Book Fight

It's that time of year again, Book Fight family: time to throw a couple logs on the fire, pour yourself some eggnog, and listen to us make our way through another terrible Christmas-themed book. This time it's from the Thomas Kinkade collection. Did you know that the Painter of Light was also the Writer of Light? Or, more likely, that the Painter of Light had enough money lying around that he could pay some poor writer to bring his cheesy paintings to life?

The specific Kinkade book we read was the fifth novel in "his" Cape Light series, called A Christmas Promise. It basically follows the plot of the Michael J. Fox movie Doc Hollywood, but ... more Christian.

Also, we eat some weird holiday snacks that almost kill us.

Enjoy the holidays, friends!

Direct download: Ep208_2017ChristmasSpectacular.mp3
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Hey, here's another holiday-themed episode. We discuss a John Cheever story, "Christmas is a Sad Season for the Poor." You can read it online, via The New Yorker, if you're into that kind of thing. Or just listen to us yammer for an hour. That's fun, too! We talk about all kinds of stuff. After listening to this week's episode, you may not be any smarter, but you will definitely be one hour older.

Merry Christmas!

Direct download: Ep207_Cheever_Christmas.mp3
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You may be asking yourself how this week's pick is a "holiday book," exactly. Fair question! But one which Mike explains, more or less, in the episode. It's also one of our only forays, thus far, into the horror genre, and we talk a little about what makes a horror book scary, plus what separates real psychological horror, as opposed to the sort of blood and gore that can almost read like slaptstick. Stephen King has said that this book is one of the best horror books of the late 20th century, which is pretty high praise! Will it live up to the hype?

Also this week: A new installment of Fan Fiction corner, involving a heartwarming coffee commercial from your childhood that may be ruined soon. Sorry!

Direct download: Ep206_Straub_GhostStory.mp3
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This week we're talking about this essay from Aeon, about spending your Thanksgiving in a cemetery with your family members (both living and dead). We talk about our expectations for essays, and whether the amorphousness of the term itself lumps together too many disparate kinds of pieces, with different kinds of aims.

In the second half of the show, we're back on our bullshit, with a new installment of Fan Fiction Corner (featuring the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles) and one last dip into the NaNoWriMo forums, where we'll try to answer writers' most pressing narrative questions.

Thanks for listening!

If you like the show, please consider chipping in a few bucks to our Patreon. For $5 a month, you'll get access to a bonus episode, Book Fight After Dark, in which we unpack the world of romance novels.

Direct download: Ep205_KoreanThanksgiving.mp3
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We've decided to dive into some holiday-related stories, essays and books to close out the year. First up is "The Women of This World," a short story by Ann Beattie that was first published in The New Yorker in November 2000. Mike read a lot of Ann Beattie stories when he was first taking creative-writing classes in college, and was interested in revisiting some of her work to see if he'd still connect with it in the same ways.

We also dive back into the NaNoWriMo forums to see what kinds of questions this year's crop of contestants has about novel writing.

 

Direct download: Ep204_Holidays2017_Beattie.mp3
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This week we're discussing our final novel of the Fall of Frauds, a book about two "authentic" bluesmen who turn out to be not quite what they seem. The music is real enough, but they've adopted the kinds of personas they assume their (mostly white) audiences want: uneducated, boozy, physically ailing black men from the deep south who speak in homespun slang, when they deign to speak at all. Don't Start Me Talkin' is Tom Willams' second book, published in 2014 by Curbside Splendor.

Also: It's November, which means it's NaNoWriMo, which means it's time for us to dive into the NaNoWriMo forums, where participants are looking for advice on everything from what to name their characters to how to depict the Wars of the Roses, but with talking rats.

Thanks for listening!

Direct download: Ep203_Fall17_Williams.mp3
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This week's episode was recorded live at Temple University's Paley Library. We were joined by local writers Jason Rakulek and p.e. garcia for a discussion of literary community, balancing the work of writing with the need to make a living, and pieces of advice we would've given to our college-aged selves. The format for this episode is a bit different than usual, since we were trying to make the program as useful as possible for an audience of college creative-writing students. But we think there's plenty here that writers and editors of any age (and experience level) can enjoy, and learn from.

