Book Fight (general)

This week we welcome author Steph Cha (Your House Will Pay) to discuss a book she read as a kid and wanted to revisit: Amy Tan's novel The Joy Luck Club. Cha says she first read the novel in large part because she'd seen her mother reading it. Now, having written several books of her own, and having thought more deeply about Asian-American literature, what would she think of Tan's breakout book?

We also talk about basset hounds, crime novels, Los Angeles in the '90s, the politics of Nest cameras, and being a top Yelp reviewer.

If you like the show and would like more Book Fight in your life, consider subscribing to our Patreon. For $5/month, you'll get access to regular bonus episodes, including monthly episodes of Book Fight After Dark, where we read some of the world's weirdest--and steamiest!--novels. We've also recently begun a new series of Patreon-only mini-episodes called Reading the Room, in which we offer advice on how to navigate awkward, writing-related social situations.

Direct download: Ep303_StephCha.mp3
Category:general -- posted at: 6:00am EST

This week we're looking at two stories that take on current events--in one case, a story about refugees at the American-Mexico border, and in the other, a story about a white college student who gets called out after posting a picture of herself in a Confederate-flag bikini. We talk about the benefits, and potential drawbacks, of teaching stories about current political controversies in a creative writing class, and how we might approach those stories with our students. Also: in a landscape crowded with really compelling narrative nonfiction, what can fiction, specifically, add to the political discourse?

Also, it's November, which means more fun with the NaNoWriMo forums!

If you like the show and would like more Book Fight in your life, consider subscribing to our Patreon. For $5/month, you'll get access to regular bonus episodes, including monthly episodes of Book Fight After Dark, where we read some of the world's weirdest--and steamiest!--novels. We've also recently begun a new series of Patreon-only mini-episodes called Reading the Room, in which we offer advice on how to navigate awkward, writing-related social situations.

Direct download: Ep302_CurrentEvents.mp3
Category:general -- posted at: 6:00am EST

This week, we're on the hunt for stories that do interesting things with time. More specifically, we talk about how "time" can be a useful angle into talking about story structure in a creative writing class. Our story picks are Stuart Dybek's "Paper Lanterns" and Raymond Carver's "Are These Actual Miles?" (or, "What Is It," depending on what version of the story you've got). Also: it's November, which means it's National Novel Writing Month, which means it's time for us to visit the NaNoWriMo forums!

If you like the show and would like more Book Fight in your life, consider subscribing to our Patreon. For $5/month, you'll get access to regular bonus episodes, including monthly episodes of Book Fight After Dark, where we read some of the world's weirdest--and steamiest!--novels. We've also recently begun a new series of Patreon-only mini-episodes called Reading the Room, in which we offer advice on how to navigate awkward, writing-related social situations.

Direct download: Ep301_StoriesAndTime.mp3
Category:general -- posted at: 8:35am EST

This week, you might say that we're on a quest to find the best quest story to teach in a creative writing class. For years, both of us have taught Sherman Alexie's "What You Pawn I Will Redeem," but for a variety of reasons--including accusations of sexual harassment against the author--we're looking for something new. Will it be Charles Yu's story "Fable," or Chris Offutt's "Out of the Woods"?

If you like the show and would like more Book Fight in your life, consider subscribing to our Patreon. For $5/month, you'll get access to regular bonus episodes, including monthly episodes of Book Fight After Dark, where we read some of the world's weirdest--and steamiest!--novels. We've also recently begun a new series of Patreon-only mini-episodes called Reading the Room, in which we offer advice on how to navigate awkward, writing-related social situations.

Direct download: Ep300_QuestStories.mp3
Category:general -- posted at: 6:00am EST

This week, we're continuing our quest for the best stories to use in a creative writing course, with pieces where setting plays a strong role: Tony Earley's "The Prophet From Jupiter" and "Roots" by Michael Crummey. We talk about how both authors evoke a strong sense of place through small details, and how to discuss that kind of world-building with creative writing students.

If you like the show and would like more Book Fight in your life, consider subscribing to our Patreon. For $5/month, you'll get access to regular bonus episodes, including monthly episodes of Book Fight After Dark, where we read some of the world's weirdest--and steamiest!--novels. We've also recently begun a new series of Patreon-only mini-episodes called Reading the Room, in which we offer advice on how to navigate awkward, writing-related social situations.

