Book Fight

We're taking a quick break between seasons of the show, getting our ducks in a row for Summer School--in which we'll be reading books, stories, and essays that we feel like we should definitely have read by now, but have skipped for one reason or another. In the meantime, here's a bonus episode that was originally available only to our Patreon subscribers. Back in the fall, we read the debut novel by Nicole "Snooki" Polizzi, star of the MTV reality show Jersey Shore. A Shore Thing follows a Snooki-like character and her BFF as they navigate the Jersey Shore boardwalk for a summer--jobs, drinks, and lots of boys.

If you like this episode, you can subscribe to our Patreon and get one like it every month. For just $5 a month you can support the show and also get a Book Fight After Dark episode delivered to you each month. 

Thanks for listening!

Direct download: BF_After_Dark__A_Shore_Thing.mp3
Category:general -- posted at: 9:13am EDT

This week, we wrap up our Spring Forward season by diving into a new (to us) genre called climate fiction, or cli-fi. Matter published a collection of cli fi pieces in response to a Margaret Atwood essay wondering if fiction centered on climate change could change people's thinking or even spur action. Which seems like a noble pursuit, though these stories were kind of a mixed bag. We talk about the pitfalls of fiction that leads with its agenda, as well as stories that get mired in world-building and forget about the actual story part.

Also: letters from children to the future, written in the 70s!

If you like the show, please consider subscribing to our Patreon, which helps us make a bit of money each month and keep the show going. For just $5 a month, you'll get access to a monthly bonus episode, Book Fight After Dark, in which we visit some of the weirder, goofier corners of the literary world. Recently, that's involved reading a paranormal romance novel, the debut novel of Jersey Shore's Snookie, and the novelization of the movie Battleship (yes, based on the popular board game).

Direct download: Ep282_ClimateFictionRoundup.mp3
Category:general -- posted at: 6:00am EDT

This week we're continuing our Spring Forward season by reading J.G. Ballard's 1973 novel High Rise, considered by many critics to be an under-appreciated gem. The book follows several characters as they deal with the breakdown of social order in a residential high-rise tower. The residents of the complex form clans, pitting the upper floors against the middle and lower floors, and what started as petty squabbling soon turns violent and deadly.

We talk about whether the book's premise feels dated, tied as it is to the rise (pun sort of intended) of residential towers in both the U.K. and the U.S. during the 60s and early 70s. We also talk about Ballard's vision of human nature, which seems especially bleak, even cynical--though perhaps not entirely unrealistic.

In the second half of the show, we talk a bit about architecture and urban planning in science fiction, from the Jetsons to Blade Runner, as well as Korea's "city of the future," which has loads of smart-city technology but not nearly as many people as planners had hoped for.

 

Direct download: Ep281_Ballard_HighRise.mp3
Category:general -- posted at: 6:00am EDT

This week we're continuing our Spring Forward season by diving into Mark O'Connell's book To Be a Machine: Adventures Among Cyborgs, Hackers, and the Futurists Solving the Modest Problem of Death. O'Connell, an Irish journalist and writer, throws himself into the world of transhumanism, spending time with a number of people who are trying, in various ways, to "solve the problem of death." That includes a company that will cryogenically freeze your head, scientists working to dramatically extend humans' life spans, and "grinders," who surgically implant pieces of technology inside themselves, in an attempt to become part machine.

In the second half of the show, we revisit some early-80s predictions for jobs that would be "stolen" by robots, and try to figure out how many of those predictions came true.

If you like the show, please consider subscribing to our Patreon, which helps us make a bit of money each month and keep the show going. For just $5 a month, you'll get access to a monthly bonus episode, Book Fight After Dark, in which we visit some of the weirder, goofier corners of the literary world. Recently, that's involved reading a paranormal romance novel, the debut novel of Jersey Shore's Snookie, and the novelization of the movie Battleship (yes, based on the popular board game).

