Book Fight!

Tough love for literature


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Episode 65: J.D. Salinger, “Raise High the Roofbeam, Carpenters” and “Seymour: An Introduction”

This week we read a couple long stories (novellas, maybe?) by this guy named J.D. Salinger. Maybe you’ve heard of him? These two pieces are usually packaged together, and both concern Seymour Glass, and more generally the Glass family, who make appearances in a number of other Salinger stories. Most notably, perhaps, “A Perfect Day for Bananafish,” “Franny,” and “Zooey.” Anyway, we read these two things and we talked about them and we recorded it and now you can put our conversation in your ears if you want. Technology!

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Discussion points include: discursive narrators, old-fashioned storytelling, the pleasures of being a recluse, and which generation is the worst generation.

As always, you can stream the episode right here on our site, by clicking on the little player thingy below. Or download the mp3 file. Or visit us in iTunes, where you can subscribe (for free) and never miss another installment. If you want to support the show, we’ll gladly take your donation, and will write a blurb for you to be read on the air. Or you can click on any of the Powell’s links around the site, to support both us and a great indie bookstore. If you use those links to get to their site, anything you buy will throw a little money our way.

Thanks for listening!

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Summer of Shorts Episode 4: Edward Porter and Cargo Shorts

This week we welcome back Dave Housley (Barrelhouse editor, Grateful Dead fan, author of the forthcoming If I Knew The Way, I Would Take You Home) to discuss Edward Porter’s story from Issue 11 of Barrelhouse, “The White Guy’s Guide to Marrying a Black Woman.” We talk about the story’s second-person voice, and how it both uses and transcends its “how-to” conceit. We also provide a peek inside the editorial process, and what makes a submission stand out in the queue.

Note: You can find a linked .pdf version of the story at the bottom of this post.

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We’re also, of course, continuing our encyclopedic exploration through the world of shorts. We debate the relative coolness of cargo shorts, and when we, as a culture, reached “peak cargo.” We also discuss the rise of camouflage cargo, and the brief period during which all men’s bathing suits had extra cargo pockets. Whatever your opinion of pockets, I think we can all agree there is no reason for these things to exist:

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Also this week, Mike finally drives Tom crazy, via the musical stylings of the band Phish. If only this were a video podcast, you could see some pretty sweet white-guy dance moves. Alas, you’ll just have to use your imagination.

As always, you can stream the episode right here on our site, by clicking on the little player thingy below, or download the mp3 file. Or, visit us in the iTunes store, where you can subscribe to the show (for free!) and never miss another installment. We also welcome your feedback on what we talked about: you can email us, hit us up on Twitter, or just leave a comment on this post.

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Ed Porter – The White Guy’s Guide To Marrying a Black Woman (pdf)


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Episode 64: Anita Konkka, A Fool’s Paradise

This week Tom continues his year of reading books outside his usual comfort zones, with Finnish author Anita Konkka’s A Fool’s Paradise, from Dalkey Archive Press. The book is written much like a diary, following the daily musings of an unemployed woman who is having an affair with a married man. We talk about the risks and potential rewards of writing a book without much in the way of plot, the novel’s aphoristic style, and how many recountings of one’s dreams are too many recountings of one’s dreams.

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We’ve also got a new installment this week of Fan Fiction Corner, during which we get to know some popular fan fiction tropes. We’ve got a little bit of everything: accidental marriages, non-sexual showers, alien pheromones, and erotic tentacles. All trope definitions come from Fanlore, in case you’d like to explore any of them further (no judgment!)

As always, you can stream the episode right here on our site, by clicking on the little player thingy below. Or download the mp3 file. Or check us out in the iTunes store, Instacast, Stitcher Radio, or just about any other podcast app you can find. We’d love to hear your feedback on what we talked about. You can email us, hit us up on Twitter, or just leave a comment here on the site.

Thanks for listening!

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Summer of Shorts Episode 3: Beard and Skorts

This week’s short-story pick is actually an essay: Jo Ann Beard’s “Werner,” which appears in the 2007 edition of Best American Essays, edited by David Foster Wallace. Actually, much of our discussion concerns whether it’s fair to call this an “essay.” It’s based on real events, but pretty clearly takes fictional liberties, such as inhabiting the mind of its protagonist (not the author) in a move more frequently seen in short stories. The essay isn’t available for free online, but you can read another Jo Ann Beard piece, “The Fourth State of Matter,” on The New Yorker website.

Our shorts for the week are another genre-bender: skorts, against which Mike has a long-standing personal grudge. We explore that grudge in depth, as well as several of Tom’s childhood grudges. Talking about shorts, it turns out, tends to be a real walk down memory lane.

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Talking points this week include: genre distinctions, recess, bird poop, disappointing limo rides, condiments, lisps, Pee Wee football, magazine sales, enviable prose, and burning buildings.

As always, you can stream the episode here, on our site, or download the mp3 file. You can also find us in the iTunes store, where you can subscribe (for free!) and never miss another episode. We welcome your feedback on what we talked about this week. You can email us, hit us up on Twitter, or just leave a comment here on this post.

Thanks for listening!

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Episode 63: Michael W. Clune, White Out

We welcome a special guest, Leslie Jamison (author of The Empathy Exams) to discuss Clune’s memoir of heroin addiction. While a graduate student in literature at Johns Hopkins University, Clune was also a daily heroin user, a life he chronicles in dreamy, often beautiful prose. We also talk about addiction memoirs more generally, Jamison’s approach to essay-writing, pie shakes, Iowa City, and Haley Joel Osment.

