Book Fight

We tackle questions about Duotrope's recent decision to charge for its services, how to give a good literary reading, and whether it's okay to drink while writing.

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

It's the most wonderful time of the year! This week we put aside our usual reading schedule and tackled two Christmas-themed novels: John Grisham's 'Skipping Christmas' (source material for the Tim Allen movie 'Christmas with the Kranks') and Glenn Beck's 'The Christmas Sweater' (source material for a 'live movie event' that earned 1.9 out of 10 stars on IMDB). Will we deem them New Holiday Classics? Or will we consign them to the dustbin of Christmas history, along with our old pogs and parachute pants and cassingles? Only one way to find out!

Direct download: Ep_24-Christmas_Special.mp3
Category:general -- posted at: 6:00am EDT

This week's a Mike pick: George Singleton's new story collection, which is set in small-town South Carolina and populated by men who use their intelligence toward questionable ends. Plus a monkey, and lots of dogs. We also bring back our Judge A Book By Its Cover feature, take a couple potshots at Tucker Max, and read blurbs for a few more supporters of our fund drive. The episode is spnsored by Cobalt; you can get their new print issue for 1/2 price at the following link:

Direct download: Ep_23-George_Singleton_Stray_Decorum.mp3
Category:general -- posted at: 6:00am EDT

Special guest Paul Lisicky (Unbuilt Projects, Lawnboy, Famous Builder) helps us get a handle on one of his favorite novels, and discusses his own relationship to structure and linearity. And his love of Lil' Wayne.

Direct download: Ep_22-Jane_Bowles_Two_Serious_Ladies.mp3
Category:general -- posted at: 6:00am EDT

This week we tackle questions about personalized rejections, gifts for writers, and how to overcome writers' block. Fair warning: We recorded this after eating a Thanksgiving meal with Tom's relatives, and we're a little punchier than usual. Talking points include: pajamas, Mark Twain, diapers that look like jeans, and why you should consider donating a few bucks to help us upgrade our audio equipment. This week's episode is sponsored by Participants, the new story collection from Andrew Keating. You can learn more about the book, and pre-order it, at

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

We welcome special guest Owen King (We're All In This Together, Double Feature) to discuss Thomas Bernhard's novel about a Wittgenstein-like character who builds a cone in the woods for his sister.

Direct download: Ep_21-Thomas_Bernhard_Correction.mp3
Category:general -- posted at: 6:00am EDT

Tips for revision. Should you pay reading fees? And Tom goes ham on NaNoWriMo in our special lightning round.

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

This week we're flying without a net. By which we mean the hurricane changed our plans. No guest. No book. Just two grown men who, because of Hurricane Sandy, have been spending too much time cooped up indoors. We've got bits! And new segments, including Bookshelf of Shame and Judge A Book By Its Cover. Sh*t's about to get real, Book Fighters.

Direct download: Episode_20-Hurricane_Sandy_Stir-Crazy_Spectacular.mp3
Category:general -- posted at: 6:00am EDT

This week, we tackle questions about how to promote your book without annoying people, whether writing can be taught, and if you should worry too much about your stylistic influences. Talking points include: Facebook baby photos, giving out healthy treats for Halloween, John Gardner's On Becoming a Novelist, Tom's love of animals, and The Lockhorns, America's least happy cartoon couple.

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

Zadie's new one is so good it leads us into a larger discussion of the relationship between truth and art. Also, we squabble over the word 'relatable,' Tom's generation vs. Mike's generation, and whether we're ready to take over for the retiring Car Talk guys.

Direct download: Ep_19-Zadie_Smith_NW.mp3
Category:general -- posted at: 6:00am EDT

What kind of blowback can you expect when you portray someone ungenerously in your memoir? What if that person ends up sitting next to you, in your basement, with a belly full of scotch? Also: questions about character development and how to explain your writing to a date.

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

We're joined by novelist Stewart O'Nan (The Odds, Last Night at the Lobster, many many more) to discuss a book he calls "a great American novel no one has read." In the second half of the show, we hit him up for advice on writing, publishing, not getting obsessed about your sales figures. Talking points include: emotional complexity, detective stories, O.J.'s fictional confession, and tossing novels onto Michiko Kakutani's lawn. Get more at

Direct download: Ep_18-Theodore_Weesner_The_True_Detective.mp3
Category:general -- posted at: 6:00am EDT

Which lit mags should you subscribe to? Should you publish with a small press or hold out for one of the big boys? Should you end your story with a character offing himself? Also: the etiquette of question-asking, diamond floors, and ruby teeth.

