Book Fight!

Tough love for literature


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Where to start

Hello, new friends and/or future enemies: thanks to this post at The Millions, we’ve been getting lots of traffic today from people presumably trying to figure out what our whole deal is. It can be pretty daunting to figure out where to start any new podcast, but especially one that has a 4 year backlog of weekly episodes (understandably, the author of the post at The Millions was a little thrown by our… unorthodox… episode numbering system, and though that post says we have 130 episodes, we have something closer to 250).

So, if you’re new here and trying to figure out where to begin, some suggestions:

1) Our 2015 Year in Review post will point you to a lot of the highlights

2) This post from April 2015 was my previous attempt to help people find an entry point

3) This very generous review by Marie Manthe names some of her favorite all-time episodes

4) My favorite episodes from this year, which for obvious reasons aren’t included in the 2015 recap:

5) UPDATED 1/3/17: We recently posted our 2016 highlights, in case you’re looking for even more suggestions.

People love different things about this show, so your favorites might differ from mine. But hopefully this helps you get started.

 


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Episode 177: Evan Connell, Mrs. Bridge (with Lauren Grodstein)

We welcome special guest Lauren Grodstein (author of, most recently, the novel Our Short History) to discuss a 1959 book that’s become something of a cult classic over the years, one of those books that many writers claim as a favorite. Not that Mrs. Bridge (and its sequel, Mr Bridge) was completely overlooked in its time. But Connell didn’t garner nearly the accolades that other sardonic chroniclers of the WASPy suburbs did (think Richard Yates and J.D. Salinger, both of whom were putting out their best-known work in the same era).

We talk about the book’s humor, and its short chapters, each of which is like a small vignette in the life of its title character. We speculate about why it wasn’t more popular in its time, and go back to look at what reviewers had to say when the novel first came out.

Of course we also talk about Lauren’s new book, which has been getting great reviews. It’s her fourth book, and we ask her about the work habits that allow her to put out so much writing while also teaching, raising a child, and doing all the other daily things required of humans on Earth. Plus our usual lightning-round questions!

As always, you can stream the episode right here on our site, by clicking on the little player below. Or download the mp3 file, and listen on your favorite device. You can also find us in the iTunes store, or wherever you normally get your podcasts. If you like the show, make sure to subscribe (for free!) so you never miss another episode.

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Episode 170: Winter of Wayback, 1866 (Silas Weir Mitchell)

This week we’re setting our time-machine for 1866, our earliest year yet. The Civil War had recently ended. Americans were still mourning the loss of Abraham Lincoln, and trying their best to tolerate the dope who’d replaced him. Also, people were, by and large, really fucking racist.

Our story this week is called “The Case of George Dedlow,” by Silas Weir Mitchell, and you can read it here, via Cornell University’s free Making of America archives. For context, we’d also suggest this 2009 article from The Lancet. You may recognize Mitchell’s name: he later became famous, as a physician, for coming up with “the rest cure.” But he also wrote fiction, including this story that attempted to build upon his experiences as a surgeon in the Civil War.

Here’s the author in a more contemplative moment, perhaps still thinking about the many amputees he encountered in the war.

Lots of other stuff to talk about this week, too: debates over reconstruction; the sex lives of mermaids; racist medical practices; conspiracies about Lincoln’s assassination; and a man who was sued for $100k by the woman he failed to marry.

A couple links for further reading: Three Months Among the Reconstructionists, by Sidney Andrews, and a case for more aggressive reconstruction by Frederick Douglas, both published in 1866 in The Atlantic.

As always, you can stream the episode right here on our site. Or visit us in the iTunes store, where you can catch up on back episodes and subscribe (for free!) so you never miss another weekly installment. Our show should also be available through any of the popular podcasting apps. If you can’t find us with your preferred app, please let us know! We’re also happy to hear your feedback on the things we talked about. You can always email us, leave a comment here on the site, or hit us up on Twitter or Facebook.

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Bonus Episode: AWP 2017 with Lyz Lenz

Surprise! Here’s a special mid-week bonus episode featuring Lyz Lenz, the new managing editor for The Rumpus. Lyz is also a writer (we talked about one of her essays back in Episode 102), as well as a noted hater.

We talk about essay pitches, judgy Christians, “men’s fiction,” Little House on the Prairie, how to be a creep at literary conferences, and what kind of pizza is the best pizza. Lyz sent us the below picture so listeners could have a visual image of her preferred style of pie. Yum!