Direct download: Ep202_Live_TempleLibrary.mp3
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This week we're back with another fraud-themed story, this one from an upstart indie author named Jorge Luis Borges. Probably you haven't heard about him. He's pretty obscure. Anyway, early in his career he wrote an entire collection of stories based on real-life criminals. The story we read, "Tom Castro, the Implausible Imposter," was also published (in English) in Harper's.

This week we also talk about various Halloween-themed hoaxes, including razors in candy, and a BBC television production about a haunted house that apparently caused PTSD symptoms in a number of viewers, and was even partly responsible for a death.

Thanks for listening!

Direct download: Ep201_Fall17_Borges.mp3
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This week we're back with another fraud-themed novel, this one from best-selling Swiss author Martin Suter. His fourteenth novel, The Last Weynfeldt, is about art forgery, femme fatales, and what it's like to be wildly rich (spoiler alert: it's mostly pretty good, though sometimes it's kind of sad).

Also this week, we talk about the ins and outs of art forgery, including the case of Wolfgang Beltracchi, considered to be one of the most prolific art forgers of all time. You can read more about Beltracchi in this fascinating piece from Vanity Fair.

Direct download: Ep200_Fall17_LastWeynfeldt.mp3
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This week we continue our Fall of Frauds season by discussing one of the most famous fraud-themed novels out there, Patricia Highsmith's The Talented Mr. Ripley. If you haven't read the book, don't worry, we're not spoiling any late-in-the-book plot points. 

Also this week, we talk about how to fake your own death. Or, more accurately, how NOT to fake your own death, since the only examples one can find, of course, are of people who were eventually found out. Still: useful tips! Don't ever say we're not providing our listeners with a valuable service.

Plus: a real life Tom Ripley!

Direct download: Ep199_Fall17_Ripley.mp3
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This week we continue our Fall of Fraud theme by examining a story that is, like the Michael Martone story we discussed a couple weeks ago, something of a "fraudulent artifact." In "Help Me Follow My Sister into the Land of the Dead," Carmen Machado tells a fictional story in the form of a Kickstarter campaign, even adding stretch goals and updates and user comments. As we talk about on the episode, the resulting story is much more than just a gimmicky experiment in form; Machado actually uses the form to tell a compelling story.

Also this week, we continue our exploration of literary frauds with the story of Albania's second-most popular author, who turned out not to be Albanian at all. Plus: people who fake illnesses online, and the people who have made it their mission to out them.

Direct download: Ep198_Fall17_Machado.mp3
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To be clear, right from the start, the point of this week's episode is not to call Robert Olen Butler a fraud. In fact we both quite enjoyed his story, "Mid-Autumn," from his 1992 collection, A Good Scent from a Strange Mountain. But it occurred to us that if this book were published today, it might get a few more sideways glances, since it's a white American author telling the first-person stories of Vietnamese immigrants and refugees. So we thought it could be a good jumping-off point for a discussion of where those lines are. Should writers be able to tell whatever stories they want, as Lionel Shriver famously argued last year? At what point should we be concerned about issues of cultural appropriation?

In the second half of the show, we talk about the case of Michael Derrick Hudson, who in 2015 set off a lit-world firestorm when he admitted he'd submitted a poem to a bunch of journals using a fake Chinese name. One of those poems was eventually selected by Sherman Alexie to be part of the Best American Poetry anthology for that year, at which point Hudson came clean, and Alexie did some soul-searching.

Thanks for listening! Come on back next week!

Direct download: Ep197_Fall17_Butler.mp3
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This week we continue our Fall of Frauds season with a book that's a kind of "fraudulent artifact." Michael Martone's book Michael Martone (published by FC2) is a series of stories in the form of contributor's notes. We talk about some ways that writers can use existing forms to experiment with both fiction and nonfiction, and what makes these stories interesting, rather than gimmicky.

Direct download: Ep196_Fall17_Martone.mp3
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This week we're diving into our new fall season, in which we'll be reading stories, essays, and books with a "fraud" theme. That could mean stories in which characters are actually defrauding people, but it could also mean stories that are, themselves, frauds, as in fictional pieces masquerading as real-world documents. For this first episode, though, we've got a story that's the former, about a man who invents a charity at a party, while trying to impress a girl, and then has to see it through so he doesn't lose face.

We also talk about a famous literary fraud, in which a couple journalists, annoyed by the popularity of books they found to be vapid and sex-fueled, decided to write a lowest-common-denominator erotic novel, which turned into a best-seller.

