Book Fight (general)

This week's reading is an essay by Elena Passarello about birdsong. But it's also other stuff! We talk about writing that make you look at the world a bit differently, and writers who can make you care about things you never thought you cared about. In the second half of the show, we discuss a recent Twitter kerfuffle over writing and money and whether publishing a book can (or should) change your life.

The essay we discussed, "Of Singing," was published in The Iowa Review, but is also available in Passerello's 2012 collection, Let Me Clear My Throat, from Sarabande Books.

If you like the podcast, and would like some more of it in your life, please consider joining our Patreon, which gets you monthly bonus episodes and also helps support the making of the show: https://www.patreon.com/BookFight

 

Direct download: Ep348_CountingCrows_-_101820_7.49_PM.mp3
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This week we're discussing a piece of creative nonfiction that really pushes the bounds of the genre, imagining the effects of a California earthquake on animal and plant life, as well as several invented human characters. Daniel Orozco's "Shakers" appeared in an edition of Best American Essays edited by David Foster Wallace, but is it really an "essay"? 

In the second half of the show, we talk about strategies for running creative writing workshops. When we started teaching, we both adhered to the kinda "free-for-all" model favored in our own grad program, but over the years we've begun to experiment with more structured approaches, including tasking small groups with digging into various elements of a story or essay.

If you like the show, and would like some bonus Book Fight episodes in your life, consider joining our Patreon: https://www.patreon.com/BookFight

 

Direct download: Ep347_Earthquake_.mp3
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This week we're continuing our discussion of creative nonfiction by revisiting a classic in the genre: Joan Didion's essay "The White Album," which explores the author's experiences of anxiety and paranoia at "the end of the 60s." We talk about things we can learn from a master, and how to write essays that will age well. Plus: a Miss Manners column about famous authors snubbing an academic.

If you like the show, and you'd like to have some more of it in your life, you can subscribe to our Patreon for $5 a month and get access to our entire catalog of bonus episodes: Book Fight After Dark, where we explore various genres of romance novel, and Reading the Room, where we give writers (and readers) advice on how to live their lives.

Direct download: Ep346_DeathOfSixties.mp3
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This week we're discussing a series of very short essays by J. Robert Lennon, and talking about how we teach students to write very short pieces that aren't simply tossed-off and incomplete. Plus: Tom gets angry about a rich book influencer who thinks her pandemic problems are unique and interesting. And Mike runs into his first anti-masker in the wild.

You can read J. Robert Lennon's essay here: https://www.theliteraryreview.org/essay/ten-short-essays/

If you like the podcast, and would like more Book Fight in your life, for $5/month you can get three bonus episodes per month: https://www.patreon.com/BookFight

 

Direct download: Ep345_LennonEssays.mp3
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This week we're continuing our ongoing discussion of creative nonfiction by diving into an essay by Hanif Abdurraqib about attending a Bruce Springsteen concert in Jersey and thinking about who gets to romanticize "hard work" in America. Plus: Tom has opinions about Susan Orlean rebranding herself as a fun drunk, and Mike brings you another installment of "The Worst Person in This Month's Architectural Digest."

You can buy Hanif's book here: https://twodollarradio.com/products/they-cant-kill-us

If you like our podcast, and would like to get all our bonus episodes, you can subscribe to our Patreon for $5/month: https://www.patreon.com/BookFight

 

Direct download: Ep344_Abdurraqib.mp3
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This week we're talking about a second-person essay by Jennifer Murvin that was first published in The Cincinnati Review. We also talk about grading in creative writing classes, and how to arrive at standards that are fair without being either too mean or a pushover. Plus at least one tantalizing blind item!

Links:

You can learn more about Jennifer Murvin and her writing here: https://www.jennifermurvin.com/

Check out the bookstore she owns (and order books online) here: https://paginationbookshop.com/

And if you like our Podcast, and would enjoy getting bonus episodes of it each month, you can join our Patreon here: https://www.patreon.com/BookFight

 

Direct download: Ep343_Grades.mp3
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This week we're discussing an Alice Bolin essay from The Toast, "A Meditation on Britney's 'Baby One More Time,'" which uses the pop star's music as a jumping-off point for an exploration of loneliness, isolation, and the ways in which we hold ourselves apart from others. We talk about ways that writers can use their pop culture obsessions to get into some pretty interesting personal territory, and how we can get students, in particular, to wade out into those deeper waters, rather than simply writing essays about music they like.

Also: Tom is mad about a writing conference that emailed him, and Mike hate-reads Architectural Digest.