Direct download: Ep299_Setting.mp3
Category:general -- posted at: 6:00am EST

This week, we're continuing our quest for the best stories to use in a creative writing course, with pieces about breakups: Courtney Bird, "Still Life, With Mummies" and "Cat Person" by Kristen Roupenian. You might remember the latter as "that story that went viral and briefly broke the internet," spurring hot takes from a bunch of people who seemingly hadn't read a short story in a very long time.

 

If you like the show, and would like more Book Fight in your life, consider subscribing to our Patreon. For $5/month, you'll get access to regular bonus episodes, including monthly episodes of Book Fight After Dark, where we read some of the world's weirdest--and steamiest!--novels. We've also recently begun a new series of Patreon-only mini-episodes called Reading the Room, in which we offer advice on how to navigate awkward, writing-related social situations.

Direct download: Ep298_BreakupStories.mp3
Category:general -- posted at: 6:00am EST

This week, we're continuing our quest for the best stories to use in a creative writing course, with pieces that incorporate magical elements: "The Healer" by Aimee Bender versus a trio of very short stories by Etgar Keret.

We talk about what the term "magical realism" actually means, and how we introduce it in the classroom. We also discuss ways to open up a fiction class to a diversity of styles and genres while still assuring that students are challenging themselves and trying new things. Plus: Are magicians creeps? And Tom revisits the work of Jim Harrison, mostly out of spite.

If you like the show and would like more Book Fight in your life, consider subscribing to our Patreon. For $5/month, you'll get access to regular bonus episodes, including monthly episodes of Book Fight After Dark, where we read some of the world's weirdest--and steamiest!--novels. We've also recently begun a new series of Patreon-only mini-episodes called Reading the Room, in which we offer advice on how to navigate awkward, writing-related social situations.

Direct download: Ep297_MagicalRealism.mp3
Category:general -- posted at: 6:00am EST

This fall, we're exploring the canon of creative writing, trying to find the best stories to teach in creative writing classes. Each week we'll have a different theme, either a craft element or type of story, and we'll each nominate a story we think works particularly well in the classroom. We'll pit the stories against each other and by the end of the episode crown a winner.

This week we've got two second person stories: "How to Leave Hialeah," by Jennine Capo Crucet, going up against Lorrie Moore's "How to Be an Other Woman."

If you like the show and would like more Book Fight in your life, consider subscribing to our Patreon. For $5/month, you'll get access to regular bonus episodes, including monthly episodes of Book Fight After Dark, where we read some of the world's weirdest--and steamiest!--novels. We've also recently begun a new series of Patreon-only mini-episodes called Reading the Room, in which we offer advice on how to navigate awkward, writing-related social situations.

Direct download: Ep296_SecondPerson.mp3
Category:general -- posted at: 6:00am EST

It's a new season on the calendar, and that means a new season of Book Fight. This fall, we're going to be exploring the canon of creative writing, trying to find the best stories to teach in creative writing classes. Each week we'll have a different theme, either a craft element or type of story, and we'll each nominate a story we think works particularly well in the classroom. We'll pit the stories against each other and by the end of the episode crown a winner.

This week we've got Denis Johnson going up against Matthew Vollmer, with two stories featuring unreliable narrators: "Emergency" and "Will and Testament."

If you like the show, and would like more Book Fight in your life, consider subscribing to our Patreon. For $5/month, you'll get access to regular bonus episodes, including monthly episodes of Book Fight After Dark, where we read some of the world's weirdest--and steamiest!--novels. We've also recently begun a new series of Patreon-only mini-episodes called Reading the Room, in which we offer advice on how to navigate awkward, writing-related social situations.

Direct download: Ep295_UnreliableNarrators.mp3
Category:general -- posted at: 6:00am EST

It's the last week of our Summer School season, and we're ending on a book (and author) Tom had never read. Topics include: Diner en Blanc, the titular lighthouse (and whether they'll ever reach it), mental health, donut holes, pumpkin spice, and why the kids these days love the TV show Friends.

If you like the show and would like more Book Fight in your life, consider subscribing to our Patreon. For $5/month, you'll get access to regular bonus episodes, including monthly episodes of Book Fight After Dark, where we read some of the world's weirdest romance novels. We've also recently begun a new series of Patreon-only mini-episodes called Reading the Room, in which we offer advice on how to navigate awkward, writing-related social situations.

