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 190: Summer of Selfies, Curtis Sittenfeld (“Show Don’t Tell”)

This week we’re discussing a recently published story from The New Yorker by Curtis Sittenfeld, author of a number of books, including Prep and American Wife. In “Show Don’t Tell,” Sittenfeld turns her attentions to a fictionalized version of the Iowa Writers Workshop, and the anxious first-year students who are awaiting decisions on their funding for the next year.

Since both of your Book Fight hosts are Workshop grads, we take a little stroll down memory lane and compare our own experiences with those of the story’s characters. Though we also attempt to consider the story on its own merits, and we wonder whether it’s one that people outside the writing world would find compelling.

Also: another installment of Millennial M0m3nt. What American industry are the young people killing this week?

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, where you can catch up on back episodes and subscribe (for free!) so you’ll never miss another installment.

Stream Episode 190:

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Episode 189: Summer of Selfies, Tom Chiarella (“My Education”)

This week we continue our Summer of Selfies theme by discussing confessional essays, including one by Tom Chiarella, a long-time writer and editor for Esquire. Chiarella is perhaps best known for his in-depth profiles of celebrities, but in this case he turns the lens to focus on himself, writing about the abuse he suffered at the hands of a Catholic-school teacher. What makes “My Education” particularly interesting is Chiarella’s ambivalence about documenting his experience in the first place. What are the benefits of sharing one’s traumas? What are the benefits of reading about someone else’s?

We also talk more generally about confessional essays, and we catch up with Millennials, to see what they’re killing or not killing this week!

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, where you can catch up on back episodes and subscribe (for free!) so you never miss another weekly installment.

Stream Episode 189:

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Episode 188: Pam Houston, Contents May Have Shifted

This week, as part of our continuing “Summer of Selfies” theme, we’re discussing Pam Houston’s latest book, a novel that draws heavily from the author’s own life, and whose narrator is even named Pam. This isn’t the first time that Houston has played with the line between fact and fiction, a line she finds to be blurry, at best.

We talk about aspects of the book we find interesting, and some that we find less interesting. Which seems to be one of the challenges of writing autobiographical work: How do you know which of your experiences are interesting only to you, and which will be interesting to an audience of strangers? It also speaks to the fact that first-person, autobiographical works tend to be pretty quirky, and may speak to some people and not to others. Which isn’t a weakness of the form, and in fact might in some ways be a strength.

In the second of the show, we talk about James Frey, who was Houston’s writing student, and when it’s ok, in a work of nonfiction, to make something up.

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, where you can subscribe (for free!) and never miss another installment.

Stream Episode 188:

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Episode 187, Summer of Selfies: Hunter S. Thompson

This week we’re discussing Hunter S. Thompson’s famous essay on the Kentucky Derby, “The Kentucky Derby is Decadent and Depraved,” which many credit as the starting point for the author’s gonzo style of journalism. Neither of us had read the piece before, and we realized that a lot of our impressions of Thompson were based on his legend, more so than on the work itself.

You can read the essay itself, as well as some notes on its creation and publication, in this piece put together by Grantland a few years ago.

Also this week, we discuss the phenomenon of raccoon selfies, and animal selfies more generally. Plus: tourists who pay to take pictures with docile (and likely mistreated) tigers and elephants, and why are there so many car selfies on dating sites? As always, you can count on Book Fight to tackle the big questions.

Stream the episode right here on our site, or download the mp3 file. Or, find us in the iTunes store, or wherever you get your podcasts. If you like the show, please consider joining our Patreon: for a measly $5 a month, you’ll get a monthly bonus episode (Book Fight After Dark!) and we’ll blurb you on the show.

Stream Episode 187:

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Episode 186: Summer of Selfies #1 (Jia Tolentino, “The Personal-Essay Boom is Over”)

This week we’re kicking off a new season of Book Fight, and also retooling the show a bit. From here on it, all of our readings–books, essays, and stories–will correspond to that season’s theme. For each season, we’ll read three books (a Mike pick, a Tom pick, and a joint pick neither of us has read before). We’ll also read a bunch of stories, essays, and even some criticism, to fully explore that season’s topic.

For summer, we’ll be doing what we’re calling the Summer of Selfies, in which all our readings will be autobiographical pieces. But we’re not just reading first-person books and stories, along with some personal essays. We’ll be exploring the various dimensions of autobiographical writing, and delving into various controversies around personal writing, whether that’s authors alienating people in their lives or sowing doubt about what’s real and what’s not.

In our first installment for the Summer of Selfies, we’ve chosen a Jia Tolentino essay from The New Yorker. It’s not a personal essay itself, but instead a think piece on the state of the personal essay. So it seemed like a good starting point for talking about first-person writing in 2017.

We talk about whether the personal essay is dead, and whether the term “personal essay” is, itself, too broad a term to really be useful. We revisit the internet writing of the early 2000’s, and speculate about how internet culture shaped the literary essay.

As always, you can stream the episode right here on our site, by clicking on the player below. Or download the mp3 file. You can also find us in the iTunes store, or wherever you get your podcasts. Be sure to subscribe (for free!) so you never miss another installment.

Stream Summer of Selfies #1:

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Book Fight After Dark, Free Preview (full episode available to subscribers)

Hey, everybody! Today marks the debut of our new Book Fight After Dark series, which will be available to anyone who subscribes to our Patreon at $5 a month or more. We’re moving to this model, instead of our usual end-of-year fundraising drive, because it seems a bit simpler, and it gives donors more bonus content. Each month, we’ll record a special bonus episode–for the foreseeable future, these will all be about romance novels, as we explore the many, many subgenres of romance/erotica. Neither of us is a regular romance reader, but we’re ready to learn!

First up, this month we’re talking about a NASCAR-themed romance (yes, that’s a thing that exists).

If you’ve already donated to our Patreon, just go straight to that page to access the full episode. You’ll have a few options for listening: 1) Stream the bonus episode directly on Patreon; 2) Download an mp3 file of the episode, via Patreon; or 3) Copy the private RSS feed (you’ll see it over on the Patreon page), then put that into your preferred podcast player–this option should allow the episodes to download automatically, each month, just like our regular episodes do, though they’ll be in their own feed.

If you haven’t donated yet, what are you waiting for? You already get four free episodes a month–which won’t change–and your donation helps keep the show up and running. Plus: romance novels! What more could a person want? If you’re still not convinced, take a listen to this brief excerpt, and see if it’s for you. If it is, here’s your next stop.

Stream Free Preview:

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Thanks for listening! And for supporting the show!


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Episode 185: Bohumil Hrabal, Closely Watched Trains

This week on the podcast, we attempt to answer the age-old question: Do you read the foreward first, or do you wait and go back to it once you’re finished with the book? Also we dig into a classic of Czech literature, talk about translations, and for some reason we do a pretty deep dive into the McDonaldland universe.

As always, you can stream the show right here on our website, by clicking on the player below. Or download the mp3 file. You can also find us in the iTunes store, where you can subscribe (for free!) and never miss another installment.

Note: We just recorder our very first episode of Book Fight After Dark, in which we discussed a Harlequin romance novel about a NASCAR driver and an actuary. It’ll be coming out soon, and if you want it, you need to subscribe to our Patreon for $5 a month. Your subscription helps support the show, which will continue to deliver 4 free episodes each month, and you’ll also get access to a monthly bonus episode. Quite the bargain, if you ask us.

Whether you subscribe or not, we appreciate you listening! And if you like the show, please help spread the word to your book-loving friends.

Stream Episode 185:

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See you again next week!