Book Fight

We made it, everyone! To the end of another year (of Book Fight, that is). As per usual, we're closing out the year by reading a ridiculous Christmas-themed book. Actually, this year's selection is really four books in one, a collection of novellas that all involve magical cats, in one way or another.

The book is called The Magical Christmas Cat, and it is ... pretty different from what that cover might suggest. For one thing, there are more instances of hardcore shapeshifter sex than either of would have expected? But hey, you pick a book and then you roll with the punches, right?

We'll be taking a little break for the holidays, and will be back after the New Year. But if you're craving more Book Fight content, you can subscribe to our Patreon, where for our December bonus episode we'll be talking about a Santa-themed Harlequin romance novel from the 90s. Subscribing at $5 a month will also get you access to our entire backlog of Patreon episodes.

Direct download: Ep258_Christmas2018.mp3
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This week, having wrapped up our Fall of Finales but not quite ready for our annual Holiday Spectacular, we decided that we'd each pick a short piece we read recently and loved. Which led us to two essays: Andrea Kleine's "Once Upon a Time in New York: A Sublet of One's Own," from Lit Hub, and Jamila Osman's "A Map of Lost Things: On Family, Grief, and the Meaning of Home," from Catapult.

We talked about what makes great literary essays stand out from the pack, teaching college students how to write interesting nonfiction, and how to take familiar subjects and make them your own. In the second half of the show, we talk about recent reports that show fiction sales in decline, and which seem to blame the low numbers on our current presidential administration.

If you like the show, please consider subscribing to our Patreon, which helps offset our costs and allows us to keep doing the podcast each week. In exchange for $5, you'll also get access to a monthly bonus episode, Book Fight After Dark, in which we explore some of the weirder reaches of the literary universe: Amish mysteries, caveman romances, end-times thrillers and more!

Direct download: Ep257_Themeless_RecentEssays.mp3
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This week we're diving into the work of the late A.A. Gill, a famous British journalist and essayist who died of cancer at the tail end of 2016. His final book, Lines in the Sand, collects a bunch of his journalism, including the pieces he wrote about European refugee camps. Gill started his writing career after sobering up in his early 30s, and was once Great Britain's highest-paid columnist. He regularly reviewed restaurants, wrote about TV, and delved into various kinds of cultural criticism.

Neither of us knew much about Gill, or his work, before doing some research for this week's episode. So we tried to look at pieces of his covering a wide spectrum of topics.

If you like the show, please consider subscribing to our Patreon, which helps offset our costs and allows us to keep doing the podcast each week. In exchange for $5, you'll also get access to a monthly bonus episode, Book Fight After Dark, in which we explore some of the weirder reaches of the literary universe: Amish mysteries, caveman romances, end-times thrillers and more!

Direct download: Ep256_Finales_AAGill.mp3
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This week we're talking about Denis Johnson's final book, the short story collection The Largesse of the Sea Maiden. Prior to reading this one, we'd both been fans of Johnson's work, and had even met him once, in grad school. We talk about how his final stories compare to the ones that sparked his career as a fiction writer, in particular how the narrators in these pieces feel almost like more mature, more contemplative versions of the main character in Jesus' Son.

In the second half of the show, we wrestle with some bad reviews of Johnson's work, and then we take one more dive into the NaNoWriMo forums to help people with their pressing fiction questions.

If you like the show, please consider subscribing to our Patreon, which helps offset our costs and allows us to keep doing the podcast each week. In exchange for $5, you'll also get access to a monthly bonus episode, Book Fight After Dark, in which we explore some of the weirder reaches of the literary universe. In our most recent episode, we discussed A Shore Thing, a novel by Jersey Shore star Nicole "Snookie" Polizzi. 

Direct download: Ep255_Finales_DennisJohnson.mp3
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Neither of us had ever read the work of Helen Dunmore, but the more we looked into her career, the more we felt like we should have. For this week's episode we discussed the story "Girl, Balancing," which was the title story of her final story collection, published posthumously. The story starts slow, but takes a sudden turn into menacing territory.

In the second half of the show, we talk about the ultimate finale—death. And, in particular, funeral practices in America and elsewhere. Plus: we continue our month-long deep dive into the NaNoWriMo forums.

If you like the show, please consider subscribing to our Patreon, which helps offset our costs and allows us to keep doing the podcast each week. In exchange for $5, you'll also get access to a monthly bonus episode, Book Fight After Dark, in which we explore some of the weirder reaches of the literary universe: Amish mysteries, caveman romances, end-times thrillers and more!

Direct download: Ep254_Finales_Dunmore.mp3
Category:general -- posted at: 6:00am EST

William Trevor died in 2016, at the age of 98. Two years later, his final book of short stories appeared--titled, appropriately enough, Last-Stories. For this week's episode, we read one of those stories, "Mrs. Crasthorpe," which Julian Barnes, in a review for The Guardian, singled out as one of the book's best.