You can read the Alice Bolin essay here: https://the-toast.net/2014/06/17/meditation-britneys-baby-one-time/

And if you like the show, and would like more of it in your life, you can join our Patreon, for just $5/month, and get all our bonus episodes: https://www.patreon.com/BookFight

Thanks for listening!

Direct download: Ep342_PopCultureWriting.mp3
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Welcome to our new fall season! Yes, we know that technically it's not fall, but school's back in session, and there are some brown leaves on the tree in front of one of our houses (it's possible the tree is dead). For the next several weeks, we're going to be delving into the world of creative nonfiction, with a particular eye towards teaching that genre in a classroom. We're both college professors who have taught both undergrad and grad classes, and this semester we both have occasion to teach some creative essays in our classes.

We're also interested in exploring the genre lines. What makes something "creative" nonfiction? What all fits under that broad umbrella? And where does creative nonfiction bump up against (and borrow from) other genres?

For this first week, we're discussing an essay by Joshua Wheeler, "Parachutes," Gulf Coast. The essay would later appear in his collection, Acid West.

If you like the show, and would like more Book Fight in your life, please consider joining our Patreon. For $5, you'll get access to three bonus episodes each month, including Book Fight After Dark, where we explore the many, many sub-genres of 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. How do you talk to a writer whose work you like after a reading? How do you promote your own writing without annoying people? Should you force your spouse or significant other to read your work? We've got the answers to these and many other pressing questions.

You can check out all our Patreon content here: https://www.patreon.com/BookFight

Direct download: Ep341_BackToSchool.mp3
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This week we're discussing a Deb Olin Unferth story about an adjunct professor who knows when people will die, "Wait Till You See Me Dance," which prompts a discussion of our own brief tenure as adjuncts, and our current tenure as (non-tenure-track) professors, and how we're feeling about the upcoming semester. Also: dark humor, reading for surprise, and falling down wells.

Unferth's story first appeared in Harper's, in 2009, and was the title story of her 2017 story collection.

You can read the story here, via Electric Lit: https://electricliterature.com/a-story-of-a-murderous-adjunct-professor-by-deb-olin-unferth/

If you like the show, and would like more Book Fight in your life, you can join our Patreon and get bonus episodes every month. For $5, you'll get access to our regular series Book Fight After Dark, where we read steamy (and sometimes very weird!) romance novels. We're also putting out other bonus content, including Reading the Room, where we give writers advice on navigating their lives. The $5/month also helps us keep making the show, which we enjoy doing but also don't get paid for.

Join up here: https://www.patreon.com/BookFight

Thanks for listening! Come on back next week!

 

Direct download: Ep340_AdjunctBlues.mp3
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This week we're talking about an essay by Britni de la Cretaz about her complicated relationship with both the Miami Marlins and her hometown. That leads to a discussion of what makes sports-related writing interesting to non-sports fans, and how to unlearn some of the writing lessons taught to you in school. We also take another dive into #bookstagram, to try to figure out whether book influencers have actually read any books. Plus: Tom waits for a team of men to deliver his fancy new desk.

Here's a link to the essay in Catapult: https://catapult.co/stories/miami-marlins-florida-baseball-coming-home-britni-de-la-cretaz

If you like the show, and would like more Book Fight in your life, please consider joining our Patreon. For $5, you'll get access to three bonus episodes each month, including 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. How do you talk to a writer whose work you like after a reading? How do you promote your own writing without annoying people? Should you force your spouse or significant other to read your work? We've got the answers to these and many other pressing questions.

Direct download: Ep339_FloridaMarlins.mp3
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This week we're reading a short story from Nick White's debut collection that was recommended by author Alissa Nutting. White's story prompts a discussion of the book business, specifically the rarity of short story collections published by big presses and how both the hype machine for young authors and the pushback against the hype machine for young authors can grow quickly tiresome.

Also this week: We begin what will surely be a multi-week exploration of book influencers (book-fluencers?) on Instagram.

Here's a link to the story, and Alissa Nutting's recommendation of it, via Electric Lit: https://electricliterature.com/alissa-nutting-recommends-a-story-about-the-aftermath-of-abuse-nick-white/

If you'd like to join our Patreon, to support the show and also get bonus episodes each month, you can do that here: https://www.patreon.com/BookFight

Thanks for listening!

Direct download: Ep338_NickWhite.mp3
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We ran into some technical difficulties with the book-based episode scheduled to release this week, so instead we're bringing you this free bonus episode, which was slated to be behind the Patreon paywall. We hope you enjoy it! We talk about what writers owe--and do not owe--to readers who reach out to them with questions, comments, or a desire to continue the conversation started by their work. How can you be kind and generous to your readers, but also set boundaries so that you don't wind up giving away too much of your time and labor?