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As always, you can stream the episode right here on our site, or download the mp3 file. Or find us in the iTunes store, where you can catch up on previous installments and subscribe (for free!) to never miss another one. We welcome your feedback on what we talked about. You can email us, hit us up on Twitter, or just leave a comment here on the site.

If you’d like to support the show, you can donate by clicking on the little piggy back on the right (in exchange for your donation, we’ll write you a blurb and read it on the show). You can also support us by supporting our sponsor, Powell’s Books. Just click on any of the Powell’s links around our page–including the cover image of Clune’s book, above–and anything you buy from the Powell’s store will send a little money back our way.

Thanks for listening!

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Summer of Shorts Episode 2: Dubus and Jorts

Welcome back to the Summer of Shorts! This week we’re talking about the Andre Dubus story “The Fat Girl,” and the oft-maligned jort. Mike has been teaching this Dubus story for several years, through many syllabus changes. It follows its protagonist, Louise, through her childhood, college, marriage and pregnancy, tracking her difficult relationship to food and to her own self-image.

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While we can’t confirm that Dubus was a jorts-wearer–nor that he was, in fact, wearing jorts in the above photo–we can confirm that jorts were the preferred summer fashion move for a young Tom McAllister. He was also a Doors fan, as illustrated by this photo:

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Though he’s actually wearing Eagles-themed gym shorts in that photo, one can imagine that in jorts he looked something like this:

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Here’s a pdf version of the Dubus story someone has posted online, if you don’t mind reading past someone else’s notes and underlinings (actually, it looks like they lost steam after the second page). And here’s a link to the story Tom mentioned in the episode, about a Weight Watchers participant getting fed up with the program.

As always, you can stream the episode below, or download the mp3 file. Or check us out in the iTunes store, where you can catch up on back episodes and subscribe (for free). If you’ve got feedback on what we talked about today, feel free to shoot us an email, hit us up on Twitter, or just leave a comment here on the episode post. Thanks for listening!

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Episode 62: Peter Sotos, Mine

Before we get into any details about the book, let’s just get a big TRIGGER WARNING out of the way up top. This novel, the last of the year’s donor picks, is deeply disturbing, and contains material that could trigger anyone who’s had personal experience with child abuse, pedophilia, or sexual assault. Hell, this book could probably trigger someone who hasn’t experienced any of that stuff, but just has a normal level of human empathy and sensitivity to suffering.

That said, we do our best in the episode to stay away from the most graphic stuff. We do read a couple excerpts, but they’re on the tamer side (there were plenty of passages we annotated, in the margins, with comments like “Yikes” and “Oh, Christ”). We do, however, talk (in a non-graphic way) about child pornography, child abductions, and issues surrounding pedophilia–it would be impossible to talk about the book without doing so. And it’s possible this book does have merit, beyond the merely shocking.

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While Sotos is an author interested in transgression, as his other works would attest, Mine‘s exploration of the psychology behind men who consume child pornography, and those who actually go so far as to abuse children, could deepen a reader’s understanding of that sort of mind, well beyond what you might get from To Catch a Predator, or an episode of Law and Order: SVU. Which, though disturbing, is work someone should probably be doing. As we discuss during the episode, however, it’s never entirely clear what the book’s point of view is, and a lot of its arguments and analysis seem intentionally opaque. How much of the “I” voice belongs to Sotos himself, for instance? How much of the book is collage-work from other sources?

What many people know about the author–if they know about him at all–is that in the mid-80s he was convicted for possession of child pornography. Though even that’s complicated, as he purportedly had those images–which came from an underground publication called Incest–because he was using them to construct a boundary-pushing, transgressive zine called Pure, which was devoted to serial killer lore. In interviews, too, Sotos often seems a bit cagey about his own relationship to the material he writes about, and the taboo desires explored in his work. You can read this interview he did with the publisher of Nine-Banded Books, which issued the paperback edition of Mine, to get a sense for how he talks about his work, and others’ interpretations of it.

OK, so if you’ve read all that, and are still interested, rather than simply grossed out, please check out the episode, which you can stream below. You can also find us in the iTunes store, where you can download individual episodes or subscribe (for free) so you never miss another installment. If you have opinions about Sotos, this book, or anything else we talked about on the episode, feel free to leave a comment below, send us an email, or hit us up on Twitter.

Also this week, we’ve got our first official rebuttal! Joshua Isard, former guest and author of Conquistador of the Uselesss, took issue with our panning of Howard Jacobson’s The Finkler Question in Episode 58. So, being the democratically minded dudes we are, we gave him some time to weigh in. That starts around the 30-minute mark, if you’d like to hear Josh’s (well-reasoned, actually) take on the book, but don’t think you’re up for the rest of the episode.

We’ve also got a blurb, for a donor whose name we’re not going to write on the website, so that she’s not forever SEO-linked to a book about kiddie porn. And our usual MATRs. In fact, here’s the link promised in Mike’s recommendation: after you’ve bathed in the filth of Mine, take a cold shower and then listen to some good tunes. Who loves ya, baby? (Probably lots of people, actually, but add us to the list.)

Honestly, we’ve probably oversold the ick factor of the episode itself (if not the book). We’re certainly not wallowing in the book’s gorier details, but instead trying to decide how we should read it, and what it might add to the body of psychological knowledge about pedophilia, child abuse, and violence against children.

Thanks, as always, for listening.

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