We talk about the story, and about Trevor's stories more generally. He was always a writer who sought the complex story, rather than the simple or flashy one, and his characters always feel richly drawn.

In the second half of the show, we talk about another kind of finales: breakups (and how to do them properly). Also, we've got more questions from the NaNoWriMo forums, now that participants are nearing the midpoint of the month-long project.

If you like the show, please consider donating to our Patreon, which helps offset our costs and allows us to keep doing the podcast each week. In exchange for $5, you'll also get access to a monthly bonus episode, Book Fight After Dark, in which we explore some of the weirder reaches of the literary universe: Amish mysteries, caveman romances, end-times thrillers and more!

Direct download: Ep253_Finales_Trevor.mp3
Category:general -- posted at: 6:00am EST

This week we're back into our Fall of Finales season, in which we consider the final published work of notable authors. Philip Roth published the novel Nemesis 2010, about two years before he announced that it would be his last published book. In interviews at the time, he said he'd turned his attentions to helping his biographer understand his various papers, and that he was also re-reading his own books, in reverse order, to take stock of his own career.

Nemesis doesn't necessarily feel like a swan song of a novel. Though it returns to themes (and places) Roth wrote about throughout his career. We talk about our impressions of the novel, but also about Roth more generally, including some of his naysayers, who often cite his treatment of women--both in his fictional universes and in real life--as one of the primary reasons to dump his work.

In the second half of the show, we also begin our annual dive into the forums of National Novel Writing Month, or NaNoWriMo, to see what kinds of questions this year's batch of scribes has as they begin their arduous month of writing.

If you like the show, please consider subscribing to our Patreon, which helps offset our costs and allows us to keep doing the podcast each week. In exchange for $5, you'll also get access to a monthly bonus episode, Book Fight After Dark, in which we explore some of the weirder reaches of the literary universe: Amish mysteries, caveman romances, end-times thrillers and more!

Direct download: Ep252_Roth_Finales.mp3
Category:general -- posted at: 6:00am EST

We're taking a little break from our Fall of Finales season this week to chat with special guest Evan Madden, drummer with many hardcore and metal bands over the years, most recently Drones for Queens. It's always fun when we can get a non-writer onto the show to talk about their relationship to books and reading. Evan's book pick for the episode was Henry Miller's The Air-Conditioned Nightmare, about a road trip the author took across America in 1940, after living for years in France (though the book wasn't published until 1945, by New Directions, after it was rejected by Doubleday). Evan chose the book because he'd read, and liked, some of Miller's novels. But he didn't quite know what he was getting himself into with this one.

In the second half of the show, we talk to Evan about touring with rock bands, the ins and outs of life in a van, and why he hates Tom Clancy.

If you like the show, please consider subscribing to our Patreon, which helps offset our costs and allows us to keep doing the podcast each week. In exchange for $5, you'll also get access to a monthly bonus episode, Book Fight After Dark, in which we explore some of the weirder reaches of the literary universe: Amish mysteries, caveman romances, end-times thrillers and more!

Direct download: Ep251_HenryMiller_-_10_28_18_1.56_PM.mp3
Category:general -- posted at: 6:00am EST

This week we continue our Fall of Finales season, in which we read and discuss the last published work of various authors. The Strand Magazine recently published a previously unpublished Ernest Hemingway story, written in the last decade of his life. It's called "A Room on the Garden Side," and is a semi-autobiographical piece about his time as an irregular soldier in WWII in Paris.

In the second half of the show, we talk about last meals. Where did the tradition of giving death-row prisoners a final "special" meal come from? And how does it actually work in practice?

If you like the show, please consider subscribing to our Patreon, which helps offset our costs and allows us to keep doing the podcast each week. In exchange for $5, you'll also get access to a monthly bonus episode, Book Fight After Dark, in which we explore some of the weirder reaches of the literary universe: Amish mysteries, caveman romances, end-times thrillers and more!

Direct download: Ep250_Finales_Hemingway.mp3
Category:general -- posted at: 6:00am EST

This week we welcome Emma Eiesenberg to the show. Emma is a writer of fiction and nonfiction, as well as the co-founder of Blue Stoop Philly, an organization which is pulling together all kinds of literary events and classes across Philadelphia. As is always the case when we have a guest, we let Emma pick our book this week. Her choice was A Grace Paley Reader, which came out in 2017 and collects much of the author's fiction, essays, and poetry in one place.

In the first half of the episode, we talk to Emma about her relationship to Paley's work, and the many things she admires about the author's style and her life. In the second half of the show, we talk about Blue Stoop, literary community, political advocacy, and lots, lots more.

If you like the show, please consider subscribing to our Patreon, which helps offset our costs and allows us to keep doing the podcast each week. In exchange for $5, you'll also get access to a monthly bonus episode, Book Fight After Dark, in which we explore some of the weirder reaches of the literary universe: Amish mysteries, caveman romances, end-times thrillers and more!