This episode was inspired in part by responses Mike's been getting to an essay he wrote about reckoning with his racist fraternity. Lots of people have reached out with kind comments, and interesting questions, but he's also gotten requests that feel like a bridge too far.

Thanks for listening, and we hope you enjoy the bonus episode! We do a couple of these a month for our Patreon subscribers, along with a bonus book episode, usually about a goofy romance novel or something else outside our usual reading patterns. If you want more of that content, you can subscribe for just $5 a month. And we'll be back next week with another regular episode.

Direct download: BonusEpisode_Aug3_-_8220_3.24_PM.mp3
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This week's story is by South Korean writer and filmmaker Lee Chang-Dong, and it's called "On Destiny." It basically traces the entire life of its main character, from his youth in an orphanage, separated during the war from his parents, and through stints of poverty, jail time, and then a possible payday. We talk about what makes certain stories feel fable-like, and the surprising little details that crop up when reading fiction in translation, like unexpected metaphors and unfamiliar aphorisms.

Also this week: another installment of Celebrities Recommend, including book picks from a star tennis player and a Food Network star.

Read the short story here: https://www.asymptotejournal.com/special-feature/lee-chang-dong-on-destiny/

If you like the show, and would like more Book Fight in your life, please consider joining our Patreon. For $5, you'll get access to three bonus episodes a month, including Book Fight After Dark, where we read some of the world's weirdest--and steamiest!--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. How do you talk to a writer whose work you like after a reading? How do you promote your own writing without annoying people? Should you force your spouse or significant other to read your work? We've got the answers to these and many other pressing questions.

Direct download: Ep337_OnDestiny.mp3
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This week we're discussing a story by a celebrated Iranian author, Goli Taraghi, as well as a piece from the Los Angeles Review of Books that attempts to put her work into a cultural context. Are there things we don't get, as Western readers? Will certain elements of fiction always be culturally dependent, and thus slightly out of reach for readers outside that culture? Or is the story just too long and kind of meandering?

Also this week: Dave Eggers gets roasted.

Here's a link to the story: "The Pomegranate Lady and Her Sons"
The piece from the LARB: "The Forgotten Charm of Iranian Storytelling"
Dave Eggers in The New York Times: "Testing, Testing"

If you like the show, and would like more Book Fight in your life, please consider joining our Patreon. For $5, you'll get access to three bonus episodes a month, including 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. How do you talk to a writer whose work you like after a reading? How do you promote your own writing without annoying people? Should you force your spouse or significant other to read your work? We've got the answers to these and many other pressing questions.

Direct download: Ep336_Pomegranate.mp3
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This week we discuss a 2018 John Edgar Wideman story from The New Yorker, about a writing teacher trying to decide how to talk to a white student about a well-meaning story she's writing about the travails of a person of color. You can read that story here. Then we learn what books Val Kilmer thinks we should be reading this summer.

If you like the show, and would like more Book Fight in your life, please consider joining our Patreon. For $5, you'll get access to three bonus episodes a month, including 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. How do you talk to a writer whose work you like after a reading? How do you promote your own writing without annoying people? Should you force your spouse or significant other to read your work? We've got the answers to these and many other pressing questions.

Direct download: Ep335_Huckleberry.mp3
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We're in the midst of a global pandemic and a long-overdue upswell of support for defunding our ridiculously over-militarized police, all of which made Tom want to read a story about his dear old Ireland: Edward J. Delaney's "The Drowning." Actually the story is fine--good, even!--but it leads to a discussion of when we want fiction that helps us to think about the current moment and when we want fiction that takes us out of the current moment. Also: we follow up on last week's discussion of what personal essays are for.

Direct download: Ep334_IrishEyesSmiling.mp3
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This week we're discussing an essay by Mary Heather Noble called "Plume: An Investigation," which was originally published by True Story. The essay weaves together a few narrative strands, including the author trying to understand her young daughter's sometimes perplexing behavior, which leads her, unexpectedly, to a better understanding of her difficult father. The essay's a good one, and it prompts a discussion of what makes certain personal essays stand out in what is an increasingly crowded genre.

Also: can anti-racism reading lists help white people grow? Finally, we talk a little about how we pick things to read while we're in the midst of our own writing projects.

If you like the show, and would like more Book Fight in your life, please consider subscribing to our Patreon. For $5, you'll get access to three bonus episodes a month, including 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. How do you talk to a writer whose work you like after a reading? How do you promote your own writing without annoying people? Should you force your spouse or significant other to read your work? We've got the answers to these and many other pressing questions.

