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Tough love for literature


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Episode 260: Winter of Wayback, 1991 (Nelson Algren Prize Winners)

It’s the second week of our tour through the 1990s, which means we’re on to 1991. For our reading this week we chose two stories: the winner and runner-up in the annual Nelson Algren Fiction Prize. The contest, which is still active, awards cash prizes and prints the winning stories in the pages of the Chicago Tribune. The winner for 1991 was Tom Barbash’s story “Howling at the Moon,” and the runner-up was Patricia Stevens’ “Leaving Fort Ord.” You can also read an article about all the winners here.

Also this week, we talk about a Jacob Weisberg piece that rocked the publishing world in 1991. Weisberg laid into several of the big New York publishers for putting out hastily edited books that were nearly unreadable. He also called out a couple big-time editors by name, accusing them of not even reading the books on their lists. As might be expected, there was some serious blowback, though Howard Kurtz’s prediction that Weisberg would be blackballed from American publishing turned out to be pretty far off the mark.

1991 was also a big year for video games, with new higher-bit consoles and the introduction of Street Fighter II, considered to be a landmark in the industry.

And of course there’s lots, lots more: an unsolved murder, the Gulf War, Mike’s first cigarette, another edition of Nineties Movie Club, and the tantalizing smells of teen spirit.

As always, you can stream the show right here on our site, or download the mp3 file to listen to later. Or check us out in Apple podcasts, where you can subscribe (for free!) and catch up on older episodes. We’re also available on Spotify, Stitcher, or just about any other podcast app. If for some reason you can’t find us in your favorite app, please reach out and let us know!

If you like the show, please consider subscribing to our Patreon, which helps us make a bit of money each month and keep the show going. For just $5 a month, you’ll get access to a monthly bonus episode, Book Fight After Dark, in which we visit some of the weirder, funnier corners of the literary world. Recently, that’s involved reading a paranormal romance novel, the debut novel of Jersey Shore’s Snookie, and the novelization of the movie Battleship (yes, based on the popular board game).

Thanks for listening!

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Episode 259: Winter of Wayback, 1990 (“The Things They Carried”)

Welcome to another Winter of Wayback season, Book Fight friends! After last year’s run through the 1950s, this year we’re skipping ahead to take on the 90s. It’s a decade we both lived through, though this season might end up highlighting our age difference.

For the next ten weeks we’ll be reading stories and books published in the 90s, revisiting favorite movies, and discussing other cultural touchstones of the decade.

We’re aware that there are currently a lot of 90s nostalgia projects, and we’re not trying to be another one. Instead, we’re going to dig into some of the best, most interesting, and weirdest writing published over the course of the decade, while looking at ways publishing changed over those ten years: the rise and fall of print magazines; the dawning of the internet age; and a generation of supposed “slackers” who embraced the DIY ethic of the previous decade’s punk scene to carve out their own alternative cultural niche.

We hope you’ll come along with us for the ride!

For this first episode, we’re discussing the title story from Tim O’Brien’s 1990 book The Things They Carried. It’s sort of unbelievable that neither of us had read it before, and we figured it was time to remedy that. We speculate about why the early 90s featured so many Vietnam stories, and why this story’s become such a touchstone in both literature and creative writing classes.

Also this week: we trace the brief history of a magazine targeted specifically at doctors’ offices (which managed to get a short story into the 1991 Best American Short Stories anthology). Tom dips into the Nintendo-dominated video game landscape of the early 90s. And Mike revisits Pump Up the Volume, a movie he loved as a teen and which may have indirectly led to the existence of this very podcast.

As always, you can stream the show right here on our site, or download the mp3 file to listen to later. Or check us out in Apple podcasts, where you can subscribe (for free!) and catch up on older episodes. We’re also available on Spotify, Stitcher, or just about any other podcast app. If for some reason you can’t find us in your favorite app, please reach out and let us know!

If you like the show, please consider subscribing to our Patreon, which helps us make a bit of money each month and keep the show going. For just $5 a month, you’ll get access to a monthly bonus episode, Book Fight After Dark, in which we visit some of the weirder, funnier corners of the literary world. Recently, that’s involved reading a paranormal romance novel, the debut novel of Jersey Shore’s Snookie, and the novelization of the movie Battleship (yes, based on the popular board game).

Thanks for listening!

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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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