Book Fight!

Tough love for literature


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Episode 81: David Carr, The Night of the Gun

This week’s book goes a little dark: a memoir of addiction and recovery by celebrated journalist David Carr, who recently lost a battle with cancer (after surviving lymphoma, years ago, an episode that’s detailed in the book). Carr took an unusual vector through his own drug-fueled experience: he employed the skills he developed from years of journalism to interview friends, lovers, family members and acquaintances, in the service of a more objective picture of his own past than any he could assemble from memory alone.

Carr_Gun

We talk about what makes a book stand out in the overcrowded field of addiction memoirs, and what it is we want when reading about someone’s problems with drugs and alcohol. Carr himself seemed keenly aware of these issues, saying again and again throughout the book that he wanted to resist some of the most well-worn tropes of the genre. We talk about the fine line between unbridled honesty and rolling around gleefully in one’s own shit, and about the kinds of insights we can glean from others’ struggles.

For more about Carr, here’s a particularly beautiful remembrance by Ta-Nehisi Coates for The Atlantic. Coates, in one of his first journalism jobs, worked for Carr at the Washington City Paper, and credits Carr’s mentorship for a big part of his later success.

In the second half of the show we answer some listener mail. A question about whether to submit a story to journals even if it’s not your best work, and how to know when to cut your losses and move on. Plus we’re asked to weigh in on the recent Harper Lee controversy. Though we should note we did so before this happened. Here’s a link to the Electric Literature round-up we mentioned.

Finally, a listener tries to school us on pronunciation, and another takes us to task for giving short shrift to Meatloaf, chronicler of adolescent male sexual frustration and current Vegas act.

As always, you can stream the episode below, by clicking on the little player thingy. Or download the mp3 file and play it through whatever technology you prefer. You can also find us in the iTunes store, or through just about any podcasting app, where you can subscribe (for free!) and never miss another installment.

We’d love to hear your feedback on the things we talked about. You can always send us an email, or hit us up on Twitter, or just leave a comment right here on the site. Also, if you haven’t yet, please nominate a book for our upcoming bonus episode.

Thanks for listening!

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Vote for a book! And give us feedback!

Hey, everybody. First off, a big thanks for making our fund drive a success. When we set a goal of $5,000, we worried it might be a little ambitious, but you proved us wrong. Your donations are a vote of confidence that you like what we’re doing, and they’re a good motivator for us to keep on doing it.

At the beginning of the fund drive we promised that if we hit the $5,000 mark, we’d record a special bonus episode that would be free to everyone (not to be confused with the three-pack of special holiday episodes available only to donors). So now it’s time for the first step in making that bonus episode a reality: you pick a book for us to read.

Last year you picked The Silver Linings Playbook, by Matthew Quick (or “Q” to his friends) and I think we can all agree that worked out splendidly for everyone involved. So what’ll it be this year? The only ground rules are that the book has to be written in (or translated to) English, it has to be commercially available as either a physical book or an ebook (we’re not going on a wild goose chase through antiquarian bookstores) and it has to be under 500 pages. It can be a work of fiction, literary nonfiction, or a hybrid of the two. I suppose you could make us read poetry, as long as you understand we’re kinda dumb about poetry.

Ok, so here’s how this will work. Via the form below, nominate any book, as long as it meets the guidelines above. Author and title, please. You can include your justification for nominating it if you want, but that’s not required.

We’ll take nominations for a week or so, after which we’ll post a poll where you can all vote. Top vote-getter will be featured in a future bonus episode of Book Fight! Second place gets a cup of coffee and a set of steak knives. Third place can go fuck itself.

Just kidding! All books are wonderful, unique snowflakes.

Oh, one more thing! While you’re nominating a book, we’re also going to ask you a few questions about what you like and don’t like about the podcast. As much as we might come across as two doofuses (doofi?) who do very little advanced planning for anything, we actually do spend time talking about the direction of the show: how to make it better; how to grow our audience; how to eventually take over the entire literary world and bend it to our will. So your feedback to that end is very much appreciated.

Thanks, everybody, for your support. For your votes. For your kind (and kindly critical!) words. We look forward to another great year of podcasting!