Direct download: Ep333_Plume.mp3
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This week we're discussing Taffy Brodesser-Akner's Fleishman Is In Trouble, a book that's been described as the novel Phillip Roth would have written if Phillip Roth understood women. Which is a pretty good Phillip Roth zing, but also maybe true? We talk about the book's depiction of internet dating, whether its view of marriage is cynical or pragmatic, and why at least one of us felt the need to reconsider some of his own behavior after reading the novel's closing chapters. Plus: we offer some advice for writers who are trying to promote their work online without stepping on the important work being done--on Twitter and elsewhere--by Black Lives Matter and anti-police activists. Is is possible to talk about your own stuff without getting in the way of an important political and cultural moment? Should you just shut up for a while?

Direct download: Ep332_Fleishman.mp3
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This week we're discussing Elle Nash's 2018 novel Animals Eat Each Other, in which a nameless narrator enters into a rather fraught three-way relationship with a tattoo artist/Satanist and his girlfriend. We talk about what makes for good/interesting writing about sex, and how a book like this might hit differently at different ages. Plus: another installment of Judge A Book By Its Cover!

You can see the books we're judging on our website, or on Twitter

If you like the show, and would like more Book Fight in your life, please consider subscribing to our Patreon. For $5, you'll get access to three bonus episodes a month, including 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. How do you talk to a writer whose work you like after a reading? How do you promote your own writing without annoying people? Should you force your spouse or significant other to read your work? We've got the answers to these and many other pressing questions.

Direct download: Ep331_ElleNash.mp3
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This week we're reading one of Donald Barthelme's first published stories, "A Shower of Gold" which prompts a discussion of the relationship between postmodern absurdity and contemporary politics. Also: we check out recommended reading lists from Hallmark movie actor and producer Candace Cameron Bure and Red Hot Chili Peppers bassist Flea. You might be surprised by what at least one of them is reading!

If you like the show, and would like more Book Fight in your life, please consider subscribing to our Patreon. For $5, you'll get access to three bonus episodes a month, including 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. How do you talk to a writer whose work you like after a reading? How do you promote your own writing without annoying people? Should you force your spouse or significant other to read your work? We've got the answers to these and many other pressing questions.

Direct download: Ep330_Barthelme_Gold.mp3
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This week we're discussing a short story by Kelly Ramsey, "First Citizen of Mars," in which the narrator is the first person flown to Mars by Elon Musk. Actually the story is about all sorts of things, and the Elon Musk bit is really just a jumping-off point. We talk about how fiction can use real people--or well-known fictional characters--in interesting ways. We also take a visit to Yahoo Answers to help a few people out with their writing and publishing-related questions, and Tom takes a deep dive into that "what if the Beatles never existed" movie that probably none of us will ever see.

If you like the show, and would like more Book Fight in your life, please consider subscribing to our Patreon. For $5, you'll get access to three bonus episodes a month, including 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. How do you talk to a writer whose work you like after a reading? How do you promote your own writing without annoying people? Should you force your spouse or significant other to read your work? We've got the answers to these and many other pressing questions.

Direct download: Ep329_ElonMuskRocketToMars.mp3
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This week we're reading a story by A.S. Byatt about a couple of upper-class twits who get their comeuppance. You love to see it! Also, in light of the recent dustup over Curtis Sittenfeld's Rodhman, we talk about alternate-universe novels we'd like to see in the world. Plus a new segment: Dante's Inferno!

If you like the show, and would like more Book Fight in your life, please consider subscribing to our Patreon. For $5, you'll get access to three bonus episodes a month, including 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. How do you talk to a writer whose work you like after a reading? How do you promote your own writing without annoying people? Should you force your spouse or significant other to read your work? We've got the answers to these and many other pressing questions.

Direct download: Ep328_ASByatt_.mp3
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For this week's episode we read John Jeremiah Sullivan's 2004 essay about attending one of the biggest Christian rock festivals in the world--Creation Fest, which is held annually in rural Pennsylvania and attracts upwards of 50,000 people each year. We talk about what separates great participatory journalism from frustrating participatory journalism, and our own brushes with youth-group Christianity. Then, for no good reason at all, we do a deep internet dive into erotic Elon Musk fanfic.

Direct download: Ep327_Creation_.mp3
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This week's short story traces the entire history of the planet in just about 2,000 words. Rachel B. Glaser's "Pee On Water" was first published in New York Tyrant and was the title story of her debut collection. We talk about the story's experiment in narrative time, and the accumulative quality of its short sentences. Also: Mike breaks down and buys a fancy office chair, we commiserate about repetitive stress pains, and we do another round of Judge a Book By Its Cover.