Direct download: Ep280_Transhumanism_-_6219_8.56_PM.mp3
Category:general -- posted at: 6:00am EDT

As we continue our Spring Forward season--in which we're reading forward-looking books, stories, and essays--this week we checked out four famous Ray Bradbury stories and talked about Bradbury's visions of the future. The stories we read include one about a sentient house, one that introduced the idea of the butterfly effect to the world, one about a veldt (and some evil children) and one about a man out for an evening walk in a future society in which that kind of behavior can get you locked up.

Also: Ray Bradbury fun facts! And an early-20th-century plan to give New York City a central vacuum system.

If you like the show, please consider subscribing to our Patreon, which helps us make a bit of money each month and keep the show going. For just $5 a month, you'll get access to a monthly bonus episode, Book Fight After Dark, in which we visit some of the weirder, goofier corners of the literary world. Recently, that's involved reading a paranormal romance novel, the debut novel of Jersey Shore's Snookie, and the novelization of the movie Battleship (yes, based on the popular board game).

Direct download: Ep279_Bradbury.mp3
Category:general -- posted at: 6:00am EDT

Since we're doing an entire season on future-looking books, stories, and essays, it seemed like it would be a real oversight to not consider at least one utopian novel. Ernest Callenbach wrote Ecotopia while living in Berkeley and working as an editor for the University of California Press. He couldn't find a publisher, but managed to get the money together to self-publish the novel (a more expensive, and more difficult proposition in 1974 than it is today). The book built up a cult following, and after an excerpt appeared in Harper's Magazine, Ecotopia was picked up by Bantam and given a wider release. Now, more than forty years after its release, it's a book that's still taught at universities and discussed in environmental circles.

The novel is set in 1999, a few years after the Pacific Northwest and Northern California have seceded from the United States. The book's narrator is the first journalist to visit and report from inside Ecotopia; the book alternates between his newspaper dispatches and his personal journals. We talk about the book's utopian vision, and to what degree it still feels environmentally relevant. We also talk about utopians more generally. We live in a time when dystopian stories are everywhere--in novels, on movie screens, and on television. Is there room in our current world for utopian storytelling? And what might that look like?

If you like the show, please consider subscribing to our Patreon, which helps us make a bit of money each month and keep the show going. For just $5 a month, you'll get access to a monthly bonus episode, Book Fight After Dark, in which we visit some of the weirder, goofier corners of the literary world. Recently, that's involved reading a paranormal romance novel, the debut novel of Jersey Shore's Snookie, and the novelization of the movie Battleship (yes, based on the popular board game).

Direct download: Ep278_SpringForward_Ecotopia.mp3
Category:general -- posted at: 6:00am EDT

In October 1951, Collier's Magazine gave over an entire weekly issue to imagining a possible war with the Soviet Union and its aftermath. Perhaps in the midst of American Cold War anxiety, this issue seemed less patently insane. But to a modern reader it's hard to fathom how Collier's got more than twenty authors to embark on a project that feels like one part anti-communist propaganda and one part teenage war fantasy.

Also this week: a special issue of Penthouse that imagined sex in outer space (while also previewing the launch of OMNI Magazine).

Direct download: Ep277_Colliers_vs_Russia.mp3
Category:general -- posted at: 6:00am EDT

This week we read a science fiction story by someone you probably don't associate with science fiction. In 1909, E.M. Forster wrote a story called "The Machine Stops" that imagines people living in isolation, in apartments under the earth, and communicating to each through technology that looks a lot like Skype. Also this week, we talk about futuristic stick-shaped foods. 

If you like the show, please consider subscribing to our Patreon, which helps us make a bit of money each month and keep the show going. For just $5 a month, you'll get access to a monthly bonus episode, Book Fight After Dark, in which we visit some of the weirder, goofier corners of the literary world. Recently, that's involved reading a paranormal romance novel, the debut novel of Jersey Shore's Snookie, and the novelization of the movie Battleship (yes, based on the popular board game).