From Tom’s basement to your ears (and hearts):

Mike and Tom

TELL US WHAT TO READ, AND HOW WE’RE DOING


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Winter of Wayback: 1932

This week the Wayback Machine has deposited us in 1932, where we’ve learned about the origins of both Goofy and Betty Boop, Australia’s famed “emu war,” and Olympian/professional golfer/all-around badass Babe Didrikson. We also took a bit of a detour from our usual reading to check out two stories by prolific pulp writer Robert E. Howard, creator of Conan the Barbarian and Sailor Steve Costigan. The two stories we read, “Dark Shanghai” and “Night of Battle,” feature the latter of those two characters: you can download a whole mess of Sailor Steve stories via Feedbooks (bonus: they’re free, since the stories are now in the public domain).

We talk about the appeal of the “fight stories” genre, and marvel at how many pulp magazines the market–even in the midst of the Depression–was able to support. For a detailed history of pulp magazines, as well as browsable electronic issues of actual pulp mags, we’d highly recommend The Pulp Magazine Project.

1932 was part of the golden age of animation. To wit, here’s the first-ever cartoon to feature Goofy (known initially as Dippy Dog):

And here’s the first-ever Technicolor cartoon, which is … fine?

And one of the first cartoons to feature a human(ish) Betty Boop–and also Cab Calloway!

And, if you have a New Yorker subscription, you can read Joseph Mitchell’s famous profile of Lady Olga, one of the star’s of 1932’s cult classic film Freaks.

As always, we’d love to hear what you think. You can send us an email, hit us up on Twitter, or just leave a comment right here on the site.

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 (for free!) and never miss another installment. While you’re there, leave us a rating and a review, which will help us reach new listeners.

Stream:

Download Winter of Wayback: 1932 (right-click, save-as)

Thanks for listening! And come on back next week!


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Episode 80: Nathan Rabin, You Don’t Know Me But You Don’t Like Me

This week we’re joined by returning guest Dave Housley (author, most recently, of the story collection If I Knew the Way, I Would Take You Home) to discuss this 2013 book by the former editor of The A.V. Club, in which he investigates the cult fandoms of both Phish and Insane Clown Posse. Rabin went to several Phish shows and the annual Gathering of the Juggalos to figure out what makes these bands so popular. He also had a bit of a breakdown, during what sounds like a pretty rough year.

Rabin

We talk about what separates mediocre writing about pop culture from great writing about pop culture, and how we make those distinctions when choosing essays for Barrelhouse. We also talk about constructing a narrative arc out of your own experience, and how to write about personal trials and tribulations. Oh, and aliens. We talk a bunch about aliens, because Dave is a pretty big fan of aliens, or rather alien-related television programming. It’s even led him to online friendships with several members of the group MUFON (the Mutual UFO Network).

Links! We’ve got links! To all sorts of stuff we talked about during this week’s program. First off, here’s a link to Dave’s story involving aliens, “How We Got From There to Here,” on the website of the now-defunct Pindeldyboz. And here’s a link to Dave’s website, where you can find everything Housley-related.

If you’d like to read the recap of the Two and a Half Men finale Tom talked about during the show, you can do that here, via Vulture. You can read the Roy Orbison stories we talked about here (spoiler: they’re great!). And you can read Joe Bonomo’s craft essay here, on the Brevity site. Finally, Dave’s book of paranormal erotica–which he wrote along with Barrelhouse friends Matt Perez and Becky Barnard–is available via Amazon, for the low low price of $1.99.

Oh, and we’re in the last week of our annual fund drive, so if you haven’t yet, please kick in a few bucks. As of this posting, we’re 85% of the way funded, and we just need one final push to get us over the top. If we hit our goal, we’ll do a bonus episode–available to everyone–chosen by you, the listening public.

As always, we’d love to hear your feedback on what we talked about during the show. You can email us, hit us up on Twitter, or just leave a comment here on the site. If you like the show, please consider writing us an iTunes review, and tell your friends about us! We rely mostly on word-of-mouth to reach new listeners.

You can stream the episode below, by clicking on the little player thingy, or you can download the mp3 file. Or find us in the iTunes store, where you can subscribe (for free) and never miss another episode.

Thanks for listening!

Stream:

Download Episode 80 (right-click, save-as)


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Winter of Wayback: 1944

This week we’ve set the Wayback Machine for 1944, where we’re reading a bit of literary criticism by Raymond Chandler: an essay called “The Simple Art of Murder” (which you can read for free at that link). The essay was originally written in 1944, and then revised for inclusion in Chandler’s 1950 story collection of the same name. In the piece, Chandler argues that too much second-rate detective fiction is rooted in fundamental dishonesty, and he praises the hard-boiled style of fellow writer Dashiell Hammett.