Plus stories of romantic fraud, including men who pose as soldiers to rip off lonely women, and one about an accomplished physicist who was convinced a bikini model several decades his junior was in love with him, based entirely on internet correspondence.

A jam-packed, good-time episode!

Direct download: Ep195_Fall17_Uggs.mp3
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This is the last week for our Summer of Selfies, and we're turning our attention to a story about selfies. It's also fan fiction (depending on how one defines fan fiction), so it was probably inevitable we'd want to read it. Kevin Fanning, who was recently profiled in The Boston Globe, first made his name on Wattpad with a story called Kim Kardashian: Trapped In Her Own Game. The story we read this week, which is still being regularly updated by the author, also involves Kim Kardashian, this time as a "terrorist" celebrity who continues posting selfies even after President Krump has declared them illegal.

In the second half of this week's show, we've got some literary raccoon news, plus another installment of Millennial M0m3nt. What is America's most maligned generation killing off this week?

Direct download: Ep194_NoMoreSelfies.mp3
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This week we continue our "summer of selfies" with a book we knew we'd have to read as soon as we conceived of the season's concept. Nearly everyone in the literary world seems to have an opinion about Knausgaard's six-book autobiographical series, whether they've read any of the books or not. While lots of critics (and other authors) have praised him as a genius, all that praise has led to an inevitable backlash, with plenty of people saying the books are over-long and tedious. So where will your Book Fight co-hosts come down?

We'll also consider some of the gendered arguments made about the book: Does Knausgaard "write like a woman"? And would these books have been so highly praised if they'd been written BY a woman?

Finally, we've got another installment of Millennial M0m3nt, this week about a fast-casual eatery that doesn't care if its Millennial customers ever come back.

Thanks for listening! 

Direct download: Ep193_Summer17_Knausgaard.mp3
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This week we're continuing our discussion of literary "selfies" with this novel by Gaute Heivoll, which is about a string of arsons in 1970s Norway, though it's also about the writer who is haunted by those fires, even years later, enough to write a book about them. Though it's categorized as a novel, it seems clear the book's main character is closely aligned with Heivoll himself.

In the second half of the show, we talk about the phenomenon of the Mary Sue in fan fiction, and in the larger world of pop culture. Is it a useful term to describe stories in which writers create characters who are too-perfect versions of themselves? Or is it merely cover for men to offer misogynistic critiques of female characters?

Plus, you know, a bunch of dumb nonsense for which we are both sorry and not at all sorry.

Thanks for listening!

Direct download: Ep192_Summer17_Heivoll.mp3
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This week we continue our discussion of literary "selfies" with a piece by Jennifer Lunden that appeared recently in Diagram, called "Evidence, in Track Changes". The piece includes an essay written by Lunden, plus margin notes added by her mother and Lunden herself.

We talk about what makes an experiment like this feel organic, rather than gimmicky, and what sorts of writing lessons that line might offer. Also, plenty of our usual foolishness, including some discussion of trends that (like selfies) might stick around and become more or less accepted, another installment of Millennial M0m3nt, and for some reason a digression into the relative merits of Three Musketeers and its #ThrowShine hashtag. What do you expect from us, high-minded literary talk?

Direct download: Ep191_Summer17_Lunden.mp3
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This week we're discussing a recently published story from The New Yorker by Curtis Sittenfeld, author of a number of books, including Prep and An American Wife. In "Show Don't Tell," Sittenfeld turns her attentions to a fictionalized version of the Iowa Writers Workshop, and the anxious first-year students who are awaiting decisions on their funding for the next year. 

Since both of your Book Fight hosts are Workshop grads, we take a little stroll down memory lane and compare our own experiences with those of the story's characters. Though we also attempt to consider the story on its own merits, and we wonder whether it's one that people outside the writing world would find compelling. 

Also: another installment of Millennial M0m3nt. What American industry are the young people killing this week?

Direct download: Ep190_Summer17_Sittenfeld.mp3
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This week we're continuing our Summer of Selfies theme by discussing confessional essays, including one by Tom Chiarella, a long-time writer and editor for Esquire. In an essay called "My Education," he detailed the sexual abuse he experienced at the hand of a Catholic-school teacher, while also wrestling with his own ambivalence about the benefits of writing such an essay. Americans, Chiarella says, feel the need to talk about their traumas, but is that always necessary, or even desirable?