Direct download: Ep249_GracePaley_Eisenberg.mp3
Category:general -- posted at: 6:00am EST

This week we're reading the last published story by Flannery O'Connor, "Parker's Back," which she apparently wrote while in the hospital. We talk about the story itself, O'Connor's humor--which she maintained even in her final weeks--and her lifelong wrestling match with Catholicism.

In the second half of the show, we bring back an old segment, in which we look at some academic writing about the story we read, and try to see if we can make heads or tails of it.

If you like the show, please consider subscribing to our Patreon, which helps offset our costs and allows us to keep doing the podcast each week. In exchange for $5, you'll also get access to a monthly bonus episode, Book Fight After Dark, in which we explore some of the weirder reaches of the literary universe: Amish mysteries, caveman romances, end-times thrillers and more!

Direct download: Ep248_Finales_OConnor.mp3
Category:general -- posted at: 6:00am EST

This fall we're reading authors' final works, and talking about whether it's better to burn out, or to fade away. Barry Hannah is often described as a "writer's writer," and while he never had any huge commercial success, he continues to have a fiercely devoted following. A following which might be kind of annoyed when they hear our reaction to this story.

Direct download: Ep247_Finales_Hannah.mp3
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This week marks the beginning of our fall season, during which we'll be talking about finales. That will include the last published works of some famous authors, and possibly some more obscure ones as well. In this first installment, we're discussing a few pieces by Oliver Sacks, who spent years writing about interesting medical diagnoses and, in the end, wrote about his own.

In the second half of the show, we talk about some famous TV finales, including a few we think ended things on the right note and a few that made a real mess of things.

If you like the podcast, please consider subscribing to our Patreon, which helps offset our costs and allows us to keep doing the show each week. In exchange for $5, you'll also get access to a monthly bonus episode, Book Fight After Dark, in which we explore some of the weirder reaches of the literary universe: Amish mysteries, caveman romances, end-times thrillers and more!

Direct download: Ep246_Finales_Sacks.mp3
Category:general -- posted at: 6:00am EST

This week we welcome special guest Dave Thomas (no, not that Dave Thomas), a writer of literary fiction--and founding editor of Lockjaw Magazine--who, with his wife, has recently taken a turn toward writing romance novels. Dave felt that the romance novels we'd read in the past were all pretty terrible, and wanted us to read a good one. So his book pick was by Julia Quinn, whose Regency-era novels are praised for their humor and for featuring strong, complex female characters. 

We talk with Dave about what separates a good romance novel from a bad one, and why he and his wife decided to write their own. You can find their books under the author name Josephine Banks.

If you like the show, please consider subscribing to our Patreon, which helps offset our costs and allows us to keep doing the podcast each week. In exchange for $5, you'll also get access to a monthly bonus episode, Book Fight After Dark, in which we explore some of the weirder reaches of the literary universe: Amish mysteries, caveman romances, end-times thrillers and more!

Direct download: Ep245_Dave_Thomas.mp3
Category:general -- posted at: 6:00am EST

This is it, folks: the last episode in our Summer of Spouses season. We're talking about the writer Helen Knode, who was married for a time to James Ellroy, and who seemed unable to escape his shadow, at least as a novelist (nearly every review of her first book mentioned Ellroy within the first few sentences). We also talk about Ellroy's relationship to women, which he detailed in a memoir a few years' back. And, since this is the last week of the season, we decide whether marriage is good or bad. If you're thinking of getting married, you'll want to hear this!

In the second half of the show, we dig into some more Yahoo Answers! questions about marriage, including: a wife who doesn't like the gift her husband gave her, a husband who doesn't like to go "downtown," and a couple who are at odds over whether to have a threesome.

If you like the show, please consider subscribing to our Patreon, which helps offset our costs and allows us to keep doing the podcast each week. In exchange for $5, you'll also get access to a monthly bonus episode, Book Fight After Dark, in which we explore some of the weirder reaches of the literary universe: Amish mysteries, caveman romances, end-times thrillers and more!

Direct download: Ep244_Spouses_Knode.mp3
Category:general -- posted at: 6:00am EST

We're back with another installment in our Summer of Spouses series. This week we've read a short story by Holiday Reinhorn, "Last Seen," from her 2005 collection, Big Cats. The book was well-reviewed, and Reinhorn has done plenty of other interesting work, but nearly every article about her mentions her famous husband, Rainn Wilson, who you might know as Dwight from The Office. By all accounts the two have a happy and successful partnership; they even started a nonprofit, Lide, which works with at-risk adolescent girls in Haiti. They also own a tiny horse, and a zonkey.