Of course we’ve also got lots of other 1944-related stories, including the origins of the Chiquita Banana jingle and cartoon character. Here she is in “Chiquita Banana and the Cannibals,” saving a man’s life and then making banana scallops with her suddenly human hands.

Also: The story of The Cleve Cartwell affair, in which Cartwell, a science fiction writer, penned a story about an atomic bomb that convinced the government there must be a mole in the Manhattan Project. You can read the two-part story about Cartwell in Asimov’s Science Fiction here, and here.

You can read the interview with Jonathan Franzen we talked about, in which he throws some shade at Jennifer Weiner, here, via Booth.

As always, we’d love to hear what you think. You can send us an email, hit us up on Twitter, or just leave a comment right here on the site. Also, don’t forget: We’re still in the thick of our annual fund drive, so if you haven’t already, please check out our Indiegogo campaign and give us a little bit of your hard-earned cash.

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 (for free!) and never miss another installment. While you’re there, leave us a rating and a review, which will help us reach new listeners.

Stream:

Download Winter of Wayback: 1944 (right-click, save-as)

Thanks for listening! And come on back next week!


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Episode 79: Emmanuel Carrere, The Adversary

This week we’re reading the breakout 2001 book by French writer Emmanuel Carrere, the true-crime story of Jean-Claude Romand, who murdered his wife, his children, and his parents, after living a life of, as the book’s subtitle has it, “monstrous deception.”

Adversary

We talk about the line between drama and sensationalism, and speculate about what goes on in the head of a compulsive liar. In the second half of the show we talk about this Paris Review interview with Carrere, in which he discusses, among other things, Truman Capote’s In Cold Blood, a book he calls a masterpiece but also fundamentally dishonest and “morally hideous.”

If you’d like to read the Alice Bolin essay Mike talked about during the show, you can do so here, at The Toast. If you’d like to check out the writer’s thesaurus recommended by Tom, you can do that here: Oxford American Writer’s Thesaurus And if you’d like to give us money (we’re still in the midst of our annual fund drive) you can do so here, via Indiegogo. Every few bucks is appreciated.

Oh, and you can see Mike’s fancy new website here, and read the essay he wrote for it, about driving across the country and losing his mind a little in the California desert.

As always, we’d love to get your feedback on what we talked about during the episode. You can email us, hit us up on Twitter, or just leave a comment here on the site. If you like the show, please consider writing us an iTunes review, and spread the word to your literature-loving friends.

You can stream the episode right here on our site, download the mp3 file, or subscribe (for free) via iTunes, or your favorite podcast app, and never miss another installment.

Thanks for listening!

Stream:

Download Episode 79 (right-click, save-as)


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Winter of Wayback: 1894

This week we’ve set the Wayback Machine to 1894: We’re reading a Kate Chopin story, “The Story of an Hour,” which was originally published in December 1894, in Vogue magazine, as “The Dream of an Hour.” Considering its very short length, the story has a surprising number of plot twists, including one that may have been tacked on to appease the story’s publishers.

We also talk about a variety of other things going on in 1894, including a whole lot of labor unrest. The 1890s are sometimes referred to as “the gay 90s,” and the decade generally marks the beginning of America’s progressive era, but in dipping into the events of the year we have to conclude that 1894 was neither gay nor particularly progressive. We talk about the Pullman strikes, an even more violent labor uprising in Italy, and an anarchist in Paris who killed one, and injured twenty, when he lit a bomb in a train-station cafe.

You can read the full text of Emile Henry’s interrogation, and his courtroom defense, via the archives at Marxists.org. Here’s a link to a 2009 BBC article considering whether Henry was the first modern terrorist.

We also talk this week about George W. Johnson, one of the first widely popular African American recording artists, whose name is still unfamiliar to most. You can listen to “The Laughing Song” and (the unfortunately titled) “The Whistling Coon” via archive.org.

As always, we’d love to hear what you think. You can send us an email, hit us up on Twitter, or just leave a comment right here on the site. Also, don’t forget: We’re still in the thick of our annual fund drive, so if you haven’t already, please check out our Indiegogo campaign and give us a little bit of your hard-earned cash.

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 (for free!) and never miss another installment. While you’re there, leave us a rating and a review, which will help us reach new listeners.

Stream:

Download Winter of Wayback: 1894 (right-click, save-as)

Thanks for listening! And come on back next week!

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