If you like the show, and would like more Book Fight in your life, please consider subscribing to our Patreon. For $5, you'll get access to three bonus episodes a month, including 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. How do you talk to a writer whose work you like after a reading? How do you promote your own writing without annoying people? Should you force your spouse or significant other to read your work? We've got the answers to these and many other pressing questions.

Direct download: Ep326_RachelGlaser_PeeOnWater.mp3
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This week we're discussing a Zadie Smith essay, "Fascinated to Presume: In Defense of Fiction," originally published in the New York Review of Books in 2019. The piece wrestles with how novelists can practice their craft--particularly when it comes to writing characters unlike themselves in some fundamental way--in an age when attempts at writing across racial, ethnic, gender, or other lines are often seen as problematic, or at least ill-advised.

Later in the podcast, we try out a new segment in which Tom explores his old CD collection and rates his former self.

If you like the show, and would like more Book Fight in your life, please consider subscribing to our Patreon. For $5, you'll get access to three bonus episodes a month, including 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. How do you talk to a writer whose work you like after a reading? How do you promote your own writing without annoying people? Should you force your spouse or significant other to read your work? We've got the answers to these and many other pressing questions.

Direct download: Ep325_ZadieSmith_DefenseOfFiction.mp3
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This week we talk about one of Stephen King's early stories (first published in 1970, the same year he graduated college) and the recent rash of pandemic-themed personal essays. Are there ways to write about your quarantine experience while acknowledging that you're not the center of everyone else's universe?

If you like the show, and would like more Book Fight in your life, please consider subscribing to our Patreon. For $5, you'll get access to three bonus episodes a month, including 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. How do you talk to a writer whose work you like after a reading? How do you promote your own writing without annoying people? Should you force your spouse or significant other to read your work? We've got the answers to these and many other pressing questions.

Direct download: Ep324_King_GraveyardShift.mp3
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This week we're discussing a story from Jamel Brinkley's award-winning debut collection, A Lucky Man. Plus, we answer more ridiculous NaNoWriMo questions, and we check out Amazon's Kindle store to see how many coronavirus-themed books have popped up already (short answer: so many!).

If you like the show, and would like more Book Fight in your life, please consider subscribing to our Patreon. For $5, you'll get access to three bonus episodes a month, including 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. How do you talk to a writer whose work you like after a reading? How do you promote your own writing without annoying people? Should you force your spouse or significant other to read your work? We've got the answers to these and many other pressing questions.

Direct download: Ep323_JamelBrinkley.mp3
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This week we have a spoiler-free discussion of Teddy Wayne's new novel, Apartment, which is about a couple writers in Columbia's MFA program, circa 1996. We also take another dive into the re-opened NaNoWriMo forums, and play a round of Judge A Book By Its Cover, which unexpectedly turns up a teen romance novel with a cover featuring a young, pre-Friends Courtney Cox.

If you like the show, and would like more Book Fight in your life, please consider subscribing to our Patreon. For $5, you'll get access to three bonus episodes a month, including 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. How do you talk to a writer whose work you like after a reading? How do you promote your own writing without annoying people? Should you force your spouse or significant other to read your work? We've got the answers to these and many other pressing questions.

Direct download: Ep322_TeddyWayne_Apartment_.mp3
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This week we're discussing a book of "micro-memoirs" by the poet and essayist Beth Ann Fennelly. Plus another dive into the NaNoWriMo forums, and we resurrect a segment from the early days of the show: Judge a Book By Its Cover.

If you like the show, and would like more Book Fight in your life, please consider joining our Patreon. For $5, you'll get access to three bonus episodes a month, including 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. How do you talk to a writer whose work you like after a reading? How do you promote your own writing without annoying people? Should you force your spouse or significant other to read your work? We've got the answers to these and many other pressing questions.

Direct download: Ep321_MicroMemoirs_.mp3
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This week we're discussing a short story recommended to us on Twitter as "feel-good literary fiction," though we're not sure that label is totally apt. "The Era," by Nana Kwame Adjei--Brenya, was first published in Guernica in April 2018. It's funny, and and strange, but "feel-good"? The jury's still out.

Also this week: NaNoWriMo has fired up its engines in response to the current pandemic, aiming to get people writing while they're stuck at home. Which means it's time for us to take another visit to the NaNoWriMo forums, to answer some pressing questions about vampires who eat regular food, what to name an Irish factory owner, and lots of other stuff. AND, as if that wasn't enough for one episode, we've also got some Tony the Tiger fan fiction. Who knew Tony was so sexy? (the whole internet, apparently).