If you like the show, please consider subscribing to our Patreon, which helps offset our costs and allows us to keep doing the podcast each week. In exchange for $5, you'll also get access to a monthly bonus episode, Book Fight After Dark, in which we explore some of the weirder reaches of the literary universe: Amish mysteries, caveman romances, end-times thrillers and more!

Direct download: Ep243_SummerSpouses_HolidayReinhorn.mp3
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We've got another installment this week in our Summer of Spouses, in which we've been reading work by the less-famous partners of well-known authors. Interestingly, early on Margaret Millar's marriage to Ross Macdonald, whose real name was Kenneth Millar, she was the more famous of the two. Though eventually his reputation would take off, particularly after he created the character of Lew Archer. But she remained a well-respected crime writer in her own right, and is often credited with lending psychological depth to the types of characters who, in lesser writers' hands, tended to be rather flat and stereotypical.

In the first half of the show, we talk about Millar's prize-winning 1955 novel, Beast in View. Both of us found things to like in the book, but also some things we grew frustrated with. In the second half of the show, we talk about Millar's relationship with Macdonald, plus we dig into some more Yahoo Answers! questions about marriage, divorce, and flatulence.

If you like the show, please consider subscribing to our Patreon, which helps offset our costs and allows us to keep doing the podcast each week. In exchange for $5, you'll also get access to a monthly bonus episode, Book Fight After Dark, in which we explore some of the weirder reaches of the literary universe: Amish mysteries, caveman romances, end-times thrillers and more!

Direct download: Ep242_SummerSpouses_Millar.mp3
Category:general -- posted at: 6:00am EST

This week we're returning to our Summer of Spouses season to discuss John Bayley's Elegy for Iris, a memoir about his marriage to Iris Murdoch, written while she was suffering from Alzheimer's. Both of us had heard good things about the book, and were eager to check it out. We'd also read a number of articles about Bayley's and Murdoch's sex life--which seems to come up nearly any time someone discusses their marriage--and so were curious about how the book might treat that subject.

In the second half of the show, we talk about the way spouses can support (or not support) their writer spouses, and how having a supportive spouse can make a huge--and often unacknowledged--difference in a writer's life. We also go to Yahoo Answers to see what kinds of problems people need help with in their marriages. This week, those problems include a husband who eats too much quiche, and one who's a little too into the single mom next door.

If you like the show, please consider subscribing to our Patreon, which helps offset our costs and allows us to keep doing the podcast each week. In exchange for $5, you'll also get access to a monthly bonus episode, Book Fight After Dark, in which we explore some of the weirder reaches of the literary universe: Amish mysteries, caveman romances, end-times thrillers and more!

Direct download: Ep241_ElegyForIris.mp3
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This week we welcome another special guest to the podcast: writer, guitarist, high-school music teacher, and debut novelist Daniel DiFranco, whose book, Panic Years, comes out this Wednesday. As is the Book Fight custom, we let Dan pick the book we read for this week's episode, which was Michael Poore's Reincarnation Blues. The novel had a bit of a Tom Robbins vibe, which, given how things went when your hosts read an actual Tom Robbins novel, had us all a little nervous.

In the second half of the show, we talk to Dan about teaching music to high school students, aging out of rock and roll, dads in cover bands, and why he used to think it would be cool to get struck by lightning.

If you like the podcast, please consider subscribing to our Patreon, which helps offset our costs and allows us to keep doing the show each week. In exchange for $5, you'll also get access to a monthly bonus episode, Book Fight After Dark, in which we explore some of the weirder reaches of the literary universe: Amish mysteries, caveman romances, end-times thrillers and more!

Direct download: Ep240_DanielDiFranco.mp3
Category:general -- posted at: 6:00am EST

This week we're taking a quick break from our Summer of Spouses discussions to welcome two guests to the podcast: Stephanie Feldman and Nathaniel Popkin, co-editors of the recently published anthology Who Will Speak for America?, which brings together work from a bunch of contemporary writers responding in various ways to our current political moment. They also chose a book for us to read, Gotz and Meyer, by Serbian novelist David Albahari.

In the first half of the show, we talk about Albahari's book, which takes an interesting, experimental path through its narrative of the Holocaust. In the second half of the show we talk about the anthology, Popkin's and Feldman's own writing. Plus our standard lightning-round questions.

If you like the show, please consider subscribing to our Patreon, which helps offset our costs and allows us to keep doing the podcast each week. In exchange for $5, you'll also get access to a monthly bonus episode, Book Fight After Dark, in which we explore some of the weirder reaches of the literary universe: Amish mysteries, caveman romances, end-times thrillers and more!