Direct download: Ep294_ToTheLighthouse.mp3
Category:general -- posted at: 6:00am EST

For years, Mike would see references to Ford Madox Ford in articles about famous modernist writers and think: "I should really check that guy out one of these days." Well, listeners, that day is today. Mike drags Tom along for an exploration of The Good Soldier, Ford's most famous book, a short novel about two couples whose lives intersect at a German spa for people with heart ailments. "This is the saddest story I have ever heard," the book begins, before plunging readers into a sometimes disorienting tale of infidelity and (maybe?) murder.

We talk about the book's non-chronological storytelling technique, as well as the unreliable narrator at its center, whose version of events we're never quite sure how much to trust. Also this week: #DonutQuest2019 continues, with Tom bringing over a couple samplings from his home state of New Jersey.

Direct download: Ep293_Ford_GoodSoldier.mp3
Category:general -- posted at: 6:00am EST

This week is a Tom pick: a novella by Jim Harrison featuring his beloved character Brown Dog. In "The Summer He Didn't Die," Brown Dog has some tooth problems, and also some sex. Just regular old Brown Dog stuff. Harrison is considered a master of the novella form, and a chronicler of Michigan's Upper Peninsula. Is this his best work? Reviews are mixed.

Also this week: Mike continues his summer-long quest for a good donut, with a return trip to Philly favorite Federal Donuts.

If you like the show and would like more Book Fight in your life, consider subscribing to our Patreon. For $5/month, you'll get access to regular bonus episodes, including monthly episodes of Book Fight After Dark, where we read some of the world's weirdest romance novels. And starting this week, we'll be adding new mini-episodes in a series called Reading the Room, in which we offer advice on how to navigate awkward, writing-related social situations.

Thanks for listening!

Direct download: Ep292_JimHarrison.mp3
Category:general -- posted at: 6:00am EST

Welcome to Week Two of a series we didn't intend to undertake: Tom and Mike Read Books They're Not Quite Smart Enough to Understand. Actually, we did a slightly better job with this one than we did with last week's reading, Jenny Boully's The Body. Though we can already hear the sound of 1,000 grad students rolling their eyes in response to our discussion of Barthes. But hey, we're giving it our best. We can't help it if there are rocks where our brains are supposed to be.

This week's book was a Mike pick, because he's been on the English department faculty of a major university for too long to not have read anything by Roland Barthes. A Lover's Discourse was billed as one of his more accessible works, so we figured it could make a good starting place. And it wasn't bad! At least the parts that we understood. Which were some of the parts!

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 Robocop.

Direct download: Ep291_Barthes_LoversDiscourse.mp3
Category:general -- posted at: 6:00am EST

This week we're talking about a lyric essay that was first published in 2002 and has since become part of a new canon of creative nonfiction: Jenny Boully's "The Body," which first appeared in The Seneca Review and was re-released in book form by Essay Press. The big question of this episode: are we smart enough to understand this piece, which is written in footnotes to an invisible text? Or is it even a thing meant to be "understood" in a traditional narrative sense? Is it a beautiful evocation of a language that's just beyond conventional meaning? Is it a whole bunch of word salad? And, seriously, are we big dummies who just barely manage to get our pants on each morning?

Also this week: In Mike's continuing search for a good donut, he pits two bitter Pennsylvania rivals against each other. That's right, it's Sheetz vs. Wawa.

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 Robocop.

Direct download: Ep290_Boully_TheBody.mp3
Category:general -- posted at: 6:00am EST

Welcome back to our Summer School season, in which we're reading books, stories, and essays we feel like we should have read by now. John McPhee was in that category for Mike, especially as he's been teaching (and writing) more creative non-fiction. McPhee is a celebrated essayist who started out at Time Magazine and then moved on to a lengthy career at The New Yorker. In 1969 he wrote a long piece about a tennis match between Arthur Ashe and Clark Graebner that became a short book, Levels of the Game. Renowned as not just a piece of sports writing, but as a study in two contrasting characters at a pivotal moment in American history, McPhee's essay/book is considered a master of its form.

We talk about the essay, and about the very different turns the lives of its principle subjects took after it was published. We also talk about how McPhee put the piece together, which involved lugging a suitcase-sized projector down to Puerto Rico for a U.S. Davis Cup match.

Also this week: Mike tries again to eat a good donut.

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 Robocop.

Direct download: Ep289_McPhee.mp3
Category:general -- posted at: 6:00am EST

Thom Jones graduated from the Iowa Writers Workshop in the late 70s, but didn't truly find his voice--and critical success--until "The Pugilist at Rest," which was published in The New Yorker in 1991. After that story, Jones published pieces in other big-name magazines and pretty quickly had a story collection out in the world. Journalists really latched onto the late-bloomer story, as well as the fact that Jones was working as a janitor when "The Pugilist at Rest" was published.

