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.



Episode 146: Cormac McCarthy, The Road

This week’s post may be a short one, since one of us just came back from Barrelhouse Writer Camp and maybe needs to sleep for a lot of hours. Such a fun time! Writing by a creek, making new friends, going on a couple hikes, drinking some beers, helping a minion fulfill his final destiny.

Anyway, we read The Road this week. By Cormac McCarthy? We’re guessing you’ve heard of it. Somehow neither of us had read it before, and it seemed a fitting time to rectify that.


In the episode, we talk about whether the book’s post-apocalyptic hellscape feels like a thought exercise or an actual, possible future. We also talk about the book’s style, which is apparently polarizing, at least to some Goodreads reviewers. And because we’re both goofy idiots, we stunt-cast the movie with our ideal pairings.

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 just about any podcast app, where you can subscribe (for free!) and never miss another installment.

Thanks for listening!


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Episode 145: Summer of Second Chances, Matthew Quick (“Don’t Hate Them Very Much”)

It’s the last week of our summer season, listeners, and we’ve got a special one to close it out. As long-time fans of the show will remember, Tom has occasionally taken issue with Matthew Quick’s work, his life, and basically his whole “thing.” So we thought that reading one of Quick’s early publications, originally featured in Agni, would provide a good chance for Tom to open up his heart and give “Q” a second chance.

You can read Quick’s story for free online, via Agni.

If you’re a newer listener, and you’re curious about Tom’s beef with Q, you can check out this free bonus episode from April 2014, in which we talk about their history and also Quick’s breakout book, The Silver Linings Playbook.

Here’s a picture of the storyteller in his natural habitat.


In the second half of this week’s episode, we eat some Pop Tarts and talk about them. Look, we never promised this show was 100% about writing and literature. Sometimes you just want to eat some breakfast pastries and try to figure out which flavor is least disgusting.

If you have opinions about Pop Tart flavors–and we suspect that nearly all of you do–you can send us an email, or leave a comment on the site, or hit us up on Twitter or Facebook. So many options! It’s sort of exhausting just thinking about it.

As always, you can stream this week’s episode right here on the site, by clicking on the little player thingy below. Or download the mp3 file, and do with it what you will You can also find us in the iTunes store, or in just about any podcasting app, where you can subscribe (for free!) and never miss another installment.

Thanks for listening!

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Episode 144: Javier Marias, A Heart So White

This week we’re discussing a book by an author we’ve both been wanting to read for a while now. Marias has been widely praised, and this book is considered one of his best. Friend-of-the-show Elisa Gabbert recently wrote an essay for The Smart Set in which she used this book to explore what it is she loves about reading novels. So: lots of good reasons to finally check it out.


We talk about our expectations for novels, and the kind of book you can sink into without worrying or even caring where it’s going.

In the second half of the show we’ve got another installment of Fan Fiction Corner, featuring Alvin and the Chipmunks, as well as the Chipettes. Things get unexpectedly dark.

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


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Episode 143: Summer of Second Chances, Sheila Heti (“My Life Is a Joke”)

Way back in Episode 15, we talked about Sheila Heti’s novel How Should a Person Be, a book we were both pretty harsh on. This week we’re giving Heti a second chance (not that she needs one from us; she seems to be doing just fine) by reading a recent story of hers from The New Yorker, “My Life Is a Joke.”

We talk about whether we were too quick to judge Heti’s novel, and whether our reaction came more from the book’s marketing materials than from the book itself. We also talk about what we want from fiction, and what it takes for fiction to feel “real.”

Here’s a picture of the author looking like kind of a bad ass while doing her best impression of Bjork.


Also this week: Mike shares some lessons learned from spending the summer reading book manuscripts. And we talk a lot about snacks, possibly because we were both hungry when we recorded.

You can read the Elisa Gabbert essay we discussed here, at The Smart Set.

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


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Thanks for listening!


Episode 142: John McManus, Bitter Milk

This week’s book is a Tom pick, the first novel from John McManus, though he’d previously published two story collections and become the youngest-ever Whiting Award winner. Reading the book made Mike question why he continues to do this podcast. So: good times!


Seriously, from time to time our need to keep the show honest bumps up against our desire to not burn too many bridges or be mean to people we might eventually meet in real life. And sometimes that tension causes things to get a little weird.

In the second half of the show, Mike puts Tom on the metaphorical couch to help him figure out why he keeps feeling pulled away from the book project he’s supposed to be working on. All of that probably sounds unbearably heavy, but don’t worry, there’s plenty of the usual goofiness, too.

If you want to read Mike’s essay about winter biking and online dating, you can do so here, at The Smart Set. You can read the Amy Butcher essay Mike recommended here, at The American Scholar. And here’s Tom’s latest mascot story, which he mentions at the end of the episode.

As always, you can stream the new episode right here on our site, or download the mp3 file and do with it what you will. You can also check us out in the iTunes store, or wherever you normally get your podcasts.

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Episode 141: Summer of Second Chances, Agatha Christie (“Witness for the Prosecution”)

Agatha Christie is one of the best-selling authors of all time, yet when we read her novel & Then There Were None earlier this year, we gave it mixed reviews. So in the spirit of our Summer of Second Chances, we’re giving her another go, this time reading what people (or at least some people on the internet) regard as one of her finest short stories, “Witness for the Prosecution.”

Will we come around on the famed mystery writer? Or will Christie succumb to our famously harsh two-strikes-and-you’re-out rule? Here’s a picture of the author taken just moments before she was crushed by her own back catalog:


In the second half of the show, we revisit some 90s bands that may or may not be worthy of a second chance. We also share another listener story of second chances. If you’d like to weigh in on that discussion–an artist, musician, writer, filmmaker, etc., to whom you’ve given a second chance–you can do so on our Facebook page.

As always, you can listen to the episode right here on our site, or download the mp3 file and take it with you. You can also visit us in the iTunes store, or wherever you get your podcasts (Stitcher, Instacast, etc.). If there’s a service you use that doesn’t have us listed, just let us know! And thanks for listening!

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Episode 140: Gregoire Bouillier, The Mystery Guest

Mike first read this book roughly a decade ago, and recently decided to revisit it after randomly plucking it from a shelf and reading the inscription, which he’d totally forgotten about. The short work of (more or less) nonfiction tells the story of a rather unusual party invite brokered by the narrator’s ex-girlfriend. He thinks she might want to give things another go, but soon enough realizes he’s allowed himself to get his hopes up for nothing.


Bouillier is perhaps better known for his first book, Report on Myself, a thin volume about (among other things) the author’s childhood. He also gained some notoriety several years ago when his former girlfriend, Sophie Calle–who features in The Mystery Guest–put together an art installation, Take Care of Yourself, based on the breakup note Bouillier wrote her.

We talk about small-scope books, and Bouillier’s idea of a “report” as its own literary genre. We’ve also got a short installment of Fan Fiction Corner that includes a writing prompt, if any of our listeners want to take a crack at it. You can email us your attempts, if you’d like, and maybe we’ll share some on a future episode.

As always, you can stream the episode right here on our site, or download the mp3 file directly. Or visit us in the iTunes store, or wherever you get your podcasts.

Thanks for listening!

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