Direct download: Ep239_PopkinAndFeldman.mp3
Category:general -- posted at: 6:00am EST

We're still in our Summer of Spouses season, in which we're exploring the lesser-known spouses of famous writers. This week's marriage is a particularly interesting one, and a particularly sad one. Margerie Bonner married Malcolm Lowry when both were in their thirties--she'd been an actress and a personal assistant, while he'd been working on the novel that would eventually be regarded as one of the twentieth century's best. Without her help, it seems unlikely he ever would have finished it. After Under the Volcano was published, Lowry became an even more spectacular drunk than he was while writing the book, and his life sort of spiraled out of control. Then, it's possible his wife killed him.

In addition to our discussion of the Lowrys and their marriage, we also eat some snacks (and drink some coffee) sent to us by a listener. We also dive into the internet's top forum for good advice on marriage and divorce, Yahoo Answers!

If you like the show, please consider subscribing to our Patreon, which helps offset our costs and allows us to keep doing the podcast each week. In exchange for $5, you'll also get access to a monthly bonus episode, Book Fight After Dark, in which we explore some of the weirder reaches of the literary universe: Amish mysteries, caveman romances, end-times thrillers and more!

Direct download: Ep238_Spouses_Lowry.mp3
Category:general -- posted at: 6:00am EST

Welcome to another week in our Summer of Spouses season, in which we read and discuss the work of writers who are married to (or otherwise partnered with) more famous authors. For this week's show we read a couple pieces by the writer Siri Hustvedt, an accomplished essayist and also the wife of writer Paul Auster. We discuss her mix of research with personal essay, which sometimes toes the line of academic writing.

In the second half of the show, we taste test some frozen abomination that is somehow allowed to trade on the Icee name.

If you like the show, please consider subscribing to our Patreon, which helps offset our costs and allows us to keep doing the podcast each week. In exchange for $5, you'll also get access to a monthly bonus episode, Book Fight After Dark, in which we explore some of the weirder reaches of the literary universe: Amish mysteries, caveman romances, end-times thrillers and more!

Direct download: Ep237_Spouses_Huvstedt.mp3
Category:general -- posted at: 6:00am EST

Welcome to another week in our Summer of Spouses season, in which we read and discuss the work of writers who are married to (or otherwise partnered with) more famous authors. We're interested in how those relationships work, how they collaborate with each other, or don't, and whether it ever becomes frustrating to feel as if you're working in someone else's shadow. This week the couple is a happy one, at least by most accounts: Joan Didion and her husband John Gregory Dunne. For our reading, we checked out one of Dunne's essays about Hollywood, in which he discussed the work he and Didion did as screenwriters and recalled some of their more comical and frustrating moments inside that world.

In the second half of the show we visit that bastion of internet wisdom, Yahoo Answers, in search of helpful marriage and relationship advice.

If you like the show, please consider subscribing to our Patreon, which helps offset our costs and allows us to keep doing the podcast each week. In exchange for $5, you'll also get access to a monthly bonus episode, Book Fight After Dark, in which we explore some of the weirder reaches of the literary universe: Amish mysteries, caveman romances, end-times thrillers and more!

Direct download: Ep236_Dunne.mp3
Category:general -- posted at: 6:00am EST

We're continuing our Summer of Spouses, in which we read work by the less-famous halves of literary couples. This week it's a couple stories by Michael Dorris, who was married to the writer Louise Erdrich. He had some pretty big successes of his own, including a nonfiction book called The Broken Cord, which is credited with raising awareness around fetal alcohol syndrome. He and Erdrich were, for a time, also quite the literary power couple, working together on some projects and editing each others' work. Then Dorris's life took a very dark turn.

In the second half of the show, we talk about some of their happier days--or at least they seemed happy from the outside--when the two regularly helped each other with their writing and referred to each other as "indispensable." Also: a follow-up on Tom's previous use of the term "horse bath," and the various regional colloquialisms people use for quick washes in the sink.

If you like the show, please consider subscribing to our Patreon, which helps offset our costs and allows us to keep doing the podcast each week. In exchange for $5, you'll also get access to a monthly bonus episode, Book Fight After Dark, in which we explore some of the weirder reaches of the literary universe: Amish mysteries, caveman romances, end-times thrillers and more!

Direct download: Ep235_Dorris.mp3
Category:general -- posted at: 6:00am EST

We're continuing our Summer of Spouses, in which we read work by writers who may have sometimes been overshadowed by their more famous partners. This week our author is Tess Gallagher, a celebrated poet and also the second wife of the late Raymond Carver. Gallagher was already a successful poet by the time she met Carver, who had recently stopped drinking, and who seemed to enjoy a second lease on life with her. We talk about Gallagher's 2006 essay "Instead of Dying," published in The Sun, about her years with Carver. The essay depicts a pretty idyllic partnership, though it's also important to consider what's left out of that version of Carver's story, including his first wife and their children.

In the second half of the show, we share some bad marriage advice from the past, and Mike taste-tests some cold brew coffee to see if he can finally get onboard with a thing everyone else in the world seems to (wrongly?) enjoy.