We talk about the story, and also about the mythology around Jones, who died in 2016. Also this week: Mike's continuing quest to eat a good donut, and why Tom is so tired of reading stories about the 60s.

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 Robocop.

Direct download: Ep288_ThomJones.mp3
Category:general -- posted at: 6:00am EST

Neither of us had read anything by Sally Rooney, who has been called "the first important Millennial novelist" and "Salinger for the Snapchat generation." Both of her novels have garnered high praise from both critics and celebrities, including Zadie Smith and Sarah Jessica Parker. So it seemed like time for America's Most Important Books Podcast to finally weigh in.

We chose Rooney's first novel, Conversations With Friends, about a kind of love triangle (love rhombus?) between a young woman named Frances, her former girlfriend/current best friend Bobbi, and an older married couple, Melissa and Nick.

We talk about the book's politics, the narrator's voice, and what it means to be a "Millennial novelist." Also this week: Mike's continuing quest to find a good donut gets complicated.

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 Robocop.

Direct download: Ep287_Rooney_ConvosWithFriends.mp3
Category:general -- posted at: 6:00am EST

This week we're discussing Annie Dillard's famous essay, "Total Eclipse," about the time she saw a total eclipse. Neither of us had read it before, and neither of us is quite sure whether we like it. We get Geoff Dyer's opinion, and Robert Atwan's, and a couple dissenting opinions from Goodreads, as we try to decide what to make of it. If you've never read the piece, you can do so here, via The Atlantic.

Also this week: Mike tries Indonesian food, and continues his quest for the perfect donut. And Tom has opinions about the best way to cook a s'more. 

Direct download: Ep286_AnnieDillard.mp3
Category:general -- posted at: 6:00am EST

We're continuing our Summer School season of the podcast, in which we're reading things we feel like we should have gotten to by now. This week is Mike's pick, a novella set in a gossipy small town and ending with a knock-down, drag-out fist fight between a woman and her ex-husband. We talk about McCullers' writing and her life, including her apparent inability to successfully bed a woman, despite many attempts.

Also this week: Is the word hunchback offensive? Why is so much academic writing impenetrable? And Mike finally sees Jaws!

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 Robocop.

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

We're continuing our Summer School season of the podcast, in which we're reading things we feel like we should have gotten to by now. This week is a Tom pick, a particularly famous essay by James Baldwin about the death of his father, bitterness, and race in America. Tom had read other Baldwin works before, but never this piece.

We talk about the ways this essay still feels relevant to American life, and the strength of Baldwin's prose and his intellect. We also check out some middling Goodreads reviews of Baldwin's work, to see what the people are complaining about. Plus: bad donuts, missed opportunities, Eagles songs, and why every poet is into astrology.

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 Robocop.

Direct download: Ep284_SummerSchool_Baldwin.mp3
Category:general -- posted at: 6:00am EST

This week we're kicking off a new season of Book Fight: Summer School! The idea is that we'll dive into books, stories, and essays that we feel like we should have read by now. That could mean classics, but it could also mean contemporary work that's been sitting on our to-read pile for a long time, or that we've been avoiding for one reason or another.

For the first Summer School episode we've got a Mike pick: an essay from John D'Agata's book Halls of Fame. Mike's been meaning to get to some of D'Agata's work for years now, despite having mixed feelings about his relationship to the truth and "truthiness" (as explicated in the book The_Lifespan_of_a_Fact, which traced the back-and-forth between D'Agata and a fact-checker at the Believer who found a number of factual errors in his piece about suicides in Las Vegas).

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 Robocop.

Direct download: Ep283_DAgata.mp3
Category:general -- posted at: 6:00am EST

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 EST

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 EST

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 EST

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 EST

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 EST

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 EST

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 EST

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 EST

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 EST

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 EST

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 EST

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 EST

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 EST

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 EST

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 EST

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 EST

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 EST

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 EST

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 EST

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 EST

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 EST

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 EST

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 EST

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 EST

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 EST

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 EST

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
Category:general -- posted at: 6:00am EST

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
Category:general -- posted at: 6:00am EST

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
Category:general -- posted at: 6:00am EST

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
Category:general -- posted at: 6:00am EST

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
Category:general -- posted at: 6:00am EST

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
Category:general -- posted at: 6:00am EST

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
Category:general -- posted at: 6:00am EST

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