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Tough love for literature


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Episode 258: Holiday Spectacular 2018!

We made it, everyone! To the end of another year (of Book Fight, that is). As per usual, we’re closing out the year by reading a ridiculous Christmas-themed book. Actually, this year’s selection is really four books in one, a collection of novellas that all involve magical cats, in one way or another.

The book is called The Magical Christmas Cat, and it is … pretty different from what that cover might suggest. For one thing, there are more instances of hardcore shapeshifter sex than either of would have expected? But hey, you pick a book and then you roll with the punches, right?

As always, you can stream the episode right here on our site. Or find us in iTunes, Spotify, or whatever app you use to listen to podcasts.

We’ll be taking a little break for the holidays, and will be back after the New Year. But if you’re craving more Book Fight content, you can subscribe to our Patreon, where for our December bonus episode we’ll be talking about a Santa-themed Harlequin romance novel from the 90s. Subscribing at $5 a month will also get you access to our entire backlog of Patreon episodes.

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Episode 257: Andrea Kleine and Jamila Osman

This week, having wrapped up our Fall of Finales but not quite ready for our annual Holiday Spectacular, we decided that we’d each pick a short piece we read recently and loved. Which led us to two essays: Andrea Kleine’s “Once Upon a Time in New York: A Sublet of One’s Own,” from Lit Hub, and Jamila Osman’s “A Map of Lost Things: On Family, Grief, and the Meaning of Home,” from Catapult.

We talked about what makes great literary essays stand out from the pack, teaching college students how to write interesting nonfiction, and how to take familiar subjects and make them your own. In the second half of the show, we talk about recent reports that show fiction sales in decline, and which seem to blame the low numbers on our current presidential administration.

If you like the show, please consider subscribing to our Patreon, which helps offset our costs and allows us to keep doing the podcast each week. In exchange for $5, you’ll also get access to a monthly bonus episode, Book Fight After Dark, in which we explore some of the weirder reaches of the literary universe: Amish mysteries, caveman romances, end-times thrillers and more!

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Episode 256: Fall of Finales, A.A. Gill

This week we’re diving into the work of the late A.A. Gill, a famous British journalist and essayist who died of cancer at the tail end of 2016. His final book, Lines in the Sand, collects a bunch of his journalism, including the pieces he wrote about European refugee camps. Gill started his writing career after sobering up in his early 30s, and was once Great Britain’s highest-paid columnist. He regularly reviewed restaurants, wrote about TV, and delved into various kinds of cultural criticism.

Neither of us knew much about Gill, or his work, before doing some research for this week’s episode. So we tried to look at pieces of his covering a wide spectrum of topics.

This week we also talk about the rather bizarre Future Library Project, which you can read more about in this New York Times article. And we bring back a long-dormant segment about Tom’s cargo sweatpants.

If you like the show, please consider subscribing to our Patreon, which helps offset our costs and allows us to keep doing the podcast each week. In exchange for $5, you’ll also get access to a monthly bonus episode, Book Fight After Dark, in which we explore some of the weirder reaches of the literary universe: Amish mysteries, caveman romances, end-times thrillers and more!

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Episode 255: Fall of Finales, Denis Johnson

This week we’re talking about Denis Johnson’s final book, the short story collection The Largesse of the Sea Maiden. Prior to reading this one, we’d both been fans of Johnson’s work, and had even met him once, in grad school. We talk about how his final stories compare to the ones that sparked his career as a fiction writer, in particular how the narrators in these pieces feel almost like more mature, more contemplative versions of the main character in Jesus’ Son.

In the second half of the show, we wrestle with some bad reviews of Johnson’s work, and then we take one more dive into the NaNoWriMo forums to help people with their pressing fiction questions.

If you like the show, please consider subscribing to our Patreon, which helps offset our costs and allows us to keep doing the podcast each week. In exchange for $5, you’ll also get access to a monthly bonus episode, Book Fight After Dark, in which we explore some of the weirder reaches of the literary universe: Amish mysteries, caveman romances, end-times thrillers and more!

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Episode 254: Fall of Finales, Helen Dunmore (“Girl, Balancing”)

Neither of us had ever read the work of Helen Dunmore, but the more we looked into her career, the more we felt like we should have. For this week’s episode we discussed the story “Girl, Balancing,” which was the title story of her final story collection, published posthumously.

In the second half of the show, we talk about the ultimate finale—death. And, in particular, funeral practices in America and elsewhere. Plus: we continue our month-long deep dive into the NaNoWriMo forums.

If you like the show, please consider subscribing to our Patreon, which helps offset our costs and allows us to keep doing the podcast each week. In exchange for $5, you’ll also get access to a monthly bonus episode, Book Fight After Dark, in which we explore some of the weirder reaches of the literary universe: Amish mysteries, caveman romances, end-times thrillers and more!

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Episode 253: Fall of Finales, William Trevor (Mrs. Crasthorpe)

William Trevor died in 2016, at the age of 98. Two years later, his final book of short stories appeared—titled, appropriately enough, Last Stories. For this week’s episode, we read one of those stories, “Mrs. Crasthorpe,” which Julian Barnes, in a review for The Guardian, singled out as one of the book’s best.

We talk about the story, and about Trevor’s stories more generally. He was a writer who sought the complex story, rather than the simple or flashy one, and his characters always feel richly drawn.

In the second half of the show, we talk about another kind of finale: breakups (and how to do them properly). Also, we’ve got more questions from the NaNoWriMo forums, now that participants are nearing the midpoint of the month-long project.

If you like the show, please consider subscribing to our Patreon, which helps offset our costs and allows us to keep doing the podcast each week. In exchange for $5, you’ll also get access to a monthly bonus episode, Book Fight After Dark, in which we explore some of the weirder reaches of the literary universe: Amish mysteries, caveman romances, end-times thrillers and more!

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Episode 252: Fall of Finales, Philip Roth (Nemesis)

This week we’re back into our Fall of Finales season, in which we consider the final published work of notable authors. Philip Roth published the novel Nemesis in 2010, about two years before he announced that it would be his last published book. In interviews at the time, he said he’d turned his attentions to helping his biographer understand his various papers, and that he was also re-reading his own books, in reverse order, to take stock of his own career.

Nemesis doesn’t necessarily feel like a swan song of a novel. Though it returns to themes (and places) Roth wrote about throughout his career. The book takes place during the polio epidemic of 1944, in the Weequahic neighborhood of Newark, New Jersey. The novel’s protagonist is a young man whose eyesight kept him from WWII, and who is spending the summer working for the parks department, watching after some local boys, more than one of whom falls ill.

We talk about our impressions of the novel, but also about Roth more generally, including some of his naysayers, who often cite his treatment of women–both in his fictional universes and in real life–as one of the primary reasons to dump his work.

In the second half of the show, we also begin our annual dive into the forums of National Novel Writing Month, or NaNoWriMo, to see what kinds of questions this year’s batch of scribes has as they begin their arduous month of writing.

As always, you can stream the episode right here on our site, or find us in Apple Podcasts–or wherever you normally get your podcasts. Thanks for listening!

If you like the show, please consider subscribing to our Patreon, which helps offset our costs and allows us to keep doing the podcast each week. In exchange for $5, you’ll also get access to a monthly bonus episode, Book Fight After Dark, in which we explore some of the weirder reaches of the literary universe: Amish mysteries, caveman romances, end-times thrillers and more!

Stream Episode 252:

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Thanks for listening!