Direct download: Ep189_Summer17_Chiarella.mp3
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This week, as part of our "Summer of Selfies," we discuss the latest book from Pam Houston, a work of fiction that borrows heavily from the author's life and even names its protagonist Pam. We talk about the line between fiction and memoir, and some of the more interesting ways to blur that line. We also discuss some of the difficulties of autobiographical writing, like how to know when your own experiences will be interesting to others. In the second half of the show, we talk about James Frey, who was Houston's student, and how much literary license we're willing to give memoir writers.

Direct download: Ep188_Houston_ContentsShifted.mp3
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This week we're discussing Hunter S. Thompson's famous essay on the Kentucky Derby, which many people credit as the starting point for his gonzo style of journalism. Neither of us had read the piece before, and we realized that a lot of our impressions of Thompson were based on his legend, more so than on the work itself. Also this week: raccoon selfies, tourists who pay to take pictures with docile (and likely mistreated) tigers and elephants, and why there are so many car selfies on dating sites. 

Direct download: Ep187_Summer17_Thompson.mp3
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We're kicking off a new season for Book Fight, with a slight change in programming. This week marks the first episode of the Summer of Selfies, in which we'll be discussing some of the best--and worst--autobiographical writing.

Up first: an essay for The New Yorker by Jia Tolentino, in which she argues that the heyday of a particular kind of personal essay is over.

Direct download: Ep186_Summer17_Tolentino.mp3
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This is a free preview of our first Book Fight After Dark episode. The full version is available to monthly subscribers, via our Patreon page. For $5 a month, you'll get monthly bonus episodes like this one, plus the satisfaction of supporting a podcast you love (or at least like?). 

If you've already subscribed, there's no need to listen to this brief preview--just go enjoy the full episode over on Patreon. And we'll be back on Monday with another regular (free) episode.

Thanks for listening! And for supporting the show.

Direct download: BFAfterDark1_Teaser.mp3
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This week we seek to settle an age-old debate: do you read the foreward first, or wait until you've read the book? Also: Nazis, animal cruelty, impotence, and classic Czech literature.

Thanks for listening! 

Direct download: Ep185_Hrabal_Trains.mp3
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We talk about the latest graphic novel by Daniel Clowes. Also we talk about Garfield fan fiction. You're welcome.

 

Direct download: Ep184_ClowesPatience.mp3
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It's the last week of our spring season, in which we've been discussing stories about different kinds of flings. For this final installment, we're discussing the Lydia Davis story "Break It Down," about a man who's attempting to calculate the literal cost of a short-lived affair. Though his accounting is really just a different way to explore the ways a relationship can leave lasting marks.

Also this week: Writers who had successful romantic relationships. The benefits and drawbacks to dating a writer. And what literary quotes are most likely to get someone into bed? 

Thanks for listening!

Direct download: Ep183_Spring17_Davis.mp3
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This week we welcome back fan favorites Kelly Phillips and Claire Folkman, the duo behind Dirty Diamonds, an all-girl comic anthology. They're currently working on their 8th book, Sex. They picked our book this week, a comic by Carolyn Nowak (Girl Town, Radishes) about a woman who orders a robot companion and then tells him her secrets. 

We talk about Diana's Electric Tongue, comic inspiration, running a small-press publishing company, working with your friends, Weird Al, the line between sex-themed writing and smut, and why Tom has never taken Mike for a panzarotti. 

For more, check us out online, find us on Twitter or Facebook, and subscribe to the show in iTunes.

Thanks for listening!

Direct download: Ep182_DirtyDiamondsReprise.mp3
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This week we're talking about a new essay by Samuel Delany, self-described sex radical. "Ash Wednesday," from the Boston Review, is about a weekend trip the author takes to participate in a seniors' group-sex weekend.

Also this week: The sex lives of authors, and should the reading habits of your potential romantic partners matter?

Direct download: Ep181_Spring17_Delaney.mp3
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This week's book is a brand new novel by Marcy Dermansky, about a woman who heads to San Francisco for the funeral of her former boss and, once there, begins to realize she might want to change her life.