Direct download: Ep276_TheMachineStops.mp3
Category:general -- posted at: 6:00am EDT

This week we continue our Spring Forward season by discussing a short story by Steven Millhauser called "The Dome. The piece envisions a future in which individual homeowners start building domes over their houses, followed by neighborhoods, then cities, then the entire United States of America. We talk about the story as a thought experiment, and how to write a successful story that has no characters (at least not in the traditional sense).

In the second half of the show we talk about domes: dome houses, and proposals to cover towns and cities with domes.

Direct download: Ep275_Domes.mp3
Category:general -- posted at: 6:00am EDT

This week we continue our Spring Forward season by discussing an essay by Matt Jones that first appeared in The New England Review and was then republished by The Lit Hub. The essay, titled "How Can We Warn Future Humans of the Poison We Buried Underground?", is a kind of thought experiment brought on by an actual project, in which a team of thinkers was tasked with coming up with a way to communicate to future societies that we'd buried nuclear waste under a specific spot in the desert. The essay delves into various ways that futurists think of possible futures, and the inherent optimist in even imagining a future.

We also talk about what the future of food looked like to people in the middle part of the twentieth century, and atomic gardens, and Betty Crocker's Recipe Card Library. 

Direct download: Ep274_SpringForward_NuclearWaste.mp3
Category:general -- posted at: 6:00am EDT

This week we're reading two stories that imagine rather bleak futures. In one, books have been outlawed and people have to write stories on their own skin. In the other, a strongman leader is putting the sun on trial. Plus: what did the future of food look like at the start of the 20th century?

If you like the show, please consider subscribing to our Patreon, which helps us make a bit of money each month and keep the show going. For just $5 a month, you'll get access to a monthly bonus episode, Book Fight After Dark, in which we visit some of the weirder, goofier corners of the literary world. Recently, that's involved reading a paranormal romance novel, the debut novel of Jersey Shore's Snookie, and the novelization of the movie Battleship (yes, based on the popular board game).

Direct download: Ep273_Spring19_Anthology2_.mp3
Category:general -- posted at: 6:00am EDT

Hello, Book Fighters! It's a new season, and that means it's time for a new seasonal theme: Spring Forward! For the next several week, we'll be reading future-looking stories, books, and essays, and talking about literary visions of the future throughout various times in history. First up, we've got two stories from a new anthology, edited by Victor LaValle and John Joseph Adams, A People's Future of the United States. Taking their inspiration from Howard Zinn's famous work of populist history, LaValle and Adams put out a call for writing that imagined the future from the perspective of the oppressed, the put-upon, the discriminated-against, and the marginalized. On this week's show we discuss two stories from the anthology, one which imagines a United States on the cusp of making slavery legal again, and one in which women's reproductive rights have been so curtailed that teenage girls sell condoms and IUDs on street corners.

If you like the show, please consider subscribing to our Patreon, which helps us make a bit of money each month and keep the show going. For just $5 a month, you'll get access to a monthly bonus episode, Book Fight After Dark, in which we visit some of the weirder, goofier corners of the literary world. Recently, that's involved reading a paranormal romance novel, the debut novel of Jersey Shore's Snookie, and the novelization of the movie Battleship (yes, based on the popular board game).

Direct download: Ep272_SpringForward_1.mp3
Category:general -- posted at: 6:00am EDT

This week we welcome two special guests: Christina Rosso-Schneider and Alexander Schneider, the husband and wife team behind A Novel Idea, a new bookstore in South Philly's East Passyunk neighborhood. When we have guests, we let them pick the book we'll read and discuss, and Christina and Alex picked R.O. Kwon's 2018 debut novel The Incendiaries. We'd all heard lots of buzz about the book, but would it live up to the hype?

We also talk to them about what it's like to open a small indie bookstore in 2019. How do you make the business model work? How do you choose which books to stock? And how do you explain the concept of a bookstore to people who walk in off the street and seem confused by it?