If you like the show, and would like more Book Fight in your life, please consider subscribing to our Patreon. For $5, you'll get access to three bonus episodes a month, including 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. How do you talk to a writer whose work you like after a reading? How do you promote your own writing without annoying people? Should you force your spouse or significant other to read your work? We've got the answers to these and many other pressing questions.

Direct download: Ep320_TheEra.mp3
Category:general -- posted at: 6:00am EDT

This week we're discussing a story about a murderous tiger by Rajesh Parameswaran, which was first published in Granta and then appeared in his 2013 book I Am An Executioner. The story raises a number of questions, like: Do tigers have the mental ability to make choices? And: Do we want to follow an animal around for 21 pages? Answers, it turns out, are mixed.

Also this week, the triumphant return of Fan Fiction Corner! Featuring some very sexy Mr. Clean fanfic (or very weird, depending on your personal proclivities). And Tom's got some raccoon news. All the old favorites!

If you like the show, and would like more Book Fight in your life, please consider joining our Patreon. For $5, you'll get access to three bonus episodes a month, including 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. How do you talk to a writer whose work you like after a reading? How do you promote your own writing without annoying people? Should you force your spouse or significant other to read your work? We've got the answers to these and many other pressing questions.

Direct download: Ep319_TigerStory.mp3
Category:general -- posted at: 6:00am EDT

This week we check out the online literary magazine Taco Bell Quarterly, which recently put out its second issue. The journal began on something of a whim, according to its founding editor, and now publishes fiction, poetry, and creative nonfiction inspired or related to Taco Bell in one way or another. We were curious: Would the pieces feel gimmicky? Or could Taco Bell be a weird but useful portal into great contemporary literature?

We also provide a recap of AWP 2020--the conference nearly derailed by the coronavirus--and try go figure out why we're sometimes annoyed by the relentlessly positive tweets of writers like Maggie Smith and Chuck Wendig (maybe because we're bad people?)

If you like the show, and would like more Book Fight in your life, please consider joining our Patreon. For $5, you'll get access to three bonus episodes a month, including 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. How do you talk to a writer whose work you like after a reading? How do you promote your own writing without annoying people? Should you force your spouse or significant other to read your work? We've got the answers to these and many other pressing questions!

Direct download: Ep318_TacoBellQuarterly_.mp3
Category:general -- posted at: 6:00am EDT

It's the final episode of our Winter of Wayback season, and we couldn't leave the twenties behind without talking about Dorothy Parker. Like a lot of people these days, both of us knew Parker only from her many famous quips, so we wanted to see what her actual writing was like. The story we read is one of her most popular--it won an O'Henry award, and is still regularly anthologized--but it wasn't what either of us expected.

Also this week: a bit of 1929 flash fiction that still holds up, plus monkey news!

Direct download: Ep317_Wayback_1929.mp3
Category:general -- posted at: 6:00am EDT

We continue our journey through the 1920s by reading one of the decade's best-selling writers, and arguably its most famous adventurer. While still a student at Princeton, Richard Halliburton decided he wanted to spend his life traveling the globe, and writing about his adventures. At the height of his fame, he was publishing a new book every year and a half. Some doubted the veracity of his stories, including F. Scott Fitzgerald, who said his books were entertaining but probably dreamed up from behind a desk in Brooklyn.

Direct download: Ep316_1928_Halliburton.mp3
Category:general -- posted at: 6:00am EDT

This week we're continuing our trip through the 1920s by reading a couple New Yorker pieces from "reporter at large" Morris Markey. The New Yorker was founded by Harold Ross in 1925, and Markey was an early hire. He'd worked as a reporter for a handful of publications, but Ross basically gave him carte blanche to write about whatever he wanted. His work has been largely lost to history, but some have argued that Markey deserves more credit in discussions of New Journalism.

We checked out a couple of Markey's columns--about organized crime and Prohibition--to see if they stand the test of time. Plus, a story about a monkey who had diners at a fancy Parisian restaurant dropping their monocles into their wine.

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 three monthly bonus episodes, including 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: Ep315_1927.mp3
Category:general -- posted at: 6:00am EDT

This week we're continuing our trip through the 1920s by reading a couple stories from the short-lived literary magazine Fire!!, founded in 1926 by a group of black writers and artists that included Langston Hughes, Countee Cullen, and Zora Neale Hurston. The stories we discuss include one by Zora Neale Hurston that is very dialect-heavy, and one by Gwendolyn Bennett about a former boxer living in France who (justifiably) hates American white people.

