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:

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 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 mtv.com. 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.

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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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Bonus Episode: NaNoWriMo 2016

How many words did you write in the past month? Was it fifty thousand? If not, then what’s up with that, slacker? All across this great land of ours, participants in National Novel Writing Month have spent November drafting an entire novel, beginning to end, and what the hell have YOU been doing? Maybe an essay? A couple blog posts? Some tweets? Did you write some nice tweets?

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As long-time listeners know, we have something of a complicated relationship with NaNoWriMo. When we first discussed it, way back in 2012, it made Tom very angry. Though in subsequent years, Tom softened his stance a little. In 2013, Mike even (sort of) participated. What we’ve always enjoyed most is checking in on the NaNoWriMo forums. They’re a real treasure trove of the weird questions people have as they’re trying desperately to finish novel drafts and probably operating on too much caffeine and too little sleep.

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So this week we’re once again diving in, here at the tail end of November, to see what queries our fellow writers have had. What problems they’ve encountered. What things they’ve had difficulty naming. We’ll also see if there’s any update on last year’s theory that the NaNoWriMo forums are really just a clever cover for aliens (or robots) trying to learn how humans behave so they can blend in and eventually enslave us.

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, or wherever you normally get your podcasts.

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Episode 155: Fall of Food, “Who Owns Southern Food?”

This week we’re discussing a recent essay from The Oxford American, co-written by John T. Edge and Tunde Wey, called “Who Owns Southern Food?” It’s a response, in a sense, to both this article from Eater and the backlash it fomented from certain (white) corners of Charleston, S.C. We’d certainly recommend reading both, but as usual you should be able to follow along with the discussion without doing the reading.

On the one hand, the essay is a bit afield of the stuff we normally talk about on the show. On the other hand, it sparked a lot of discussion, and dovetailed with a number of issues we’d both been thinking about lately, about politics and race and appropriation. It also made Mike consider how little he learned, growing up in Charleston, about the history and culture of the Gullah people who were all around him.

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In the second half of the show, we eat some snacks, as is our wont (at least until fall is officially over). This week we challenged ourselves to bring in regional foods from the places where we grew up. Mike made some cheese grits–our first homemade snack!–and Tom provided Tastykakes. We also ate some Middleswarth chips, sent in from friend-of-the-show Dave Housley. We’d eaten, and enjoyed, the Central Pennsylvania company’s BBQ offering, on several occasion, but this was our first experience with the other flavors.

Here are links to two articles on John Raines, the Temple prof Tom discusses at the start of the show: a profile in the NYT and afn article by Raines himself on the role of whites in fighting for civil rights.

As always, you can stream the show here on our site, or download the mp3 file. You can also find us in the iTunes store, or wherever you usually get your podcasts. Download back episodes (always free!) or subscribe (also free!) so you never miss another installment.

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Episode 154: Han Kang, The Vegetarian (with guest Sam Allingham)

This week we welcome guest Sam Allingham, author of the recently published story collection The Great American Songbook, to talk about Han Kang’s novel The Vegetarian, which won the 2016 Man Booker International Prize.

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We talk about the book’s initial humor, and its ultimate bleakness. We also talk a bit about novels in translation, and why people tend to think of foreign books as “weird.” And of course we put Sam through our usual lightning-round tomfoolery.

As always, you can stream the show here on our website, by clicking on the link below, or you can download the mp3 file and do with it what you will. Or, visit us in the iTunes store, or wherever you usually get your podcasts, where you can subscribe (for free!) and never miss another installment.

Thanks for listening!

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Episode 153: Fall of Food, Canada! (Alice Munro, “Family Furnishings”)

A listener recently sent us a box full of Canadian snacks, so this week we’re devoting the entire episode to America’s friendly neighbor to the north. We discuss an Alice Munro story (“Family Furnishings,” which is in her collection Hateship Courtship Loveship Marriage). In particular, we look at how the story uses food, and family meals, to explore the relationships between its characters. We consider the ways in which food can be a marker of social class, and specific periods in time, and we also talk about our own families’ eating habits.

Then, in the second half of the show, we eat some fucking snacks. Ketchup-flavored chips! Hickory sticks! Canadian Smarties! Some weird thing called a Big Turk that may have scarred us both for life!

