Book Fight!

Tough love for literature

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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.

Stream Ep. 136:

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Episode 135: Summer of Second Chances, Harlan Ellison (“I Have No Mouth, and I Must Scream”)

Welcome to a new season of Book Fight, in which we revisit writers we’ve panned in the past and give their work another go. Last spring, we didn’t much care for Ellison’s spite-fueled essay, “The Three Most Important Things in Life.” Now, we’ve read one of his most lauded stories, “I Have No Mouth, and I Must Scream.” Will it change our assessment of Ellison, or will we double down on the hate?

Here’s a picture of Ellison just chillaxing at home.


We also talk about when you should give your own work a second (or a third, or a fourth) chance. How do you know when to keep revising, and when to give up on a piece and move on? Plus, another installment of Raccoon News!

As always, you can stream the episode below, or download it from the iTunes store, or wherever you normally get your podcasts.

Thanks for listening!

Stream Episode 135:

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Episode 134: M. John Harrison, Light (with Sandra Newman)

Hola, Book Fighters! This week we welcome guest Sandra Newman, author of several books, most recently The Country of Ice Cream Star, a novel. She introduced us to science-fiction author M. John Harrison and his 2002 book Light.

We’ve been tough on science fiction in the past. Will this be the novel that finally wins us over?


We talk with Newman about her early experiences with science fiction, and what she loves (and doesn’t) about the genre. We also talk about her work, including her decision to write her newest book in a partly-invented dialect. Plus all the usual jibber jabber you’ve come to know and love.

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

Stream Episode 134:

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Thanks for listening!


Episode 133: Spring of Success, Jennifer Weiner (“Tour of Duty”)

It’s the last week for our Spring of Success feature, and we’re wrapping things up by checking out Jennifer Weiner’s first published story, “Tour of Duty,” which originally appeared in a 1992 issue of Seventeen Magazine. The story isn’t available online, though it was collected in Weiner’s The Guy Not Taken.

Here’s a photo of the author, enjoying the sort of red-carpet treatment that comes (sometimes) with literary success.


We talk about Weiner’s path to success, and her 10-point advice to prospective novelists. We also talk about her much-publicized beef with Jonathan Franzen, and also the time Mike met her agent in a South Philly coffee shop.

As always, we’d love to hear your feedback on what we talked about. You can leave a comment here on the post, send us an email, or hit us up on Twitter. We’ve also got a Facebook page now, so you can be even more connected to our goings-on.

You can stream the episode here on our site, or visit us in the iTunes store, where you can download back episodes and subscribe (for free!) so you never miss another installment. While you’re over there in iTunes, please take a few seconds and leave us a rating and review, which helps us connect with more listeners.

Thanks for listening!

Download Episode 133 (right-click, save-as)

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Episode 132: Kanan Makiya, The Rope

Kanan Makiya is probably best known for his 1989 book, Republic of Fear: The Politics of Modern Iraq, a (nonfiction) account of his home country under Saddam Hussein. He’s also known as one of the key Iraqi agitators for the 2003 U.S. invasion, arguing to America’s political elite that Hussein’s regime badly needed to be toppled. It was Makiya, in fact, who told White House officials that the U.S. would be greeted with “flowers and sweets” by the Iraqi people.

That prediction turned out to be wildly inaccurate. Now, a decade after Saddam Hussein’s execution, Makiya has written a novel that serves as an examination of the years 2003-2006 in Iraq, and what went so terribly awry.

This week, Book Fighters, it’s time to put away our usual foolishness and finally learn something for a change. Smarten up, people!


Ha ha, just kidding, we’re still idiots, and we don’t know anything about anything. If you’re looking for a podcast that can untangle the complexities of the Iraq war, you probably want something in the NPR family. If you want to hear a couple guys do a deep-dive into the Amazon reviews of a Midwestern grandmother, soap maker and birth doula, then you’ve come to the right place!

As always, we value your feedback, and would love to hear what you think about the stuff we talk about. You can leave us a comment here on the site, hit us up on Twitter, or send us an email.

You can listen to the show right here on the site, by clicking the player thingy below, or downloading the mp3 file. You can also find us in the iTunes store, or wherever you normally get your podcasts.

Thanks for listening!

Stream Episode 132:

Download Episode 132 (right-click, save-as)


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