As always, you can stream the show right here on our site, or download the mp3 file and take it with you. Or, find us in the iTunes store, or wherever you normally get your podcasts, where you can subscribe (for free!) and never miss an episode. We’ll be back on Monday with another regular installment.

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Episode 169: Jean Rhys, Wide Sargasso Sea

Welcome back, listeners, to our weekly podcast that occasionally talks about good books, instead of books that, frankly, have very little reason to exist. Sorry, one of us is still a bit salty about that one. But this week we’ve got a veritable classic: Jean Rhys’s Wide Sargasso Sea, which nearly everyone agrees is great, except perhaps Tom, but that’s only because he has questionable taste.

Mike has been wanting to revisit Rhys’s 1966 novel for some time now, since it often comes up in discussions of fan fiction: the book is a sort of prequel to Charlotte Bronte’s Jane Eyre, telling the story of Rochester’s first wife, who in that novel is presented as a “madwoman in the attic.” Rhys explores her fractured family life in Jamaica, her Creole heritage, and the early stages of her marriage to Mr. Rochester.

In the second half of the show, we debut a new segment about academic writing called “Do What?” Also: a quick installment of Fan Fiction Corner. Prepare to have your motor revved, listeners!

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 directly. You can also find us in the iTunes store, or wherever you get your podcasts. We welcome your feedback: shoot us an email, leave a comment here on the site, or find us on social media (we’re on both Twitter and Facebook these days).

Thanks for listening!

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Episode 168: Winter of Wayback, 1961 (Tillie Olsen)

This week we’ve set the time machine for 1961, and we’re reading a story by the renowned writer and activist Tillie Olsen. She’s not a household name these days, but her work is still appreciated (and taught in universities). The story we read, “I Stand Here Ironing,” comes from her one story collection, Tell Me A Riddle, and was featured in the Best American Short Stories anthology.

Here’s a photo of the author and her husband modeling gender equality via bicycle.

olsen-bike

In addition to the story, we talk about other 1961 literary news, including hipster poets and a critical J.D. Salinger backlash. Plus: a racist conspiracy, Philadelphia corruption, and gigolos!

As always, you can stream the episode right here on our site, by clicking on the little player thing below. Or download the mp3 file. You can also find us in the iTunes store, where you can download back episodes and subscribe (for free!) so that you’ll never miss another weekly installment.

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Episode 167: Mary Kubica, Don’t You Cry

Dear Listener,

We are truly sorry about this week’s book pick, which is–how to put this politely?–pretty sucky. The one of us who picked the book understands where he went wrong, and is very contrite about his mistake. It’s been a learning experience! He understands that if he picks a book this bad again, he might be placed on six months of book-picking probation. A tough punishment, yes, but also a fair one.

kubica

We talk about the ways this book disappointed us. We talk about the ways this book disappointed others. Then, in the second half of the show, we introduce a new segment, Unpopular Opinions. It’s lots of fun!

As always, you can stream the episode right here on our site, or download the mp3 file. You can also find us in the iTunes store, or wherever you normally get your podcasts. Subscribe, and never miss another installment!

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Episode 166: Winter of Wayback, 1877 (Deadwood Dick)

Look, the United States right now is a goddamned nightmare. So we figured we’d time travel back to a better time: 1877! We thought it would be fun to read this dime-store novel by Edward L. Wheeler. We figured we’d check in and see what wacky hijinks America was getting up to at the tail of the 19th century. What could possibly go wrong?

Turns out that what seemed, at first glance, to be nothing more than fun, escapist Old West literature was in fact kind of a turgid mess, and also a story that insisted on reminding us, every few pages, of America’s horrifyingly xenophobic past (luckily we’ve put all that behind us now and everything is super chill).

Also, it turns out 1877 was a pretty bloody year, one in which the diamond-encrusted boots of rich capitalists stomped again and again on the necks of both organized and unorganized labor (luckily America put all that behind us over the last century-plus and everyone these days gets paid a living wage and is treated with the decency that should be afforded all human beings).

Anyway, you should listen to this week’s episode. If, while listening, the Earth’s rising oceans threaten to wetten your ears, take your earbuds out, because that’s probably an electrocution risk.

See you on the other side!

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