Also this week: we discuss the recent controversy surrounding Jeannine Cummins' book American Dirt, and learn more than we ever wanted to know about "book influencer" and very rich person Zibby Owens, host of the podcast Mom's Don't Have Time to Read and ardent defender of American Dirt. You can read Zibby's essay on the importance of being nice to books here, via Medium.

If you like the show and would like more Book Fight in your life, consider subscribing to our Patreon. For $5, you'll get access to three monthly bonus episodes, including Book Fight After Dark, where we read some of the world's weirdest--and steamiest!--novels, and Reading the Room, in which we offer advice on how to navigate awkward, writing-related social situations.

Direct download: Ep314_1926.mp3
Category:general -- posted at: 6:00am EDT

Welcome back to our Winter of Wayback series, in which we dig into the literary scene of the 1920s. This week: a novel about a conniving flapper who bends men to her will. Gentlemen Prefer Blondes, by Anita Loos, is the source material for the 1954 Marilyn Monroe/Jane Russel movie (by way of a Broadway musical). It was also a blockbuster success in its own right, even if in historical memory it's been a bit overshadowed by the film. Edith Wharton declared it "the great American novel," and both William Faulkner and James Joyce counted themselves as fans.

Also this week: Anita Loos's longtime crush on H.L. Mencken, plus more monkey escapades (the '20s really were the heyday of monkey escapades).

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: Ep313_GentlemenPreferBlondes.mp3
Category:general -- posted at: 6:00am EDT

This week we're celebrating 1924 by reading one of the most popular short stories of all time, "The Most Dangerous Game," by Richard Connell. Even if you've never read the story, you'll probably recognize the basic plot, which has inspired everything from a Simpsons episode to the Van Damme movie Hard Target.

We talk about how this story stacks up compared with other '20s adventure stories, why it's still being taught to middle- and high-schoolers, and whether it's a commentary on social Darwinism. Plus: monkey news, and flapper bandits!

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: Ep312_1924.mp3
Category:general -- posted at: 6:00am EDT

This week we're discussing Jean Toomer's 1923 book CANE, a genre-bending mix of prose and poetry written after the author spent several months working as a substitute principal in Georgia. Many people hold the book up as a modernist classic, and an important influence on other writers during the Harlem Renaissance, but: does it stand the test of time?

Also this week: more monkey news! People in the '20s seemed fascinated with monkeys and their antics, even as anti-Darwinists seemed deeply offended at the suggestion that they'd evolved from apes.

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: BF_Ep111_1923.mp3
Category:general -- posted at: 6:00am EDT

Since we're doing an entire season about the 1920s, at some point we had to read Zane Grey, one of the decade's best-selling authors. His book The Vanishing American was first serialized in 1922, in Ladies Home Journal, and angered some people for deigning to suggest that the Indian Schools run by the Bureau of Indian Affairs might have been less than amazing. The book's main character was loosely inspired by the experience of Jim Thorpe, who attended the Carlisle School in Pennsylvania before he became one of the world's most celebrated athletes.

We also discuss Emily Post's rules for etiquette, and "flapper cops."

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: Ep310_1922.mp3
Category:general -- posted at: 6:00am EDT

This week, we're continuing our exploration of the 1920s with Robert Keable's Simon Called Peter, a mostly-forgotten novel about an Anglican priest who goes off to war and falls in love with a lady who isn't his fiancee. He also has a crisis of faith, both because of the "having sex with someone who isn't his fiancee" thing, and also the thing where the British troops don't seem to take religion all that seriously. Apparently the book was quite scandalous in its time, getting banned in some places, showing up in a murder trial, and even meriting a dismissive mention in The Great Gatsby.

Will Keable's book stand the test of time? Or will its moral conundrums seem kind of laughably quaint to a couple 21st-century readers? Also: we explore the practice of grafting skin from monkey testicles onto humans, which was apparently all the rage in the 1920s.

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: Ep309_1921.mp3
Category:general -- posted at: 12:52pm EDT

We're kicking off our Winter of Wayback season, in which we travel to the past and dig up some forgotten (or under-appreciated) books and stories, and use them to learn some things about the time period. This year we'll be traveling through the 1920s, a decade neither of us knows all that much about, outside of the stereotypical images of flappers and speakeasies and Lost Generation writers smoking jazz cigarettes at Parisian cafes. For 1920 we've unearthed some old issues of Black Mask, a pulp magazine begun by H.L. Mencken as a way to fund his more literary magazine, The Smart Set.

