Book Fight!

Tough love for literature


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Episode 88: Marlon James, The Book of Night Women

This week we welcome guest Asali Solomon, Philly native and author of the new novel Disgruntled. The book Solomon picked for us to read is Marlon James’s 2009 novel The Book of Night Women, about a Jamaican sugar plantation around the turn of the 18th century and the lives of the enslaved women living there. We talk with Solomon about the novel’s contemporary feel and surprising humor, its use of Jamaiacan dialect, and why she considers it to be “a bad-ass book.”

James

We also talk with Solomon about growing up in West Philly, which neighborhoods of the city she was told to avoid, and how Philadelphia changed in her absence. And why do racist neighborhoods so often have the best bakeries? Of course we also subject Solomon to our usual lightning-round questions, and we learn about several authors she wouldn’t mind punching, if given the chance.

As always, we’re happy to hear what you think about the stuff we discussed. You can email us directly, hit us up on Twitter, or just leave a comment here on the site. Also: we’re now on Facebook! So come visit us over there, where we are slowly getting better about posting candid studio photos and links to stuff we’ve talked about on the show.

Stream the episode by clicking on the little player thingy below, or download the mp3 file to play on your favorite device. Or visit us in the iTunes store, or wherever you normally get your podcasts, where you can download back episodes and subscribe (for free) so that you never miss another weekly installment.

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Spring of Spite: Edgar Allan Poe, “The Cask of Amontillado”

Today we’re once again sponsored by 21st Century Prose, an open-access book series published by the University of Michigan Press. Go here to check out their books (use promo code BOOKFIGHT for 30% off any orders) and even read them for free. Go here to read series editor Matthew Vollmer’s mission statement for the series.

It’s the final week in our Spring of Spite series, and we’re going Poe! “The Cask of Amontillado” is spiteful in at least two ways: the narrator is certainly motivated by spite, at least in part, as he walls his “friend” up in his own tomb. But Poe also drew on some personal feelings of spite while writing it. We talk this week about our experiences with Poe, and our (differing) interest levels in continuing to read his work. We also try to unpack the complicated feud between Poe and some letter-writing ladies that led, at least indirectly, to this story’s creation.

We’ve also got some other tales of spite this week, including a couple that are ripped from the headlines: Bobby Flay’s spiteful (and ongoing) divorce proceedings, and George Lucas’s plans to build spite-fueled low-income housing in Marin County. Plus a woman who just kept fucking louder qnd louder until a judge finally tossed her in jail. And the long-running love/hate relationship between Werner Herzog and Klaus Kinski.

Finally this week, we consider the lack of good contemporary literary feuds, and speculate about what might be making today’s writers less prone to feud-based dramatics.

As always, you can listen to the episode right here on our site, by clicking on the streaming player below. Or you can download the mp3 file. Or visit us in the iTunes store, where you can listen to back episodes and subscribe (for free!) to make sure you never miss another installment. While you’re in iTunes, please take a second to leave us a rating and a review. Both those things help the show move up the charts and ultimately allow us to reach a wider audience.

We’re always happy to hear what you think about what we discussed on the show. You can email us directly, hit us up on Twitter, or just leave a comment here on the site. Also: we’re now on Facebook! So come visit us over there, where we’ll post occasional photos and notes, and maybe preview upcoming show features.

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Episode 87: Paul Beatty, The Sellout

This week’s episode is sponsored by 21st Century Prose, a new book series run by the University of Michigan and edited by Matthew Vollmer. The books in the series defy easy genre classification, and you can read them for free online. Though paperback and hardback versions are also available for purchase; if you do buy one of the books, use offer code “bookfight” to get 30% off your order.

Okay, this week’s book is a Tom pick, the newest novel by Paul Beatty, which has been getting glowing reviews from all corners. The Sellout is a comedy about an African American man in a small agrarian town near Los Angeles who re-introduces slavery and segregation and whose case eventually winds its way to the Supreme Court. We talk about the book’s argument, and how to classify its often absurdist humor. We also discuss the effects of satire, in a rather fractured media landscape, and wonder if it can still change people’s opinions or perceptions.

sellout

In the second half of the show, we’ve got another installment of Fan Fiction Corner. This time, Mike has found some fanfic detailing Barack Obama’s fantasy love life. You can read the entire story, “A Princess for the President,” here. Though be forewarned: there is some graphic (and very weird) content.

You can learn more about the Hound Tall Discussion Series, with Moshe Kasher, here. You can learn more about public transportation by standing on the corner and waiting for the bus to come. Presumably, one will show up eventually.

We’re always happy to hear what you think about the things we discussed on the show. You can email us directly, hit us up on Twitter, or just leave a comment here on the site. Also: we’re now on Facebook! So come visit us over there, where we’ll post occasional photos and show notes, and maybe preview upcoming features.

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Spring of Spite: Stanley Elkin, “A Poetics for Bullies”

Today’s episode is sponsored by 21st Century Prose, an open-access book series published by the University of Michigan Press. Go here to check out their books (use promo code BOOKFIGHT for 30% off any orders) and even read them for free. Go here to read series editor Matthew Vollmer’s mission statement for the series.

This week’s spite-related reading comes from Stanley Elkin, who described it as the best story he ever wrote. “A Poetics for Bullies” is pretty widely available; here’s just one of the many places online where you can read it for free. The story centers on Push the Bully, who runs up against his most difficult challenge: a new kid at school who’s beloved by his classmates and seems impervious to Punch’s attempts to knock him down a peg.