Direct download: Ep271_Kwon_TheIncendiaries.mp3
Category:general -- posted at: 6:00am EDT

Our special 90s season has come to an end, but we're capping it off by reading a book that has been described as "the ultimate 90s project" despite actually being published in the early 2000s. Chuck Klosterman made his reputation by taking silly pop culture seriously, a mission not too far removed from a certain literary magazine your humble hosts have some involvement with. One of us (Mike) read this book of essays when it came out. The other of us (Tom) was familiar with Klosterman's sports-adjacent work, but less familiar with his other writing.

We talk about whether the book has aged well or poorly, and what we think of Klosterman's opinions about music, reality television, and sports.

If you like the show, please consider subscribing to our Patreon, which helps us make a bit of money each month and keep the show going. For just $5 a month, you'll get access to a monthly bonus episode, Book Fight After Dark, in which we visit some of the weirder, goofier corners of the literary world. Recently, that's involved reading a paranormal romance novel, the debut novel of Jersey Shore's Snookie, and the novelization of the movie Battleship (yes, based on the popular board game).

Direct download: Ep270_Klosterman.mp3
Category:general -- posted at: 6:00am EDT

Last week we wrapped up our year-by-year journey through the 90s, but that doesn't mean it's time to stop talking about the decade. This week we're diving back in to look at some early online lit mags, including elimae, Eclectica, Blue Moon Review, and Nerve.

We dive into the history of each publication, sample some work from the archives, and talk about how they fit into the larger literary ecosystem.

If you like the show, please consider subscribing to our Patreon, which helps us make a bit of money each month and keep the show going. For just $5 a month, you'll get access to a monthly bonus episode, Book Fight After Dark, in which we visit some of the weirder, goofier corners of the literary world. Recently, that's involved reading a paranormal romance novel, the debut novel of Jersey Shore's Snookie, and the novelization of the movie Battleship (yes, based on the popular board game).

Direct download: Ep269_Wayback_OnlineLit.mp3
Category:general -- posted at: 6:00am EDT

This week we're doing something a little different for our 1990s-themed Wayback episode. Instead of reading a single book, story, or essay, we're diving into two issues of Story Magazine from the end of the decade--just before the venerable literary magazine folded for a second time, coincidentally. 

Story recently came back from the dead once again, and has a new issue out this month.

In addition to Story, we talk about whether certain short stories feel "90s" to us, and how that work has aged. We've also got our regular Wayback segments, including what's new (in 1999) with video games, as well as the intersection of publishing and technology (blogs!). Plus Mike revisits the 1999 Katie Holmes-Sarah Polley movie Go.

Direct download: Ep268_Wayback_1999.mp3
Category:general -- posted at: 6:00am EDT

For this week's episode we're talking about Meghan Daum's 1998 essay, "On the Fringes of the Physical World," which details her mostly-online relationship with a man who reached out to her with a fan email. 

We also talk about the promise (and disappointment?) of hypertext fiction, the beginnings of fantasy football, and the movie You've Got Mail.

 

Direct download: Ep267_Wayback_1998.mp3
Category:general -- posted at: 6:00am EDT

This week we're revisiting Ghost World, the 1997 graphic novel by Daniel Clowes. The book pulled together material from the serialized comic Clowes wrote over several years and published in his 20th Century Eightball series of anthologies. Later it was made into a movie starring Thora Birch, Scarlett Johansen, and Steve Buscemi.

Also this week: what people were saying in 1997 about a little company called Amazon dot com, which went public that May, making its founder a multi-millionaire. Plus the odd online short story project the company curated, with help from John Updike. Plus, Tom fondly remembers Final Fantasy 7, and Mike rewatches Chasing Amy.

Direct download: Ep266_Wayback_1997.mp3
Category:general -- posted at: 6:00am EDT

We're on to 1996, friends! For this episode we read a David Shields book, Remote, which is kind of a memoir, kind of a collection of creative nonfiction experiments, and kind of difficult to categorize. Mike bought it years ago, in college, before he knew anything about David Shields, and back then he found it a little confusing. Now, with more context for Shields' work, will it make more sense? Tom, meanwhile, has read four Shields books over the years, but has never quite decided if he likes them or not. Will this be the one to get him off the fence?