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

This one was a Mike pick, a book he first read as a teenager living in Charleston, South Carolina, only a few miles from The Citadel, which may or may not bear some resemblance to The Institute, the military school at the center of this novel. Join us for a discussion of hazing, the Southern aristocracy, superfluous romantic entaglements, the whitest basketball game ever played, and lots and lots of adjectives.

Direct download: Ep_17-Pat_Conroy_The_Lords_of_Discipline.mp3
Category:general -- posted at: 6:00am EDT

This week Tom tells you why National Novel Writing Month is terrible for humanity. Plus: what books are best for killing bugs, and how much money can a novelist expect to make? Also, the latest missive in our ongoing feud with the literary journal Hobart.

Got a question for us? Email us at, or hit us up on Twitter, @Book_Fight.

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

Mike and Tom reminisce (and gossip) about their time at the Iowa Writers Workshop and their memories of Frank Conroy, the larger-than-life writer and teacher at the center of Tom Grimes' memoir.

Direct download: Ep_16-Tom_Grimes_Mentor.mp3
Category:general -- posted at: 6:00am EDT

Terrible cover letters, faint praise, and what it's like to get beaten by a sack full of doorknobs. It's our third installment of Writers Ask, where we solve all your problems, writing and otherwise. Get into it! If you want to ask a question, hit us up on Twitter @Book_Fight.

Direct download: Writers_Ask_3.mp3
Category:general -- posted at: 6:00am EDT

We welcome back our first repeat guest, fan favorite Katherine Hill, to discuss this "novel from life." Opinions are strong on this one. Talking points include: source material for novels, the need for writers to have non-writer friends, and Tom's weird love for the TV show Frasier. Plus the debut of our new and improved intro music!

Direct download: Ep_15-Sheila_Heti_How_Should_a_Person_Be.mp3
Category:general -- posted at: 6:00am EDT

In the second installment of Writers Ask, Tom and Mike tell you how to recommend books to your non-literary friends, and how to deal with relatives who think they know what you should write about. Special bonus: Lightning round!

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

Sometimes the angriest books are also the funniest. Join us for a discussion of race and comedy, tokenism, Bill Cosby, and Donovan McNabb. Also: Tom is forced to revise his previous all-out ban on puns.

Direct download: Ep_14-Percival_Everett_Erasure.mp3
Category:general -- posted at: 6:00am EDT

Tom hates metafiction. Mike tries to get him to love it, or at least appreciate it, using John Barth's 1996 collection On With the Story, linked stories that play a number of narrative games and call attention to how stories work, and how we expect them to work. We also talk about about the false dichotomy of sad stories vs happy stories, and why Tom's students want him to cheer the hell up.

Direct download: Ep_13-John_Barth_On_With_the_Story.mp3
Category:general -- posted at: 5:00am EDT

SGJ blurs the lines between novel and memoir in his ninth book, an investigation of a mysterious cotton fire in his hometown of Greenwood, Texas, which left several lives permanently damaged in its wake. Topics discussed include: fact vs. fiction, tornado preparedness, the bleak landscape of West Texas, and Superhero Dave Eggers' ability to take flight fueled only by the power of whimsy.

Direct download: Ep_12-Steven_Graham_Jones.mp3
Category:general -- posted at: 10:28am EDT

Road trip! We head to State College to talk with writer and editor Dave Housley about a book he recommended to us: Laura van den Berg's debut story collection, What the World Will Look Like When All the Water Leaves Us (Dzanc Books 2009). Topics include: book blurbs, dialogue, "lit fiction" as genre, George Saunders, monsters, Dockers vs dockers, Kristen Schaal, Heidi Montag, and ear fetishes. For more, visit our website at, or follow us on Twitter @Book_Fight.

Direct download: Ep_11-Laura_van_den_Berg_and_Dave_Housley.mp3
Category:general -- posted at: 1:27pm EDT

Join your Book Fight hosts as they seek out a possible Messiah in the badlands of North Dakota. Will they choose to follow him into the wilderness? Will they rebuke him? Only one way to find out...