If you like the show, please consider subscribing to our Patreon, which helps offset our costs and allows us to keep doing the podcast each week. In exchange for $5, you'll also get access to a monthly bonus episode, Book Fight After Dark, in which we explore some of the weirder reaches of the literary universe: Amish mysteries, caveman romances, end-times thrillers and more!

Direct download: Ep234_TessGallagher.mp3
Category:general -- posted at: 6:00am EST

This week we're starting our new summer season, in which we'll read work by the less-famous halves of writer couples. To kick it off, we discuss an essay called "Envy" by Kathryn Chetkovich, in which she writes about the crippling jealousy she felt after her boyfriend, Jonathan Franzen, published a little book called The Corrections. The essay caused a bit of a lit-world stir when it came out in 2003 from Granta.

We also talk about the upcoming season, and why we're interested in exploring these spousal relationships. Plus, Tom reads tweets to Mike against his will.

If you like the show, please consider subscribing to our Patreon, which helps offset our costs and allows us to keep doing the podcast each week. In exchange for $5, you'll also get access to a monthly bonus episode, Book Fight After Dark, in which we explore some of the weirder reaches of the literary universe: Amish mysteries, caveman romances, end-times thrillers and more!

Direct download: Ep233_SummerOfSpouses.mp3
Category:general -- posted at: 5:41pm EST

This week is the final installment in our Spring of Scandal season, and we're wrapping it up with an essay by a writer who saw a scandal from a unique perspective: as a private investigator hired to get information from college football players, and from a madam, related to a sexual assault case filed against a large university's football program. Erika Krouse details her involvement in the case, and her mixed feelings about the relative ethics of the job, for this piece in Granta.

In the second half of the show, we tackle a writing question: specifically, what you do when you're between projects and can't seem to get going on something new. Not that we have any great advice. But commiseration is helpful, right?

If you like the show, please consider subscribing to our Patreon, which helps offset our costs and allows us to keep doing the podcast each week. In exchange for $5, you'll also get access to a monthly bonus episode, Book Fight After Dark, in which we explore some of the weirder reaches of the literary universe: Amish mysteries, caveman romances, end-times thrillers and more!

Direct download: Ep232_Krouse_Comfort_Woman.mp3
Category:general -- posted at: 6:00am EST

This week we're continuing our Spring of Scandal season with a discussion of Mark Greif's "Afternoon of the Sex Children," first published in N+1, and later appearing in Greif's collection Against Everything.

Direct download: Ep231_Greif_SexChildren.mp3
Category:general -- posted at: 6:00am EST

This week we continue our Spring of Scandal with an essay by Sarah Marshall, first published in the Believer, called "Remote Control: Tonya Harding, Nancy Kerrigan, and the Spectacles of Female Power and Pain". The essay revisits that particular scandal, and in particular how the public narrative of it formed and then cemented itself in our shared cultural memory.

In the second half of the show, we talk about a recent literary scandal in the romance world, one that has the unfortunate hashtag #cockygate. We also eat a weird Pop Tart, and hope it doesn't kill us.

If you like the show, please consider subscribing to our Patreon, which helps offset our costs and allows us to keep doing the podcast each week. In exchange for $5, you'll also get access to a monthly bonus episode, Book Fight After Dark, in which we explore some of the weirder reaches of the literary universe: Amish mysteries, caveman romances, end-times thrillers and more!

Direct download: Ep230_Marshall_TonyaHarding.mp3
Category:general -- posted at: 6:00am EST

This week we're delving into the world of sports, and also the world of the 1980s, and also the world of essays that are maybe kind of mean? Pat Jordan is a real titan of sports writing, one of those figures that's always cited as an influence by younger writers. He was particularly celebrated for his profiles of athletes; unlike so many other magazine writers, Jordan was known for being unsparing with his subjects. But when does that tip over into mean-spiritedness? That's one of the questions we consider this week.

In the second half of the show, we talk about what makes a good celebrity or athlete profile versus a bad one. We also discuss an ill-conceived Vogue profile of Asma al-Assad, wife of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, which basically wrote around the inconvenient part about her husband being a horrible autocrat. Vogue eventually wiped the piece off the internet.

If you like the show, please consider subscribing to our Patreon, which helps offset our costs and allows us to keep doing the podcast each week. In exchange for $5, you'll also get access to a monthly bonus episode, Book Fight After Dark, in which we explore some of the weirder reaches of the literary universe: Amish mysteries, caveman romances, end-times thrillers and more!

Direct download: Ep229_PatJordanSteveGarvey.mp3
Category:general -- posted at: 6:00am EST

This week we're discussing Irish writer Edna O'Brien, and her debut novel from 1960: The Country Girls. The book's frank depiction of sex--or, more accurately, the sexual thoughts of young girls and women--was enough to get it banned, and even burned, in its native country. We consider how the book has aged, and whether it still feels scandalous today. We also talk a bit about O'Brien's trajectory as a writer, and as a young woman, enduring what seemed to be a pretty lousy marriage before breaking free and joining swinging London society.