We realize it might seem like an odd coincidence for us to be talking about Canada just a few days after the American election. But we’re not planning to move there. In fact, during the episode we talk briefly about why that knee-jerk reaction tends to grate on our nerves (short version: the privilege of being able to pick up your life and move to another country, and the better uses to which you could put that privilege).

But our plan to stay in America doesn’t mean we’re not great admirers of Canada. Its (mostly) peaceable nature, its beautiful landscapes, its love of gravy-covered fries and cheese curds. Pictured below, two of our Canadian listeners argue about which of the country’s favorite snacks is the best.

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“Talk to the hand, ’cause the face don’t want no more of that King Turk bullshit.”

In all seriousness, listeners: this has been a rough week. We anticipate even rougher weeks to come. Sorry if that strikes some of you as melodramatic, but both of us are full right now of equal parts sadness and outrage, and both of us are exploring–as individuals, and as a show–what good, helpful things we can do with those emotions. We’ll let you know as we figure it out. But in the meantime, if you’re looking for places to channel your own energies, and your money, poet Tommy Pico has been assembling a big list of organizations that will likely need your help even more in the coming months than they already do.

As always, you can listen to today’s episode right here on our site, or you can download the mp3 file and take it with you. Or, visit us in the iTunes store, or wherever you normally get your podcasts, and subscribe (for free!) so you never miss another weekly installment.

If you want to reach us, feel free to send us an email, or hit us up on Twitter, or just leave a response here on the site.

Thanks so much for listening!

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Episode 152: W. P. Kinsella, Shoeless Joe

You may know the name Kinsella from the Kevin Costner character, Ray Kinsella, in the movie Field of Dreams. But it’s also the name of the author who wrote the novel, Shoeless Joe, on which that film is based. Kinsella was born in Canada, and he lived most of his life there, though in the late 70’s he did a stint at the Iowa Writers Workshop, near where the book is set. He wrote several other novels, and a slew of story collections, most of which were about one of his two chief passions: baseball, and First Nations people (though Kinsella was himself white, and was occasionally criticized for writing in the voices of indigenous characters). Kinsella recently passed away, at age 81, and so it seemed an appropriate time for us to finally read his most famous book.

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We talk about the book’s portrayal of baseball, and whether it’s too sentimental about the cultural importance of the sport. In the process we discover that one of us might have a higher level of tolerance for baseball-related sentimentality. We also talk about sports writing more generally, and why there seems to be a dearth of great novels about sports. We no doubt missed some in our discussion, so feel free to shoot us an email, or tweet at us, or leave a comment here on the site.

As always, you can stream the episode right here on our site, or download the mp3 file. You can also visit us in the iTunes store, or wherever you get your podcasts, to download back episodes and subscribe (for free!) so you’ll never miss another installment.

Thanks for listening!

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Episode 151: Halloween Spooktacular 2016

In celebration of Halloween, we’re talking this week about two spooky stories: Shirley Jackson’s “The Lottery” (read for free here) and Joe Hill’s “Abraham’s Sons” (read for free here). The former is a classic of the genre, though somehow Mike had never read it before, and didn’t even really know what it was about. The latter is a newer story, from a collection that’s received much praise from fans of literary fiction and people who like being scared.

We talk about what scares us–in stories, and also in life. We also talk about what makes a good horror story, and whether the really memorable ones always feel somehow old-fashioned and archetypal.

It’s still the Fall of Food, so we also devote some time in the second half of the episode to a discussion of Halloween candy. What are the best candies? The worst? And what’s the deal with those weird candies that seem to only exist on Halloween? Mary Janes, Sixlets: we’re looking in your direction here.

As always, we’re happy to hear your feedback. Did we get Halloween candy wrong? Do you have opinions about the stories we talked about? Do you want to give us your own All-Time Desert Island Top 5 list of candy bars? You can email us, hit us up on Twitter or Facebook, or just leave a comment here on the site.

You can stream this week’s show right here on our site, or download the mp3 file. Or check us out in the iTunes store–or in basically any of the available podcast apps–where you can always download back episodes and subscribe (for free) so you’ll never miss a new weekly installment.

Thanks for listening!

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