Book Fight!

Tough love for literature

Leave a comment

Episode 58: Howard Jacobson, The Finkler Question

This 2010 novel won the Man Booker prize, though at least one of us might have thrown it across his living room. We talk about funny novels vs “comic novels,” Jewishness, when it’s okay to give up on a book, and middle-aged male novelists who can’t stop writing about their penises.

Finkler cover

Mike also has a new installment of Fan Fiction Corner, which includes examples of “alternate universe” TV fanfic, plus … well, spanking. Though maybe not the kind of spanking you’re expecting.

As always, you can stream the episode right here on our site, download the mp3 file, or visit us in the iTunes store, where you can listen to all our back episodes and subscribe (for free) so you never miss a new one. You can buy Mike’s recommendation–Jason Isbell’s new solo album, Southeastern–here, on vinyl, CD, or MP3. While we’re not always big fans of Amazon, they’ve got pretty good deals on vinyl, their MP3 files don’t come encoded with all the restrictive iTunes nonsense, and we recognize that not everyone has a good record store within walking or driving distance. For book purchases, check out Powell’s online store, by clicking on the book cover above, or any of the links around our site. You get to support an indie book store without leaving your house, and we get a little on the back end. Win win!


Download Episode 58 (right-click, save-as)


Bonus Episode: Matthew Quick, The Silver Linings Playbook

Well, listeners, it’s finally here. You wanted it. You voted for it. And we’ve delivered: a special bonus episode on the best-selling novel by Tom’s nemesis and America’s sweetheart, Q. Will Mike be won over by the author’s inspirational, Horatio Alger-like success story? Will we learn valuable life lessons from the book’s protagonist, as he tries to overcome his traumatic brain injury and dance his way into our hearts? Will Tom’s head explode? Will he punch Mike in the face?


We talk about the book’s treatment of both race and mental illness, and how the book might serve as a “playbook,” if you will, of how to write a successful commercial novel. We also talk about Tom’s rage, football, quirky female love interests, Indians’ beer choices, and afros. We also hear from our listener poll runner-up, Ravi Mangla, whose novel, Understudies, you can–and should!–buy directly from the Outpost 19 website.

As always, you can stream the episode here on our site, or download the episode as an mp3 file. Or visit us in the iTunes store, where you can download our entire back catalog and subscribe so that you never miss another episode. We welcome your feedback on the show. You can email us, hit us up on Twitter, or just leave a comment here on the site.

Thanks for listening!


Download Bonus Ep: Matthew Quick, Silver Linings Playbook (right-click, save-as)

1 Comment

Writers Ask: Writing Apps and Unlikeable Narrators

In our last Writers Ask segment we talked about ways to jumpstart your work when you’re between projects or feeling listless, which included breaking out of old habits and giving yourself some prompts. This week, Tom goes a step further and dives into the weird world of writing-prompt apps, to see if a smartphone and a few bucks can buy inspiration. In our second segment, we’re joined by Lucas Mann, author of Class A: Baseball in the Middle of Everywhere, to answer some questions about the relative importance of “likeability” in nonfiction. Could you dislike the narrator of an essay and still love the essay? How do you write about your uglier impulses while making it clear you understand their ugliness?

As always, you can stream the show right here on our site, or download the mp3 file to play on your favorite device. Or visit us in the iTunes store, where you can subscribe (for free) and never have to worry about missing another episode. You can also find us in Stitcher, or on just about any of the podcast apps that are floating around out there in the universe.

Thanks for listening! If you’ve got questions you’d like us to answer on the show, or just want to give us some feedback on what we’ve talked about, please don’t hesitate to email us. We almost definitely won’t yell at you!


Download Writers Ask: Writing Apps and Unlikeable Narrators (right-click, save-as)

Leave a comment

Episode 57: Ben Lerner, Leaving the Atocha Station

Well, we’ve reached the end of March, and finally we’re getting a Mike pick: Ben Lerner’s much-celebrated 2011 novel, Leaving the Atocha Station, about a poet in Spain on a Fullbright struggling through a series of major and minor existential crises. We talk about poetry and “poetry,” people having “profound experiences of art” (or pretending to), and what distinguishes interesting books about writers from self-indulgent ones.


We’ve also got another installment of Mike’s Fan Fiction Corner, much to Tom’ chagrin. This week Mike’s looking at fan fiction written about characters from canonical works of literature. If you liked Of Mice and Men but found it too depressing, or if you always wanted to know more about Gatsby’s sex life, we’ve got you covered.

There’s still time to register for this weekend’s Conversations and Connections conference in D.C., which includes a full day of panels, a box-wined happy hour, and a chance to hang out with your Book Fight hosts (as long as you don’t do anything to creep us out too much).

As always, we’d love your feedback. Drop us a line, or hit us up on Twitter, or just leave a comment here on the site. Thanks for listening!