This week in publishing news, Tom has the story of Sassy magazine's contest to name the sassiest boy in America, and Mike has some conflicting views from within the industry about how to deal with the internet. Plus, a bit of controversy surrounding a still-new, still-fledgling Amazon.com. And for 90s Movie Club: Did Swingers predict the Men's Rights Movement?

If you like the show, please consider subscribing to our Patreon, which helps us make a bit of money each month and keep the show going. For just $5 a month, you'll get access to a monthly bonus episode, Book Fight After Dark, in which we visit some of the weirder, goofier corners of the literary world. Recently, that's involved reading a paranormal romance novel, the debut novel of Jersey Shore's Snookie, and the novelization of the movie Battleship (yes, based on the popular board game).

Direct download: Ep265_Wayback_1996.mp3
Category:general -- posted at: 6:00am EDT

We're halfway through the 90s, and this week we're reading a book that feels very much like a time capsule of the era: Douglas Coupland's Microserfs, his follow-up to Generation X, the novel that introduced that term into the world. In Microserfs we follow a group of twenty-something coders as they quit their jobs at Microsoft to work for a start-up company in Silicon Valley. The book explores the world of early start-up culture just a couple years before dot-com culture fully takes over the San Francisco Bay Area.

In lieu of publishing news this week, Mike tells a personal story from 1995 about email, the internet, and one young man's search for love. Tom, meanwhile, charts the quick rise and fall of JFK Jr.'s George magazine. And 90s Movie Club is revisiting the classic film Hackers, starring Jonny Lee Miller, Angelina Jolie, and Jesse Bradford.

If you like the show, please consider subscribing to our Patreon, which helps us make a bit of money each month and keep the show going. For just $5 a month, you'll get access to a monthly bonus episode, Book Fight After Dark, in which we visit some of the weirder, funnier corners of the literary world. Recently, that's involved reading a paranormal romance novel, the debut novel of Jersey Shore's Snookie, and the novelization of the movie Battleship (yes, based on the popular board game).

Direct download: Ep264_Wayback_1995.mp3
Category:general -- posted at: 6:00am EDT

Boy, the '90s are just flying by! We're already up to 1994, a year marked by tragedy (Kurt Cobain, Nicole Brown Simpson) and triumph (Mike's high school graduation). Our reading this week is a short story by Rick Moody, "The Grid." We talk about the story's unconventional structure, its musical voice, and its Gen X-era references. Mike also admits to having read this story aloud to multiple girlfriends (he was young! it was a different time!)

In publishing news this week, we take a deep dive into the story of a first novel, Fishboy, to see how a debut novelist was being marketed and promoted by a big press circa 1994. The New York Times did a multi-part series on the book's launch, providing a step-by-step look at how author Mark Richard tried to sell the book, and himself, to the reading public.

We've also got video game news, font news (the birth of Comic Sans!), and for 90s Movie Club Mike is revisiting Reality Bites and wondering how Gen X was somehow erased from the public consciousness.

Direct download: Ep263_Wayback_1994_.mp3
Category:general -- posted at: 6:00am EDT

This week we time-travel back to 1993 to see what was going on in literature, technology, and pop culture. For our reading, we're diving into the John Edgar Wideman short story, "Newborn Thrown in Trash and Dies," part of his prize-winning collection All Stories Are True. The story was inspired by a 1991 news report about a baby who had been discarded down the trash chute of an apartment building.

In publishing news this week, Mike looks at the state of "electronic books" on CD-ROM, which in 1993 were beginning to be sold in some book stores, and Tom has details of a crime novel published on floppy disc (and the surprising outrage that caused). Also: a major San Francisco publisher gets desktop computers in its offices, and a computer programmer teaches his Macintosh to "write" a romance novel.

If you like the show, please consider subscribing to our Patreon, which helps us make a bit of money each month and keep the show going. For just $5 a month, you'll get access to a monthly bonus episode, Book Fight After Dark, in which we visit some of the weirder corners of the literary world. Recently, that's involved reading a paranormal romance, the debut novel of Jersey Shore's Snookie, and the novelization of the movie Battleship (yes, based on the popular board game).