Direct download: Ep_10--Tommy_Zurhellen_Nazareth_North_Dakota.mp3
Category:general -- posted at: 11:07pm EDT

Stephen King's 4000-page Dark Tower series begins with a sentence that came to him as a 19-year-old: "The man in black fled across the desert, and the gunslinger followed." We're reading (rereading, in Mike's case) the first book in the series, The Gungslinger. Revised significantly by King two decades after its publication, hailed by his fans as the opening salvo of a magnum opus, the book has been as widely read as any King ever wrote. But will it weather the harsh desert-sun glare of the Book Fighters' critical eyes? Or will it wither under the strains of this terrible, terrible metaphor? For more info: Do it!

Direct download: Ep_9-Stephen_King_The_Dark_Tower_Book_One.mp3
Category:general -- posted at: 10:43am EDT

We welcome another guest into the Book Fight Basement, our friend and fellow Temple faculty member Brad Windhauser, to talk about The Art of Fielding, a book which has garnered a ton of praise but which we're not sure is worthy of such critical handjobbery.

Direct download: Ep_8-Chad_Harbach_The_Art_of_Fielding.mp3
Category:general -- posted at: 11:01pm EDT

We welcome our second guest into the Book Fight basement: Jason Lewis, who last year published his first novel, The Fourteenth Colony. More importantly for our purposes, Jason has now read A Farewell to Arms six times. He's got some thoughts about it! Plenty of which Tom and Mike take issue with, especially when it comes to the book's female lead. You can check out Jason's writing--and his music--at

Direct download: Ep_7-Hemmingway_A_Farewell_to_Arms.mp3
Category:general -- posted at: 11:07pm EDT

Tom and Mike dig into their first story collection of the podcast, Lauren Groff's 2009 book Delicate Edible Birds. Topics include: the potential anxiety of reading work by your contemporaries, and why story collections are such a tough sell on the reading public.

Direct download: Ep_6-Lauren_Groff_Delicate_Edible_Birds.mp3
Category:general -- posted at: 12:36am EDT

Tom and Mike dig into a book the New York Times named as one of the top five novels of 2011, in which an academic with his career on the rocks travels to Antarctica to (among other things) unlock the mysteries behind Edgar Allen Poe's sole novel, The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym of Nantucket. Discussing the book leads to a larger conversation about why we read, and what we want from fiction.

Direct download: Ep_5-Mat_Johnson_Pym.mp3
Category:general -- posted at: 11:14pm EDT

Tom and Mike welcome their first guest to the Book Fight basement to help them revisit Judy Blume's YA novel Forever. Topics include: sex ed, awkward teenage romance, and the relative merits of naming one's genitalia.

Direct download: Episode_4-Judy_Blume_Forever.mp3
Category:general -- posted at: 7:00pm EDT

Mike and Tom try to figure out what separates this novel from the thousands of others that traffic in bleak, amoral human landscapes. Tom shares a story about his 14-year-old self he’s never told anyone, including his wife. Mike admits that, as a young person, he romanticized a certain dark worldview that seems kind of silly, even embarrassing, to his 35-year-old self. And they both agree that this novel is a pretty good argument in favor of continuing to fund Planned Parenthood.

Direct download: Episode_3-Joan_Didion_Play_It_As_It_Lays.mp3
Category:general -- posted at: 8:22pm EDT

Buddy Bolden was a jazz pioneer in turn-of-the-century New Orleans who at the age of 30 suffered a mental breakdown and was institutionalized. Topics include: the line between fact and fiction, the romanticism of mental illness, how hard it is to write well about music, and why teenagers continue to think Jim Morrison was a hero, rather than a giant asshole.

Direct download: Episode_2-M_Ondaajte_Coming_Through_Slaughter.mp3
Category:general -- posted at: 11:20am EDT

For the first episode of Book Fight, Tom and Mike gathered in the Book Fight Basement to talk about Sam Lispyte's 2010 novel The Ask. Topics include: the limitations of ironic detachment, whether Holden Caulfield would be a tender lover, and why Tom can't be happy even at The Happiest Place on Earth.

Direct download: Episode_1-Sam_Lipsyte_The_Ask.mp3
Category:general -- posted at: 12:52pm EDT