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 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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Episode 165: John Connolly, The Book of Lost Things

This week’s book was a Mike pick. A novel that draws on elements of familiar fairy tales and mythic stories, yet plays with them in a way that feels original. The author was new to us, but he’s well-known by readers of crime novels–he’s written a series of books featuring a private detective named Charlie Parker. This book seems like a departure for him, though.

bookoflostthings

We also talk this week about raccoons, because that’s something we do. Plus: the return of a long-dormant segment that has to do with Tom’s pants.

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. You can also find us in the iTunes store, or wherever you normally get your podcasts.

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Episode 164: Winter of Wayback, 1978 (H.L. Sintetos, “Telling the Bees”)

In 1978, the writer H.L. Sintetos had a story featured in the annual Best American Short Stories anthology, after which she seemed to mostly disappear from the literary world. Which is particularly disappointing given how good that story was. We both enjoyed “Telling the Bees,” a thoughtful portrayal of a woman coming to terms with her own solitude.

This week we talk about Sintetos’s story, and what (to our minds, at least) separate it from lesser versions of stories about “wise country folks,” some of which can come across as patronizing. We also try to figure out what happened to Sintetos, and why we’d never heard of her work.

In lieu of a photo of the author, please enjoy this image of a Billy Joel mask, which will make more sense once you listen to this week’s show.

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In addition to the story, we talk about lots of other 1978 stuff, including serial killers, a Papal conspiracy theory, dark days in Philadelphia, a possible Owl Man, plus Grease and Sha Na Na!

As always, you can stream the show right here on our site, by clicking on the little player thingy below. Or download the mp3 file to play on your favorite device. You can also find us in the iTunes store, where you can subscribe (for free!) and never miss another episode.

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Episode 163: Sara Novic, Girl at War

Our book this week is Sara Novic’s Girl at War, a novel about a young woman whose life was ripped apart by the Yugoslav Civil War. It took her parents from her, and briefly turned her into a child soldier, before she was able to escape to Philadelphia, where she did her best to put the past in the past and live as an American.

The book received mostly positive reviews, like this one in the New York Times, though we also discuss the book’s most over-the-top takedown, from the Irish Times.

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In the second half of the show, we’ve got the return of Fan Fiction Corner! Have you ever wondered what kind of fan fiction people were writing about HGTV programs? No? Well, you’re going to find out anyway!

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As always, you can listen to the episode right here on our site, by clicking on the player thingy below. Or download the mp3 file and do with it what you will. You can also find us in the iTunes store, where you can subscribe (for free!) and never miss another installment again.

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Episode 162: Winter of Wayback, 1988 (Mary La Chapelle)

This week we’re time-traveling back to 1988: U2’s Rattle and Hum was climbing the charts, Die Hard and Crocodile Dundee II ruled the box office, and A.L.F. was king (of our hearts). Also, the writer Mary La Chapelle won a Whiting Award, and lots of praise for her first story collection, House of Heroes. If you’re unfamiliar with La Chapelle’s work, that may be because she’s yet to publish another book since that promising debut (though she continues to teach at Sarah Lawrence, where she runs the MFA program).

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We don’t want to speculate too much about what’s going on with La Chapelle and her work–plenty of writers, after all, have taken lots of years in between books (Mike’s former teacher, Marilynne Robinson, comes to mind). Instead, we dig into the first story in her 1988 collection, “Anna in a Small Town,” about a mime and a giant, which you can read for free via Google Books.

We also talk about lots of other 1988 news, including a Philadelphia garbage barge that found itself on a years-long world tour, plus plenty of behind-the-scenes details about A.L.F., a show that was apparently a lot more fun to watch than it was to work on.

Speaking of A.L.F., here’s the clip we mentioned on the show, in which he says the n-word and also acts like a creep toward his teenaged co-star.

As always, you can stream the show right here on our site, by clicking on the little player thingy below, or download the mp3 file. You can also visit us in the iTunes store, where you can subscribe (for free!) and never miss another weekly installment. If you want to weigh in on what we talked about this week, feel free to leave a comment here on the site, send us an email, or hit us up on Twitter or Facebook.

Thanks for listening!

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Episode 161: Jennifer Weiner, Good in Bed

We’ve talked about Jennifer Weiner any number of times on the show, usually when she’s written (or tweeted) something that’s caused a bit of an uproar in the writing world–or when she and Jonathan Franzen have gotten into one of their famously catty spats. We also read one of her first publications, a short story featured in Seventeen Magazine, back in episode 133. But we’d never read any of her novels, and it felt like time. Weiner has argued that her books are unfairly pigeonholed, so we were both curious what we’d think about her work.

We chose Weiner’s first novel, the one that put her on the map:

good-in-bed

Will we love it? Hate it? Will we shrug our shoulders in its general direction? Only one way to find out!

(The way to find out is by listening to the episode. Was that not clear? Sorry if that wasn’t clear.)

As always, you can stream the show 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. We also welcome your feedback on what we talked about. Feel free to leave a comment here on the site, send us an email, Tweet at us, or find us on Facebook.

Thanks for listening!

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Episode 160: Winter of Wayback, 1966 (Philip K. Dick)

It’s the first episode of 2017’s Winter of Wayback, perhaps our favorite seasonal feature. This week, listeners, please join us in time-traveling to 1966. The Beatles were bigger than Jesus! The Church of Satan was founded! And Philip K. Dick published the short story that would eventually be adapted into the movie Total Recall. You can read his story “We Can Remember it for You Wholesale” here.

Here we see the famous sci-fi author predicting both Glamour Shots and Tinder. He really was a soothsayer!

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As regular listeners know, Mike doesn’t often like science fiction. This week, he’s perhaps figured out where that mental block comes from. Also, Tom introduces his new seasonal feature, in which he promises to investigate some of history’s greatest (and weirdest) conspiracy theories.

As always, you can stream the show here on our site, by clicking on the player below. Or download the mp3 file, and do with it what you will. You can always find us in the iTunes store, too, or wherever it is you get your podcasts. We’re also happy to hear your feedback. You can leave a comment on the post itself, shoot us an email, or hit us up on either Twitter or Facebook.

Thanks for listening!

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