In the second half of the show, we talk about the recent scandal at the Swedish Academy that has forced the Nobel Prize in Literature to go on hiatus for a year. We unpack the scandal's details, and consider how a group of Swedes got into a position to dole out the biggest prize in letters in the first place.

If you like the show, please consider subscribing to our Patreon, which helps offset our costs and allows us to keep doing the podcast each week. In exchange for $5, you'll also get access to a monthly bonus episode, Book Fight After Dark, in which we explore some of the weirder reaches of the literary universe: Amish mysteries, caveman romances, end-times thrillers and more!

Direct download: Ep228_OBrien_CountryGirls.mp3
Category:general -- posted at: 6:00am EST

This week we've got a real scandal to unpack: the strange case of a writer named Robert Clark Young, who apparently "revenge-edited" the websites of several authors connected to the Sewanee Writers Conference, including Barry Hannah. He was eventually outed by a reporter for Salon, but there are still several lingering questions.

A few of those revolve around the writer Brad Vice, who was the subject of a rather vitriolic takedown by Young, after Vice had been accused of plagiarizing elements of his story collection, The Bear Bryant Funeral Train, which was eventually pulped by the University of Georgia Press. Though Vice maintained his story was an intentional homage, not a plagiarism.

If you like the show, please consider subscribing to our Patreon, which helps offset our costs and allows us to keep doing the podcast each week. In exchange for $5, you'll also get access to a monthly bonus episode, Book Fight After Dark, in which we explore some of the weirder reaches of the literary universe: Amish mysteries, caveman romances, end-times thrillers and more!

Direct download: Ep227_WikipediaScandal.mp3
Category:general -- posted at: 6:00am EST

This week we're continuing our Spring of Scandal season with a novella by the Chinese writer Zhu Wen, who stirred controversy by writing about sex, money and Chinese capitalism.

In the second half of the show, we discuss last fall's big YA-world scandal about a book that seemingly scammed its way onto the NY Times bestseller list. More importantly, we talk about how that scandal ended up outing the author of the internet's most infamous piece of fanfiction, "My Immortal."

Direct download: Ep226_ILoveDollars.mp3
Category:general -- posted at: 6:00am EST

This week we're continuing our Spring of Scandal by discussing author Michel Houllebecq, who's been a polarizing figure in the literary world for years now, particularly in France, where his books have been much-discussed best sellers but he's been largely rebuked or ignored by the literary establishment. He didn't necessarily help his cause when, in a 2001 interview, he went on a rant about Islam and its practitioners.

The book we read was The Elementary Particles, a novel about two brothers whose adult lives are--in different ways--rather isolated and unhappy. The book offers a pretty pointed critique of liberal French politics, though one wonders how seriously we're meant to take the book's various political rants.

 

Direct download: Ep225_Houllebecq.mp3
Category:general -- posted at: 6:00am EST

This week we're talking about another literary scandal--the case of Danilo Kis's A Tomb for Boris Davidovich, for which he was accused of plagiarism, though it eventually became clear there were simply some people who were out to discredit him, however they could.

We talk about the politics around the book, and Kis, and provide a brief recap of a plagiarism scandal Wikipedia refers to as "tedious."

In the second half of the show, we talk about another literary plagiarism scandal--this one involving Martin Amis and a successful TV writer. We also eat a new Pop Tart flavor--or at least it's new to us.

 

Direct download: Ep224_DaniloKis.mp3
Category:general -- posted at: 6:00am EST

This week we resume our Spring of Scandal by diving into the strange story of "J.T. LeRoy," the early-aughts It Boy of the literary scene, who attracted celebrity fans including Bono, Madonna, and Winona Ryder before being unmasked, in 2006, as a fraud, the creation of a thirty-something Brooklyn woman named Laura Albert, who'd enlisted her sister-in-law to "play" LeRoy in public.

We recount the ins and outs of the story, and discuss whether we should view the whole episode as a scam, performance art, or something in between. We also talk about the work itself, and how it holds up, independent of the false premise at the heart of its creation--or whether it's even possible, or desirable, to separate the art from the author, when the two were presented as so inextricably linked.

If all that sounds like pretty heady stuff, don't worry, we also talk about raccoons.

If you like the show, please consider subscribing to our Patreon, which helps offset our costs and allows us to keep doing the podcast each week. In exchange for $5, you'll also get access to a monthly bonus episode, Book Fight After Dark, in which we explore some of the weirder reaches of the literary universe: Amish mysteries, caveman romances, end-times thrillers and more!

Direct download: Ep223_JTLeroy.mp3
Category:general -- posted at: 6:00am EST

We're giving you a special mid-week bonus episode, Book Fight friends, on account of how much we love you, and also as a bit of a teaser for our ongoing Patreon series, Book Fight After Dark, which you can subscribe to for only $5 a month.