Special shout out to friend-of-the-show Christian Tebordo, who suggested this Elkin story to us, and whose newest book, Toughlaghoma, is available now from Rescue Press.

Also this week, we talk about Gore Vidal and Norman Mailer, two grown men who did not particularly care for each other! Check out their appearance on the Dick Cavett Show to get a sense of their stormy relationship.

In 2007, Cavett wrote a piece about this famous episode for The New York Times, which you can still read online. A couple more quick links: an Edmund Wilson interview in which he talks about his beef with Vidal; and Vidal on Timothy McVeigh, from Vanity Fair.

As always, you can listen to the episode right here on our site, by clicking on the streaming player below. Or you can download the mp3 file. Or visit us in the iTunes store, where you can listen to back episodes and subscribe (for free!) to make sure you never miss another installment. While you’re in iTunes, please take a second to leave us a rating and a review. Both those things help the show move up the charts and ultimately allow us to reach a wider audience.

We’re always happy to hear what you think about what we discussed on the show. You can email us directly, hit us up on Twitter, or just leave a comment here on the site. Also: we’re now on Facebook! So come visit us over there, where we’ll post occasional photos and notes, and maybe preview upcoming show features.

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Episode 86: Maggie Nelson, Bluets

This week is a Mike pick, as he continues to seek out unconventional memoirs and other works of creative nonfiction. Like our book from Episode 83, D.J. Waldie’s Holy Land, Maggie Nelson’s Bluets proceeds in short, numbered sections that build meaning through accretion and juxtaposition, rather than a traditional narrative arc. The book is, ostensibly, about Nelson’s obsession with the color blue, but she uses that more as a jumping-off point for discussions of love and loss, pain and pleasure, and to what degree we can, or should, trust our own perceptions.

bluets

We also talk this week about Tom’s recent Italian vacation, and his newfound hatred of Rome. Plus Mike’s growing hatred of online user reviews (including some particularly idiotic ones for this book).

As always, you can listen to the episode right here on our site, by clicking on the streaming player below. Or you can download the mp3 file. Or visit us in the iTunes store, where you can listen to back episodes and subscribe (for free!) to make sure you never miss another installment. While you’re in iTunes, please take a second to leave us a rating and a review. Both those things help the show move up the charts and ultimately allow us to reach more people.

We’re always happy to hear what you think about the things we discussed on the show. You can email us directly, hit us up on Twitter, or just leave a comment here on the site. Also: we’re now on Facebook! So come visit us over there, where we’ll post occasional photos and show notes, and maybe preview upcoming show features.

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Spring of Spite: Harlan Ellison, “The Three Most Important Things in Life”

This week’s reading is an essay by Harlan Ellison, which you can read for free here. Not that you need to read the essay before listening to the episode, but the option is there if you want it. We were directed to that particular essay by a listener, who said we couldn’t do a season of spite-themed shows without talking about Ellison. In addition to the essay itself, we talk about some of his many personal beefs and lit-world dustups. We also talk about his super-janky website (with apologies to Webmaster Rick, whose rants you can check out here).

For the curious, here’s a video of Ellison’s “performance” at the Hugo Awards that touched off what’s become known as GropeGate.

Also this week: Another lit feud, this one between Vladimir Nabokov and Edmund Wilson, who has one of the scowliest Wikipedia photos of all time. And the stories of successful companies started out of spite.

As always, you can listen to the episode right here on our site, by clicking on the streaming player below. Or you can download the mp3 file. Or visit us in the iTunes store, where you can listen to back episodes and subscribe (for free!) to make sure you never miss another installment. While you’re in iTunes, please take a second to leave us a rating and a review. Both those things help the show move up the charts and ultimately allow us to reach more people.

We’re always happy to hear what you think about the things we discussed on the show. You can email us directly, hit us up on Twitter, or just leave a comment here on the site. Also: As of a few days ago, we’re now on Facebook! So come visit us over there, where we’ll post occasional photos and show notes, and maybe preview upcoming show features.

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Episode 85: Donald Antrim, Elect Mr. Robinson for a Better World

This week we’ve got our second donor pick of 2015: Donald Antrim’s 1993 debut novel, which imagines a dystopic suburbia: people have dug moats around their houses, the woods between two warring families are filled with mines, and the mayor, in the book’s opening scene, is drawn and quartered. We talk about the limits of irony, and try to figure out why neither of us loved this book as much as we thought we might.

Antrim

Also this week, we’ve got another installment of Fan Fiction Corner. We don’t want to ruin the surprise in this week’s surprising character pairings, but let’s just say they are … surprising!

As always, you can listen to the episode right here on our site, by clicking on the streaming player below. Or you can download the mp3 file. Or visit us in the iTunes store, where you can listen to back episodes and subscribe (for free!) to make sure you never miss another installment. While you’re in iTunes, please take a second to leave us a rating and a review. Both those things help the show move up the charts and ultimately allow us to reach more people.

We’re always happy to hear what you think about the things we discussed on the show. You can email us directly, hit us up on Twitter, or just leave a comment here on the site. Also: As of a few days ago, we’re now on Facebook! So come visit us over there, where we’ll post occasional photos and show notes, and maybe preview upcoming show features.

Stream:

Download Episode 85 (right-click, save-as)

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