Direct download: Ep262_Wayback_1993.mp3
Category:general -- posted at: 6:00am EDT

This week we're time-traveling back to 1992, and the first issue of The Oxford American, which in its early years was frequently referred to as "The New Yorker of the South." We read an essay by Larry Brown called "Fire Notes," which would later be published as part of Brown's memoir, On Fire. Brown was a firefighter and a self-taught writer who began banging out fiction on a typewriter during downtime in the firehouse. The essay we read is about his work for the fire department, and how he got his start as a writer. 

We couldn't really talk about The Oxford American without talking about the cloud of scandal under which its founding editor, Marc Smirnoff, was dismissed. 

Also this week, Mike takes a look at what it was like to be an editorial assistant for a big New York magazine in 1992. And Tom reports on early research into whether video games were breaking kids' brains. Plus font news, 90s Movie Club, and much, much more.

Episode Links:

Larry Brown, "Fire Notes" (from The Oxford American Issue 1)

John Grisham, "The Faulkner Thing" 

"Editor Fired Following Harassment Accusation," New York Times 

Editors In Love (website of Marc Smirnoff and Carol Anne Fitzgerald)

IMDB page for Boomerang

Janet Maslin reviews Boomerang in The New York Times

 

Thanks for listening!

Direct download: Ep261_Wayback_1992.mp3
Category:general -- posted at: 6:00am EDT

This week, as we continue our adventure through the 90s, we're discussing both the winner and runner-up stories from 1991's Nelson Algren Prize, sponsored by the Chicago Tribune. Tom Barbash won for his story, "Howling at the Moon," and Patricia Stevens came in second for her story, "Leaving Fort Ord." Barbash would go on to publish a few books, while Stevens seems to have mostly left fiction behind.

Also this week, we revisit a piece by Jacob Weisberg that called out a couple big-name editors for not doing their jobs--which caused some serious blowback in the publishing industry. Plus a mysterious death, a big year for video games, and much, much more.

Thanks for listening!

Direct download: Ep260_Wayback_1991.mp3
Category:general -- posted at: 8:19am EDT

Welcome to another Winter of Wayback season, Book Fight friends! After last year's run through the 1950s, this year we're skipping ahead to take on the 90s. Over the next ten weeks, we're going to dig into some of the best, most interesting, and weirdest writing published over the course of the decade, while looking at ways publishing changed over those years--the rise and fall of print magazines; the dawning of the internet age; and a generation of supposed "slackers" who embraced the DIY ethic of the previous decade's punk scene to carve out their own alternative cultural niche. We hope you'll come along with us for the ride!

On this first episode, we're reading the title story from Tim O'Brien's 1990 book The Things They Carried. It's sort of unbelievable that neither of us had read it before, and we figured it was time to remedy that. We talk about why the early 90s featured so many Vietnam stories, and why this story's become such a touchstone in both literature and creative writing classes. Also: We trace the brief history of a magazine targeted specifically at doctors' offices, Tom dips into the Nintendo-dominated video game landscape of the early 90s, and Mike revisits Pump Up The Volume, a movie he loved as a teen and which may have indirectly spawned this podcast.

Thanks for listening!

Direct download: BookFight_Wayback_1990.mp3
Category:general -- posted at: 6:00am EDT

Hello, Book Fighters! This is the second episode of Mike's new podcast Day Jobs, where he talks to writers, artists and other creative people about how they make a living. In this episode Mike's talking to Bud Smith, a writer and artist who works a full-time heavy construction job. They talk about writing on your phone, why no job is "brainless," and why Bud's girlfriend broke up with him after he wrote his first novel.

If you like this show, please check out Episode 1, with poet Gina Myers, and subscribe so you get each new episode when it's released.

Thanks for listening!

Direct download: DayJobs_Ep2_BudSmith.mp3
Category:general -- posted at: 6:00am EDT

1