This episode of Book Fight After Dark originally dropped in February. The book we talked about is Transcendence, by Shay Savage, about a woman who time-travels back to early human history and enters into a (mostly consensual?) relationship with a caveman. It's supposed to be romantic, though we're not sure if it's actually romantic. 

For $5 a month, you'll not only support the ongoing work we do for Book Fight, you'll also get access to an episode like this each month, where we'll read and discuss books from some of the weirder corners of the literary world: Amish mysteries, paranormal romances, Rapture thrillers, and more. If you can spare it, throw us a few bones! (Is that a caveman joke? It may or may not be a caveman joke. We're not saying it's a good caveman joke. Look, just give us $5 and enjoy the goofs, ok? Talk to you later.)

Direct download: BFAfterDark_CavemanLover.mp3
Category:general -- posted at: 8:41am EST

This week we welcome special guest Dan Brady, author of the new poetry collection Strange Children, from Publishing Genius Press. Dan is also the longstanding poetry editor of Barrelhouse Magazine, so it makes sense that he'd be the first guest to make us read a book of poems: Not Here, by Hieu Minh Nguyen.

On the episode, we basically treat Dan as our poetry concierge, forcing him to explain things to us about how poetry works, why so many people are intimidated by contemporary poetry, and why poems never rhyme anymore. In addition to writing poetry, Dan's been working as a poetry editor for years, so he's probably an ideal person to explain this stuff to us. He's also too nice to tell us to fuck off and stop badgering him.

If you like the show, please consider donating to our Patreon, which will entitle you to a special bonus episode each month. On our most recent bonus episode, we talked about an Amish mystery novel called A Churn for the Worse.

Direct download: Ep222_GuestDanBrady.mp3
Category:general -- posted at: 6:00am EST

This week we kick off the spring season of Book Fight with a discussion of a Chuck Palahniuk story that apparently made upwards of 50 people pass out. You can check out the story for yourself at the official Chuck Palahniuk fan site. We talk about transgressive literature, and whether this story fits in the category. We also talk about what it is that makes people want to read stories that make them squirm. Also, we eat a Pop Tart.

Direct download: Ep221_CP_Guts.mp3
Category:general -- posted at: 6:00am EST

This week we're talking about Allen Ginsberg and Diana Trilling. Specifically, we're talking about an essay Diana Trilling wrote for The Partisan Review about attending an Allen Ginsberg reading at Columbia University in 1959, one which her husband--famous literary critic Lionel Trilling--chose to skip, despite being Ginsberg's former teacher. We try to parse Diana Trilling's attitude toward the reading, which seems to be simultaneously salty and tender.

You can read Diana's essay, and peruse all of The Partisan Review's archives, via Boston University.

We also talk about lots of other 1959 goings-on, including monkeys in space!

Direct download: Ep220_WinterofWayback_1959.mp3
Category:general -- posted at: 12:09am EST

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 EST

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 EST

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 EST

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 EST

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 EST

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 EST

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 EST

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 EST

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 EST

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 EST

This week we're kicking off another Winter of Wayback season, but this year with a new wrinkle: instead of visiting randomly selected years each week, we've chosen a decade--the 1950s--and will spend the winter working through it one year at a time. What does that mean, in practice? Each week we'll read either a book, a story, or an essay we've selected from that year. We'll also talk about other literary and cultural goings-on from that year, to help put the selected reading into a broader context.

Some weeks the readings will be things you've likely heard of; other weeks they'll be deeper cuts. This first week (1950) we chose a popular story, J.D. Salinger's "For Esme ... With Love and Squalor." We also talked about McCarthyism and the Hollywood blacklist, new food innovations of 1950, and various other important goings-on from the year.

Direct download: Ep211_Winter_of_Wayback_1950.mp3
Category:general -- posted at: 6:00am EST

This week we welcome special guest Dave K., whose novel—The Bong-Ripping Brides of Count Dragado</a>—you can order from Mason Jar Press. We talked to him about genre, black metal, H.P. Lovecraft, the Human Friendipede, and steampunk. We also talked about Victor LaValle's The Ballad of Black Tom, which was Dave's pick for the episode.

Direct download: Ep210_DaveK.mp3
Category:general -- posted at: 6:00am EST

Happy New Year's, Book Fight family! This week we're ringing in 2018 with a Charles Lamb essay, though as usual we spend most of the episode talking about other stuff: that "Cat Person" story in The New Yorker that was all the rage for a while there; the failed New Year's Eve parties of our youth; and a very earnest elevator podcast Mike has (inexplicably) listened to several episodes of lately. If you want to know what to do in the case of an elevator or escalator emergency, this is your week!

Direct download: Ep209_NewYearsSpecial2018.mp3
Category:general -- posted at: 6:00am EST

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