We talk about the book's deadpan humor, its unique voice, and whether we're cool or not cool with ghost cars in literature. In the second half of the show, Mike is bummed out by Twitter, and also by dummies. 

Thanks for listening!

Direct download: Ep180_TheRedCar.mp3
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This week we continue our "spring fling" theme by discussing one of the most famous stories about affairs: Chekhov's "The Lady with the Dog." We also talk about Robert Lowell's romantic life, and the time he took his ex's letters and straight-up appropriated them for his poems. In the second half of the show, we do a deep dive into Yahoo Answers to see what kinds of affair-related questions people have (spoiler alert: people are the worst).

Direct download: Ep179_Spring17_Chekhov.mp3
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We welcome special guest Ande Carrington (author of Speculative Blackness: The Future of Race in Science Fiction) to discuss a novel by Kiese Laymon, Long Division. We also talk to Andre about his work, race in science fiction, academic vs. non-academic writing, and lots more. 

Direct download: Ep178_LongDivision.mp3
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This week we're talking about a short story that traces the end of a long-running affair. Plus literary gossip, dating advice, and more!

 

Direct download: Ep_177_Spring17_Trevor.mp3
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We welcome special guest Dave Housley (Barrelhouse founding editor and author of several books, most recently Massive Cleansing Fire, a story collection). Dave chose this week's book, the bestselling Station Eleven, a book that posits a life after a flu pandemic has killed more than 99% of the human population. Dave also brought with him some interesting fan fiction that he reads in the episode's second half.

For more, you can visit us online at bookfightpod.com.

If you'd like to support the show, we've recently joined Patreon, where for $5 a month you can get access to a monthly bonus episode we're calling Book Fight After Dark. So check that out, too!

Direct download: Ep176_StationEleven.mp3
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Look, these episodes can't all be winners. Sometimes we're tired, and easily distracted, and for some reason we talk about onions a lot? But this week's book--a collection of graphic short stories by Adrian Tomine--is definitely worth checking out.

Direct download: Ep175-Tomine.mp3
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This week we're discussing an A.M. Homes story about an adolescent boy who starts "dating" his sister's Barbie. Also, we revisit the time Robert Olen Butler went viral for the wrong reasons (losing his wife to Ted Turner), we remember HBO's Real Sex, and Mike gives some dating advice, this time on "ghosting."

For more, visit us online at bookfightpod.com

Direct download: Ep174_Spring17_Barbie.mp3
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This week kicks off another special seasonal series: Spring Fling! We'll be reading stories about romance, sex, and affairs of the heart. This week we discuss Mary Gaitskill's story, "The Secretary," which some people may know as the source material for Secretary, the 2002 Maggie Gyllenhaal / James Spader film. But while some of the fundamental DNA is the same, the story and the resulting film are actually quite different.

We've also got stories this week of H.G. Wells's sexual proclivities, as well as an exploration of the science behind springtime lust. Plus a new feature in which we give you dating advice.

Thanks for listening! 

Direct download: Ep173_Spring17_Gaitskill.mp3
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This week we're talking about the new George Saunders book, Lincoln in the Bardo, about a bunch of spooky ghosts who hang out in a graveyard with Abraham Lincoln's son. Also: Cheers fan fiction. Get excited, listeners!

Direct download: Ep172_LincolnBardo.mp3
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Hey, listeners! Due to a death in Tom's family, there's no new episode this week. But we're reposting this one from the archives (first released in April 2013) in which Tom's old college roommate joined us for a discussion of Ernest Cline's Ready Player One. We hope you enjoy it! And we'll be back with a new joint next Monday.

As always, thanks for listening!

Direct download: BFClassic_ReadyPlayerOne.mp3
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We welcome special guest Lauren Grodstein (author of, most recently, the novel Our Short History) to discuss a 1959 novel that's become something of a cult classic, one which never earned its author widespread acclaim but which is consistently mentioned as a favorite by other writers.

We also talk about Lauren's new book, her love of plot, and how she manages to get so much writing done while being a working mother.

For more, visit us online at bookfightpod.com

Thanks for listening!

Direct download: Ep171_EvanConnell_MrsBridge.mp3
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We travel back to 1866 to read "The Case of George Dedlow," a story about Civil War amputees (and a seance!) written by Silas Weir Mitchell, the physician who would later become famous for "the rest cure." 

