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 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:


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!


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!

Stream Episode 160

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2016: The Book Fight! Year in Review

Well, friends, it’s been another year, and we’ve produced another year’s worth of content. So much content! Honestly, if we stop and think about it for too long, it starts to make us tired. Malcolm Gladwell says if you do something for 10,000 hours, you become “world class” at that thing, but what if you spend 10,000 hours doing something kinda dumb?

Looking back on 2016, there were some highs, and there were also some lows. Great books! Not-so-great books! Amazing fanfiction! More amazing fanfiction! Plus snacks! Herewith, some of our favorites (and least favorites) from the year that was.

Tom’s Year in Review

Favorite Books of 2016, in Reverse Order for Most Dramatic Effect, And With Links to Their Respective Episodes

5. Joseph Mitchell, JOE GOULD’S SECRET (Episode 118)
4. Chris Bachelder, ABBOTT AWAITS (Episode 114)
3. Sarah Shotland, JUNKETTE (Episode 110)
2. Rachel Kushner, THE FLAMETHROWERS (Episode 136)
1. Cormac McCarthy, THE ROAD (Episode 146)

Least Favorite Book of 2016

Last year, there were two obvious contenders for this title, both of which were books I just absolutely did not get and did not like, but this year, it’s a bit harder. There were books I liked less than others, but nothing stands out as having been absolutely terrible. All that said, while I appreciate Agatha Christie and value her contributions to American literature, it was shocking to see just how bad her actual writing is. Throw in some weird racism, and AND THEN THERE WERE NONE (Episode 122) gets my pick for worst book we discussed this year.

Book I Didn’t Love But Am Glad I Read

WHO CENSORED ROGER RABBIT, by Gary K. Wolf (Episode 126), not because it was good, exactly, or thought-provoking, but it was a fun, weird book with a great premise, and I clearly have a higher tolerance for some of the conventions of noirish detective books than Mike does. Besides, reading this allowed us to have Jen Miller on the show, and she was a great guest.

Favorite Story or Essay of 2016

“Pet Milk” by Stuart Dybek (Episode 147), which I hadn’t read in many years and now, after having re-read it, think it might just be a perfect story.

Least Favorite Mike Pick

AND THEN THERE WERE NONE was my least favorite book of the year, so that has to be the pick here too. Let me just take the opportunity now to complain that, due to various scheduling quirks, Mike got to pick nine books this year, while I only got to pick eight, and I can only hope that the guilt over this injustice keeps him up at night.

Favorite Guest Pick

As always, our guests picked a great variety of books and it’s hard now to sort through and pick just one. But I really enjoyed ABBOTT AWAITS, Andrew Brininstool’s pick for episode 114. It’s the kind of weird, funny, relentlessly sad book that feels like it was made for me.

Favorite Winter of Wayback Discovery

I really enjoyed learning everything we did about the bizarre, tragic life of Alfred Chester in Episode 115. I liked his weird story, “As I was Going Up the Stair,” too, but reading about his sad life, his associations with other literary figures of the era, and the whole arc of his career was exactly the kind of discussion I love about the Winter of Wayback.

Recommendation I’d Like to Take Back

Looking through the MATR archive, I realize now that I actually gave really top-notch recommendations all year, and so therefore I take none of them back, though I will re-recommend the documentary The Imposter. If I could retract one of Mike’s recommendations, it would be the time he recommended beans. Beans are fine. But this is not what the people want.

Best Bonus Episode in Which Matthew Vollmer and I Play a Weird Old Mummy Board Game

This one

Three Worst Foods We Consumed During the Fall of Food

3. Mountain Dew Energizing Midnight Grape Kickstart, a drink so extreme it needed 6 names.

2. 7-11 chips that allegedly tasted like sausage with peppers and onions but instead tasted like something a wizard would give you to put you to sleep for a hundred years

1. Whatever the hell those fish things were that a generous listener/assassin sent to us from Japan.

Most Upsetting Fanfiction Corner Segment, Which We Can Only Hope Has Killed That Segment Forever

The Alvin and the Chipmunks fanfic (from Episode 144) in which Alvin develops a diaper fetish, and I’m sorry, again, for typing that sentence.

Best Short Story or Essay That Mike Didn’t Give a Chance Because He’s Not Super Into Fun

John Dickson Carr’s supernatural stories, (discussed in Episode 117). These stories were pretty good! Mike was more interested in discussing monkey antics.

