider, and Julia have fun with this bonkers set of stories.

    Hark! The Herald Angels Scream

  • Episode 132: Vulture’s 100 Best Books of the 21st Century

    A couple months ago, Vulture published this crazy, crazy list.

    It’s an admittedly premature attempt to create a literary canon for the last 18 years.

    In this episode of Literary Disco, we discuss the titles we were surprised by, the ones we were disappointed didn’t make it, and — mostly — how few of these books we’ve actually read.

    Get ready to feel like you have a lot of catching up to do…


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