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Tough love for literature

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Episode 141: Summer of Second Chances, Agatha Christie (“Witness for the Prosecution”)

Agatha Christie is one of the best-selling authors of all time, yet when we read her novel & Then There Were None earlier this year, we gave it mixed reviews. So in the spirit of our Summer of Second Chances, we’re giving her another go, this time reading what people (or at least some people on the internet) regard as one of her finest short stories, “Witness for the Prosecution.”

Will we come around on the famed mystery writer? Or will Christie succumb to our famously harsh two-strikes-and-you’re-out rule? Here’s a picture of the author taken just moments before she was crushed by her own back catalog:


In the second half of the show, we revisit some 90s bands that may or may not be worthy of a second chance. We also share another listener story of second chances. If you’d like to weigh in on that discussion–an artist, musician, writer, filmmaker, etc., to whom you’ve given a second chance–you can do so on our Facebook page.

As always, you can listen to the episode right here on our site, or download the mp3 file and take it with you. You can also visit us in the iTunes store, or wherever you get your podcasts (Stitcher, Instacast, etc.). If there’s a service you use that doesn’t have us listed, just let us know! And thanks for listening!

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Episode 140: Gregoire Bouillier, The Mystery Guest

Mike first read this book roughly a decade ago, and recently decided to revisit it after randomly plucking it from a shelf and reading the inscription, which he’d totally forgotten about. The short work of (more or less) nonfiction tells the story of a rather unusual party invite brokered by the narrator’s ex-girlfriend. He thinks she might want to give things another go, but soon enough realizes he’s allowed himself to get his hopes up for nothing.


Bouillier is perhaps better known for his first book, Report on Myself, a thin volume about (among other things) the author’s childhood. He also gained some notoriety several years ago when his former girlfriend, Sophie Calle–who features in The Mystery Guest–put together an art installation, Take Care of Yourself, based on the breakup note Bouillier wrote her.

We talk about small-scope books, and Bouillier’s idea of a “report” as its own literary genre. We’ve also got a short installment of Fan Fiction Corner that includes a writing prompt, if any of our listeners want to take a crack at it. You can email us your attempts, if you’d like, and maybe we’ll share some on a future episode.

As always, you can stream the episode right here on our site, or download the mp3 file directly. Or visit us in the iTunes store, or wherever you get your podcasts.

Thanks for listening!

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Episode 139: Summer of Second Chances, Penelope Lively (“The Five Thousand and One Nights”)

Back in Episode 105, we read Penelope Lively’s novel Making It Up, and boy did we not care for it one bit. But maybe we just picked the wrong book, and we’d enjoy something else by this Booker Prize-winning author. So in the spirit of our seasonal theme, we decided to give Lively’s work a second chance. We read two stories from her 1997 collection, The Five Thousand and One Nights, including the title story, plus a story about an unhappy couple on a bus trip in Australia.

Here’s a picture of the author wearing a very nice hat.


Also this week, we share a listener-submitted story of literary second chances, and Mike shares some advice on getting back together (or not) with your ex. Plus Tom talks about getting dumped via Fleetwood Mac lyrics.

As always, you can stream the episode right here on our site, by clicking on the player below. You can also find us in iTunes, or however you usually get your podcasts (Stitcher, Instacast, etc.). If you have thoughts about today’s show, feel free to leave them in the comments. Or send us an email, hit us up on Twitter, or like our page on Facebook.

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Episode 138: Walter Mosley, Devil in a Blue Dress

This week is Tom’s pick, the first published novel by Walter Mosley, and the first in his long-running Easy Rawlins series: Devil in a Blue Dress. The book first came out in 1990, and a few years later inspired a Denzel Washington film of the same name. In the book, we first meet Rawlins, a WWII vet and reluctant detective living in the Watts neighborhood of Los Angeles, circa 1948. Rawlins gets pulled into a mystery he doesn’t fully understand, and isn’t sure he wants to understand, but pretty quickly he’s too enmeshed to get out.


In the second half of the show, we bring back Fan Fiction Corner, i.e. the segment in which Mike finds interesting or weird fan fiction on the internet and Tom gets confused and possibly angry about it. In this week’s segment: a Christian version of Harry Potter that won’t turn your kid toward withcraft, plus maybe the lamest dystopia ever.

As always, you can stream the show right here on our site, download the mp3 file, or visit us in the iTunes store, where you can subscribe (for free!) and never miss another installment. We’re also on all the major podcast apps, including Stitcher and Instacast.

Thanks for listening!


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Episode 137: Summer of Second Chances, John Barth (“Lost in the Funhouse”)

Way back in Episode 13, we discussed a short story collection by John Barth, On With the Story, which Mike enjoyed but Tom most definitely did not. So this week Mike is making Tom read one of Barth’s most well-known, and well-loved stories, “Lost in the Funhouse.” Will Tom come around on Barth? Or will he dig in his heels?

Listeners, how could anyone not like this guy?


We also talk about John Gardner’s long-running feud with Barth, which includes some dismissive stuff in his book On Moral Fiction as well as a visit to one of Barth’s classes, during which he explained to Barth’s students why their teacher was a second-rate author.

We also discuss a couple listener-supplied examples of second chances. If there’s a writer (or other artist) to whom you’ve given a second chance, please weigh in over on our Facebook page, and we might discuss your story on a future episode.

As always, you can stream the episode below, by clicking on the embedded player. Or download the mp3 file. Or visit us in the iTunes store, or wherever you get your podcasts, to catch up on back episodes and subscribe (for free!) so you never miss another installment.


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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:

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



Episode 136: Rachel Kushner, The Flamethrowers

Do you like new episodes of podcasts? Well, friend, you’re in luck, because today we have a new episode of our podcast, Book Fight, which you can–and should!–listen to. We talk about Rachel Kushner’s second novel, The Flamethrowers, which was widely praised and also nominated for a National Book Award. We talk about some other things, too. Just listen to it! It’s great!


Look, here’s the thing: the one of us who is responsible for writing these posts may or may not have forgotten he needed to write it and then after spending all afternoon at a brewery with some friends arrived home and remembered he needed to write it, even though all he really wanted to do was maybe watch an episode of Gilmore Girls and go to bed, and so now he is writing it, but perhaps in a less-than-enthusiastic and, as a result, less-than-professional manner.

One of us is very, very sorry.

But the episode: it’s good! We talk about gender bias in the ways people talk about books. We talk about whether The Great American Novel is a gendered (and possibly outmoded) idea. We talk about some other things that the one of us writing this post can’t remember right now, off the top of his head, perhaps because a substantial portion of his head has been colonized by hops and malt. He also ate an artisanal pork roll sandwich, a thing he never imagined existed, and he also watched a turtle race, which is another thing he never imagined existed. Pennsylvania is full of surprises! This episode is also, probably, full of surprises. So you should listen to it!

Just click the player thingy below. Or download the mp3 file. Or go on over to the iTunes store, where you can catch up on back episode and subscribe (for free!) and never miss another episode.

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