Author Most Deserving of the Second Chance We Gave Them This Summer

Sheila Heti, who of course does not need our approval, but whose book we were pretty harsh on years ago, and now we’ve both come around on her and realized we were probably not reading that book fairly. Discussed in Episode 143.

Mike’s Year in Review

Favorite Books of 2016, in Reverse Order for Most Dramatic Effect, And With Links to Their Respective Episodes

5. Cormac McCarthy, THE ROAD (Episode 146)
4. Sarah Shotland, JUNKETTE (Episode 110)
3. Javier Marias, A HEART SO WHITE (Episode 144)
2. Han Kang, THE VEGETARIAN (Episode 154)
1. Chris Bachelder, ABBOTT AWAITS (Episode 114)

Least favorite book of 2016

Honestly, this was kind of tough this year, as there weren’t many books I really loathed. But I’m going with Kanan Makiya’s THE ROPE (Episode 132), a book that’s earned plenty of praise but which I found wholly underwhelming. It’s a worthwhile project, attempting to examine why so many people (including Makiya himself) were wrong about what would happen in Iraq after the American invasion. But as a work of fiction, it really falls flat.

Book From My Childhood I’m Very Glad I Revisited

I’m always a little nervous to re-read something I loved as a kid, because it feels like you’re setting yourself up for disappointment. But this year I confirmed that C.S. Lewis’s THE LION, THE WITCH & THE WARDROBE (Episode 120) is indeed a very good book.

Favorite Story or Essay of 2016

“Pet Milk” by Stuart Dybek (Episode 147). This is probably unfair, since I picked this story knowing full well that I loved it. But guess what? I still love it.

Favorite Winter of Wayback Discovery

There were so many great discoveries this year, at least two of them involving monkeys: the phenomenon of “monkey dinners” (Episode 111) and monkeys running wild through the streets of New York City (Episode 117). Though I think the one that will have the most lasting impact was getting to read the snarky columns of H.L. Mencken in The Smart Set (Episode 109).

Favorite Thing I Learned About Tom This Year

That he once got dumped via Fleetwood Mac lyrics (Episode 139)

Favorite Guest Pick

This one’s tough, as two of my top-5 books were picked by guests, and even though I didn’t love the Roger Rabbit book Tom mentioned above, I was really glad that Jen Miller made us read it. But I’m giving this one to Hanif Willis-Abdurraqib (Episode 156), who finally got me to read Lester Bangs’ collected works, a collection of reviews and essays I’m very happy to finally slide from the “to-read” shelf to the “have-read” shelf. Plus, Hanif was fun to hang out with and he read a really great poem at Tire Fire and wasn’t too put off by my downstairs neighbor’s Trump window sign, which was the bane of my existence for several months.

Recommendation I’d Like to Take Back

I Am Not Your Guru, the documentary about Tony Robbins, is not as good as I thought it was, and could definitely use a bit more healthy skepticism toward its subject. On the other hand, I’m glad I recommended it, since some of you checked it out and then tweeted or messaged me about it. The main takeaway: it’s kind of amazing I’ve yet to be lured into a cult.

Best Pop Tart Flavor

Strawberry Frosted

Best Fanfiction Corner Segment, A Feature Which Will Definitely Be Continuing in 2017 And Which Only Gets Stronger Because It Feeds On Tom’s Disgust

The Alvin and the Chipmunks fanfic (from Episode 144) in which Alvin develops a diaper fetish.


So there you go, folks! All the best (and worst!) stuff from 51 weeks of podcasting in 2015. We’ll be back next week with another exciting episode, plus we’ll be reviving the Winter of Wayback. So get yourself ready for that. In the meantime, if you like our show, please help spread the word to your book-loving friends and family. We’ve hit some great milestones in 2016, but we’re hoping to keep improving the show and growing our audience in 2017. Thanks again for all your support!

That’s another … YEAR … in the books!


Episode 159: Christmas Spectacular 2016

Hello, Book Fight listeners! We’ve made it through another year, if barely. As a reward, let’s all enjoy this super-sized holiday episode. Two books! A very special surprise guest! An above-average amount of bickering! Plus some discussion–perhaps fueled by end-of-year exhaustion–about whether this dumb show should continue to exist. Enjoy!

Our first book, despite the word “Christmas” appearing in the title, turned out to be less a holiday book than a shooting-and-punching-everyone-but-especially-Native-Americans book. There was so much shooting and punching! And enough offensive descriptions of Indians that readers will be rooting for the “renegades” to just kill all the book’s terrible white people.


