Book Fight

Welcome back to our season-long exploration of the 1950s in literature and pop culture! This week we're discussing a 1958 Truman Capote essay, "A House on the Heights," originally published in Holiday Magazine (and edited by John Knowles). 

Also discussed: South Jersey's version of Levittown; the staying power of Little Anthony and the Imperials; the Thalidomide scandal; and the young couple who would serve as the inspiration for Natural Born Killers.

Direct download: Ep219_WinterofWayback_1958.mp3
Category:general -- posted at: 6:00am EDT

We had some technical difficulties this week involving accidentally deleted files, so we're reposting this "classic" Book Fight episode from our 2015 Winter of Wayback season, when we visited the year 1932 and read a couple stories by Robert E. Howard, creator of both Conan the Barbarian and Sailor Steve Costigan. We also talk cartoons, Australia's infamous "emu war" and the life of Olympian/professional golfer/all-around badass Babe Didrikson. 

Enjoy! And we'll be back on Monday with another episode in this season's Winter of Wayback, 1950s edition.

Direct download: WinterEp6-1932a.mp3
Category:general -- posted at: 8:10am EDT

Tom, along with Barrelhouse Poetry Editor Dan Brady, joined the hosts of The Drunken Odyssey for a special crossover episode, recorded at this year's AWP conference in Tampa. Enjoy!

For more of The Drunken Odyssey, check out their website.

Direct download: Book_Fight_vs_TDO_Final_version.mp3
Category:general -- posted at: 8:10am EDT

In 1957, Pulitzer Prize-winning author James Gould Cozzens published the novel By Love Possessed, which took the literary world by storm. Glowing reviews poured in: from Harper's, The New York Times, The New Yorker, and Time Magazine. It was called the best book of the year, and even the best book of its generation. Then, in January 1958, critic Dwight MacDonald--apoplectic over seeing so much praise for a book he thought was terrible--wrote one of the greatest literary take-downs of all time, "By Cozzens Possessed" for Commentary Magazine.

That review is credited with ruining Cozzens's literary reputation (though a 1957 Time interview in which Cozzens comes off like a real racist, misogynistic and anti-semitic buffoon probably deserves an assist). At any rate, we decided we had to check out this book, to see what all the fuss was about. And it is ... really something. For more, you'll have to listen to the episode.

Direct download: Ep218_WinterofWayback_1957.mp3
Category:general -- posted at: 6:00am EDT

This week we're continuing our exploration of the 1950s in both literature and popular culture. And you can't talk about the 50s without talking about science fiction. We checked out three stories by Isaac Asimov--including one, "The Last Question"--that he would later describe as his favorite.

Regular listeners know that Mike tends to not like science fiction all that much, so this week provides a good test: can he be swayed by one of its best practitioners?

In the second half of the show, we move on from science fiction to tell the story of Grace Metalious, author of the best-selling--and scandalous!--novel Peyton Place, which came out in 1956, sold tons of copies, and angered nearly everyone in Metalious's small New Hampshire town. We talk about the critical response to her book, and why it might be getting a reappraisal, all these years later.

Plus, all kinds of other 1956 goodness, including: Mister Softee! Jello shots! Ant farms! And rock and roll!

Direct download: Ep217_WinterofWayback_1956.mp3
Category:general -- posted at: 6:00am EDT

We're midway through this year's Winter of Wayback: 1950s Edition. For those of you just joining us, we're walking through the decade one year at a time, reading stories and novels as we go, while also learning about other cultural goings-on from each year. This week, we're discussing Vladimir Nabokov's Lolita, which somehow Mike had never read, despite having owned the book long enough for its pages to start yellowing. Will he love it? Hate it? And what's it like, in a year when Very Bad Men are being outed left and right (deservedly), to read a book about one of literature's worst men?

Also this week, we talk Disneyland, which opened its gates in 1955, and about Walt Disney's odd mixture of nostalgic sentimentality and forward-looking belief in technology.

If you enjoy the show, please consider pitching in $5 to our Patreon, which will unlock monthly bonus episodes we're calling Book Fight: After Dark.

Direct download: Ep216_WinterofWayback_1955.mp3
Category:general -- posted at: 6:00am EDT

This week on the Winter of Wayback we're visiting 1954, which happens to be the year in which John Updike published his first story, "Friends from Philadelphia," in the New Yorker. He wrote the story just after graduating college and giving himself five years to "make it" as a writer. He really hit the ground running! 

We also celebrate the "official" (depending on who you ask) birth of rock and roll, with Bill Haley and His Comets releasing "Rock Around the Clock." Though the song was originally a B-side (to a song called "Thirteen Women," about a man stranded with a bunch of women after an H-Bomb attack). And it wasn't until the next year that "Rock Around the Clock" became a #1 hit, after being featured in the movie Blackboard Jungle.

Also this week: Davy Crockett and coonskin caps; Wildwood, NJ's claim to musical fame; and much, much more!

Direct download: Ep215_WinterofWayback_1954.mp3
Category:general -- posted at: 6:00am EDT

It's the third week in our Winter of Wayback season, and we're diving headfirst into 1953. Our reading this week is a story by Margaret St. Claire, a sci fi and fantasy writer who was quite active in the 1950s, and managed to carve out a space for herself in what was a very male-dominated world of genre fiction. 

Also this week, we talk about the critical reception for Arthur Miller's The Crucible, which debuted in 1953. Plus: the many incarnations of the band The Drifters, TV dinners, Scientology's South Jersey roots, and the high-profile divorce of Winthrop Rockefeller.

Direct download: Ep214_Wayback_1953.mp3
Category:general -- posted at: 6:00am EDT

We're traveling back to 1952, a year in which panty raids were taking America's college campuses by storm, and when Las Vegas was learning to love the bomb--and use it as a marketing tool to draw tourists to the desert. Plus we talk about a story by Hisaye Yamamoto, who published several well-received pieces in the 50s, then published only sporadically afterward, in part because of the work of raising a family. In 1988, she put out a collection, Seventeen Syllables & Other Stories, which pulls together writing she did over nearly 40 years.


Direct download: Ep213_WinterofWayback_1952.mp3
Category:general -- posted at: 6:00am EDT

It's the second week of our annual Winter of Wayback, and we're diving into 1951! We've got a story from Harris Downey, who isn't a household name these days but was quite the rising literary star in the early 50s. We also talk about several other important 1951 developments, including the New Jersey Turnpike, corrupt boxing promoters, fast food, and Billy Joel's busted TV.

Direct download: Ep_212_WinterofWayback_1951.mp3
Category:general -- posted at: 6:00am EDT