Download Episode 57 (right-click, save-as)

1 Comment

Writers Ask: Baby Detective

This week we’re answering questions about how to best make use of your limited writing time, and how to jolt yourself into action when you’re between projects. How do you pick your next project? How do you generate material when you’re not sure what you want to write? How do you choose between a bunch of potential writing projects when you’ve only got so many hours in the day?

We also tackle a question about present tense, and revisit the dust-up over its apparent omnipresence that was kicked up in 2010 by British novelist Philip Henshler, who complained in the Telegraph about how many of that year’s Booker Prize nominees employed present-tense narration. Philip Pullman, author of the His Dark Materials series, also weighed in against the preponderance of present tense in fiction, comparing it to the increasing use of handheld cameras in film. We consider the potential cultural implications of so much present-tensing, but also try to offer some practical advice to writers who might want to use it in their work.

Also this week: A couple more rejections by friend-of-the-show Lee Klein, whose book you can check out here. We consider what Tom should do with himself, now that he’s a successful novelist with nary a care in the world. Plus we workshop ideas for a detective novel starring a baby with soiled diapers.

As always, you can stream the show right here on our site, or check us out in the iTunes store, where you can subscribe (for free!) and never miss another episode. We appreciate your feedback on any of the issues we discussed: feel free to drop us a line, hit us up on Twitter, or just leave a comment here on the site.

If you’d like to help support the show, you can donate here, or just click on the piggy bank over there in the right-hand column. Also, please consider shopping for books at Powell’s: if you use any of the links scattered around our site, we’ll get a little taste on the back end.

Thanks for listening!

Download Writers Ask: Baby Detective (right-click, save-as)


Episode 56: Anthony Powell, A Question of Upbringing

We’re joined by musician and novelist Wesley Stace (who you may also know as John Wesley Harding) to discuss the first novel in Anthony Powell’s 12-book cycle A Dance to the Music of Time. Once Mike finishes geeking out about meeting one of his favorite musicians——before recording the episode, Mike pulled his copy of Why We Fight off the shelf, and discovered he’d worn it out so much in his teens that his CD player wouldn’t even recognize the disc——we get down to discussing the book, and why Stace loves it so much.


In our second segment, we talk with Stace about his insistence that his first novel be published under his real name, and why people are so skeptical of musicians and actors who decide to write novels. We also talk about why there aren’t more good novels about rock music, Stace’s newest book, Wonderkid, his NPR variety show Cabinet of Wonders, the Wiggles, cricket, apple pie beds, James Bond, and Mr. Bean.

Stace’s most recent album is Self Titled, which we would enthusiastically recommend. The music featured in the episode (possibly to Stace’s consternation) all comes from his 1992 album, Why We Fight, which meant a lot to Mike as a teenager and which he thoroughly enjoyed revisiting (after buying a new copy to replace the worn-out one).

As always, you can stream the episode right here on our site, or check us out in the iTunes store, where you can subscribe (for free!) and never miss another episode. We also welcome your feedback on what we discussed: You can email us, or hit us up on Twitter.


Download Episode 56 (right-click, save-as)

Leave a comment

Writers Ask: Elevator Pitches and Caviar Dreams

Lots of websites and conferences promise to help you craft an “elevator pitch” for your novel. But is that something writers will ever use? This week we’re talking agent queries, the good and bad of writers’ conferences, and a few scams writers should avoid, like agents charging fees. We also answer a question about confident protagonists, specifically: How do you create a confident character without veering into a parody of confidence?

Other talking points include: AWP table antics, dirty Valentines, overalls, faking your own death, selling a novel, good agents vs. not-so-good agents, dramatic irony, how to pronounce the word ‘quixotic,’ and Tom’s forthcoming novel.

For more on “agent” Melanie Mills, here are a couple stories worth checking out.

For a hilariously pedantic/pissy argument about how to pronounce the word ‘quixotic,’ check out this Wiki discussion.

As promised on the episode, here are a couple photos Mike took while Tom sold his novel in a Wawa parking lot in Delaware.

"Silver Linings Playbook? Never heard of it, sir."

“Silver Linings Playbook? Never heard of it, sir.”

Half-eaten hot dog, sneaker that's seen better days.

Half-eaten hot dog, sneaker that’s seen better days.

Oh, and here’s a photo of Dave Housley from the early 90s, from the Barrelhouse archives.

"Hey Lance, if this doesn't work out, what do you think about starting a lit mag?"

“Hey Lance, if this doesn’t work out, what do you think about starting a lit mag?”

As always, you can stream the episode right here on our site, or download the mp3 file. Or check us out in the iTunes store, where you can subscribe (for free) and never miss another episode. While you’re there, do us a favor and leave a quick review, which will help us reach new listeners.

Thanks for listening! And come back next week for more!


Download Writers Ask: Elevator Pitches and Caviar Dreams (right-click, save-as)


Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 81 other followers