Look, there’s no reason for you to read this book. Instead, listen to us try to explain its overstuffed cast of characters and stupid, idiot plot.

For the show’s second act, we’re joined by a very special surprise guest. We can’t say who it is. But we CAN say that longtime listeners will be very, very excited.

Our second book was a Christmas romance, which was at least sort of fun to read.It involves a Christmas-themed strip club, an undercover cop, true love, and SO MUCH FUCKING. An undercover cop visits a strip club as part of an investigation, meets a hot accountant who’s pretending to be a stripper, and sparks fly! (By “sparks,” we mean “bodily fluids” and by “fly” we mean pass in and out of various bodily orifices).



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

We’ll be taking next week off, but donors will soon receive a special bonus episode. So, if you can’t handle a week without Book Fight, there’s still time to donate (click the piggy bank over there on the right) and get all three of the 2016 bonus episodes.

Stream Episode 159:

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Thanks for listening!


Episode 158: Karan Mahajan, The Association of Small Bombs (plus a bonus “Fall of Food” segment)

This week’s book is the second novel by Karan Mahajan, The Association of Small Bombs, which came out earlier this year and has been widely praised. The book was long-listed for the National Book Award, and made a bunch of Best Of 2016 lists, prompting us to talk about how those lists are constructed, and whether they accurately represent a given year’s best literature.


In the second half of the show, we wrap up our Fall of Food by eating some snacks sent to us all the way from Japan. A listener mailed an entire box of treats, including boozy Kit Kats, spongy egg bread, a drink that looks like watery milk, and some dried salted fish.

We’ve also got a sponsor this week. Check out M.B. Manthe’s website, All the Parts of My Life, where you can learn more about her book of poetry and her other publishing ventures. She wanted us to point people in particular to this post, which explains why she’s donating a percentage of the money she makes from book sales to an organization that supports people with depression.

As always, you can stream the new episode below, or you can download the mp3 file. Or check us out in the iTunes store, where you can subscribe (for free!) and never miss another installment.

Thanks for listening!

Stream Episode 158

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Episode 157: Fall of Food, Jack London (“A Piece of Steak”)

This week we continue our exploration of food in literature by reading the classic Jack London story, “A Piece of Steak.” Tom King, an aging boxer, just wants one more payday, and a big, juicy piece of steak. But standing in his way is a much younger, fitter opponent. Will age and experience win out, or will youth have its way? A classic narrative struggle!


In addition to the story, we’ve got some snacks to discuss, all of them new to us: Faygo Red Pop (drink of choice of Juggalos everywhere), Twinkies Chocodiles, plus some truly weird (and disturbing) 7-11 chips.

Also: lots of other stuff! Seriously, it’s good, and interesting, the one of us who writes these recaps is just a little tired here at the end of the semester, and after a three-day parental visit, so maybe use your imagination to fill in the details of how great this week’s episode is. Or even better: give it a listen! You can stream the episode below, or download the mp3 file, or check us out in the iTunes store, where you can subscribe (for free!) and never miss another weekly installment.

Thanks for listening!

Stream Episode 157:

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Episode 156: Lester Bangs, Psychotic Reactions and Carburetor Dung

This week we welcome guest Hanif Willis-Abdurraqib, author of the poetry collection The Crown Ain’t Worth Much and a regular contributor to the revamped and relaunched As is our custom, we let our guest pick the book, and Hanif chose the collected works of music writer Lester Bangs, Psychotic Reactions and Carburetor Dung, which was published after his death.


We talk about what separates good music criticism from lousy music criticism, and what people look for from criticism in an age of social-media quick takes. We also talk about how to make an argument for the things you love and the things you hate, and how to keep nostalgia in its proper place. Plus The Wiz, and Space Jam, and why the NBA is a more ethical choice for today’s sports fan than the NFL.

As always, you can stream the episode right here on our site, or you can download the mp3 file. You can also find us in the iTunes store, or wherever you normally get your podcasts. If you check us out in iTunes, please consider leaving us a quick rating and review, which helps us to reach new listeners. And help spread the word to your book-loving friends!

Oh, and we’re always glad to hear your feedback about what we talked about on the show. You can email us, hit us up on Twitter or Facebook, or just leave a comment here on the site.

Thanks for listening!


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