Also this week: debates over reconstruction; the sex lives of mermaids; racist medical practices; conspiracies about Lincoln's assassination; and a man who was sued for $100k by the woman he failed to marry.

For more, including links to further reading, visit us at bookfightpod.com

Direct download: Ep170_Winter17_1866.mp3
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We talk to Lyz Lenz (writer and managing editor of The Rumpus) from inside a wind tunnel at AWP 2017 in Washington, D.C. Topics include: New York pizza vs. Chicago pizza, misandry, Little House on the Prairie, religious faith, and how to not be a creep at a literary conference. 

Direct download: Bonus_AWP17.mp3
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This week: a good book for a change! Plus a new segment about impenetrable academic writing, and a brief installment of Fan Fiction Corner. What more could you want?

 

Direct download: Ep169_WideSargassoSea.mp3
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This week we've set the time machine for 1961, and we're reading a story by the author and activist Tillie Olsen. We talk about Olsen's career arc and continued reputation, as well as lots of other 1961 news: racist conspiracies, gigolos, and the J.D. Salinger backlash. Plus: what were poets up to in 1961?

For more, visit us online at bookfightpod.com

Direct download: Ep168_Winter17_1961.mp3
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Spoiler alert: this book kinda blows.

Direct download: Ep167_Kubica.mp3
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We're traveling back in time to 1877 to read a popular, serialized dime-store novel about lots of people shooting guns in the Old West. We talk about the popularity of dime-store novels, and how they correlated to rising literacy rates in the late 19th century. Plus: a story about coal miners being crushed under the boot of Gilded Age capitalism. And all our usual jibber jabber. 

For more, visit us online at bookfightpod.com

Direct download: Ep166_Winter17_1877.mp3
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This novel combines elements of familiar fairy tales and mythic narratives to create a world that feels pretty original. It's a dark world, and a pretty sad one, yet the book also has a sense of humor, and a strong sense of play. 

We also talk about raccoons, since that's a thing we do, and we mark the return of a long lost segment that has to do with Tom's pants.

Direct download: Ep165_BookOfLostThings.mp3
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L.H. Sintetos had a story featured in the 1978 Best American Short Stories anthology and then seemed to disappear from the literary world. Which is especially surprising, given how good the story is. We talk about why we like "Telling the Bees," and we try to figure out what happened to its author. Plus, plenty of other 1978-themed stuff: political turmoil in Philadelphia, serial killers, a Pope conspiracy, an owl man, and GREASE! 

For more, visit us online at bookfightpod.com. 

Direct download: Ep164_Winter17_1978.mp3
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Our book this week is about a young woman whose life was ripped apart by the Yugoslav Civil War, which took her parents and turned her, briefly, into a child soldier, before she made it to Philadelphia, where she tried her best to put her past in the past and move on with her life as an American. 

In the second half of the show, it's the triumphant return of Fan Fiction Corner. Ever wonder what kind of fan fiction people are writing about HGTV shows? No? Well, you're going to find out anyway!

Direct download: Ep163_GirlAtWar.mp3
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This week we're traveling back to 1988 to read a story by Mary LaChapelle, who that year won a Whiting Award and had her debut story collection praised in a number of publications, including The New York Times. Since then, LaChapelle has published nothing that we could find. We talk about her story "Anna in a Small Town," about a mime and a giant, and cover some other crucial 1988 news, including a Philadelphia garbage barge that went on a world tour, and why ALF was a lot more fun to watch than to work on.

For more, visit us online at bookfightpod.com

Direct download: Ep162_Winter17_1988.mp3
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We've talked about Jennifer Weiner on the show before, usually when she's written (or tweeted) something that's caused a stir in the literary world, or when she and Jonathan Franzen have gotten into one of their famously catty spats. We also read one of her stories back in the Spring of Success. But this is the first time we've dived into one of her novels. She's argued that her work is unfairly pigeonholed, and so we were curious to check it out for ourselves.

For more, visit us online at bookfightpod.com

Direct download: Ep161_Weiner_GoodInBed.mp3
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Our first Winter of Wayback episode for 2017! We're time-traveling back to 1966, a year when the Beatles were bigger than Jesus, the Church of Satan was founded, and Philip K. Dick published the short story that would later be the basis for the movie Total Recall. 

Direct download: Ep160_Winter2017_1966.mp3
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