Book Fight

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

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

Thanks for listening! Come on back next week!

Direct download: Ep197_Fall17_Butler.mp3
Category:general -- posted at: 6:00am EST

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

Direct download: Ep196_Fall17_Martone.mp3
Category:general -- posted at: 6:00am EST

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

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

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

A jam-packed, good-time episode!

Direct download: Ep195_Fall17_Uggs.mp3
Category:general -- posted at: 6:00am EST

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

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

Direct download: Ep194_NoMoreSelfies.mp3
Category:general -- posted at: 6:00am EST

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

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

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

Thanks for listening! 

Direct download: Ep193_Summer17_Knausgaard.mp3
Category:general -- posted at: 6:00am EST

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

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

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

Thanks for listening!

Direct download: Ep192_Summer17_Heivoll.mp3
Category:general -- posted at: 6:00am EST

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

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

Direct download: Ep191_Summer17_Lunden.mp3
Category:general -- posted at: 6:00am EST

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

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

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

Direct download: Ep190_Summer17_Sittenfeld.mp3
Category:general -- posted at: 6:00am EST

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

Direct download: Ep189_Summer17_Chiarella.mp3
Category:general -- posted at: 6:00am EST

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

Direct download: Ep188_Houston_ContentsShifted.mp3
Category:general -- posted at: 6:00am EST