We break down a few stories from the magazine's early issues and talk about story-writing in an age before television. We also talk about our (limited) knowledge of the 20s, and what we hope to learn this season.

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: Ep308_1920.mp3
Category:general -- posted at: 6:00am EDT

We're off this week for the holidays, but we're releasing this Patreon-only episode from September, in which we discussed THE DEAL, a sexy campus romance novel by Elle Kennedy.

If you like this episode, you can get one like it every single month for just five bucks. Check out all our bonus content at our Patreon page

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

It's that special time of year again, folks. When your beloved Book Fight hosts take a break from all the very serious literary talk and dive into a sometimes-cheesy, sometimes-infuriating, always-entertaining Christmas book. In past years we've read books by Debbie Macomber, Janet Evanovich, and even Glenn Beck. This year we're checking out a book by the "queen of the beach read," Elin Hilderbrand, who a few years ago branched out with a series of books set around the holidays.

For this episode, we read the first of Hilderbrand's winter books, which introduced us to the Quinn family. Kelley Quinn owns an inn on Nantucket that he might have to sell. His second wife, Mitzi, has been carrying on an affair with the man who dresses up as Santa Claus at the inn's annual holiday party. His oldest son, Patrick, might be headed to prison for insider trading. His daughter Ava is feeling lukewarm about her boyfriend, and his middle son Nathaniel is about to propose to a hot French lady. Oh, and his youngest son might be dead in Afghanistan.

We'll be taking our usual end-of-year hiatus, BUT we'll have a special bonus episode next week for our Patreon subscribers. We read a second, much more ridiculous holiday book, about knitting vampires, and we can't wait to tell you all about it. To get that episode, and our other bonus content--including monthly episodes of Book Fight After Dark, and episodes in our advice series, Reading the Room--all you have to do is chip in $5 a month, which helps support the show and keeps our regular episodes free.

Direct download: Ep307_Christmas2019.mp3
Category:general -- posted at: 6:00am EDT

We've spent this fall season looking at some of the best stories to teach in creative writing workshops. It's our last week, and we're talking flash fiction. Definitions of flash vary, but generally speaking the term seems to apply to short stories of fewer than 1,000 words. We discuss our approaches toward teaching flash fiction generally, and then we dive into a few specific pieces: "What Happened to the Phillips?" by Tyrese Coleman; Jacob Guajardo's "Good News Is Coming"; "When It's Human and When It's Dog" by Amy Hempel; and two short pieces by Joy Williams.

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: Ep306_FlashFiction.mp3
Category:general -- posted at: 6:00am EDT

This week, we're discussing stories told from multiple points of view. It can be difficult enough to successfully capture a single character's consciousness on the page, which makes our first story pick especially impressive: "The Casual Car Pool," by Katherine Bell, which originally appeared in the fall 2005 issue of Ploughshares. Our second pick takes a different tack to exploring multiple characters, keeping a distanced, fly-on-the-wall perspective: J.D. Salinger's "A Perfect Day for Bananafish."

We talk about how we approach point of view when teaching creative writing classes, particularly when it comes to the varieties of third person narration. We also talk about the difficulty of writing from multiple points of view in a single story, and whether it's something we'd encourage or discourage our students from trying.

Also this week: one last trip into 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: Ep305_MultiplePOVs.mp3
Category:general -- posted at: 6:00am EDT

This fall, we've been talking about the best stories to teach in a creative writing class. For this week's competition, we're discussing dialogue, and pitting a story by Mary Miller against one by George Saunders. In Miller's story, "Aunt Jemima's Old-Fashioned Pancakes," a teenage girl navigates friendship, romance, and weird dads. In Saunders' "Pastoralia," a man navigates a very strange job and a difficult coworker.

Also this week: another trip into 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: Ep304_Dialogue.mp3
Category:general -- posted at: 6:00am EDT

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 EDT

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 EDT

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 EDT

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 EDT

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 EDT

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 EDT

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 EDT

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 EDT

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 EDT

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 EDT

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 EDT

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 EDT

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 EDT

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 EDT

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 EDT

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 EDT

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 EDT

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 EDT

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 EDT

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 EDT

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 EDT

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

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

Thanks for listening!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Episode Links:

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

John Grisham, "The Faulkner Thing" 

"Editor Fired Following Harassment Accusation," New York Times 

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

IMDB page for Boomerang

Janet Maslin reviews Boomerang in The New York Times

 

Thanks for listening!

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

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

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

Thanks for listening!

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

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

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

Thanks for listening!

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

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

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

Thanks for listening!

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

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 EDT

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 EDT

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 EDT

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 EDT

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 EDT

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 EDT