Book Fight!

Tough love for literature

Episode 35: James Salter, All That Is


Our guest this week, Dave Thomas, is a former student of Tom’s, not the founder of Wendy’s. He stops by the basement to talk about James Salter’s new novel, Tom’s teaching style, and how we pick books.


Talking points include: showing versus telling, narrative expectations, horse ejaculate, writing about sex, Jaleel White as Jason Booty, and the erotic power of freshly baked bread.

As always, you can stream the episode here on our site, or download the mp3 file. Or visit us in the iTunes store, where you can subscribe and never miss another episode.

Also! There’s still time to sign up for a summer workshop with your favorite Book Fight host. Both Tom and Mike are teaching classes for Barrelhouse that will begin on June 1. Register now.

Also also! Barrelhouse is running a joke contest, as part of its upcoming comedy issue, so send us your jokes!


Download Episode 35

Thanks for listening!

Author: mikeingram25

writer, editor

6 thoughts on “Episode 35: James Salter, All That Is

  1. This bookforum column was way more intelligent than your discussion:

    • I’ve been listening for a long time and I thought this was a really smart discussion. You could really feel the guys debating in their own heads as they went. I don’t know how you could call it unintelligent. Their gears were turning hard and they even moved in their opinions over the course of the talk.
      If they came to a different conclusion about the book than you did, that doesn’t mean they didn’t arrive at their conclusion intelligently. It’s all subjective. The question is how well you illuminate where you arrive at, and this was very well illuminated.

  2. Thanks for your comment, Claudia. I’m sorry you didn’t enjoy the show. Luckily, we live in a world with many options for book (and life) criticism, so I’m happy to see you were able to find satisfaction elsewhere, and didn’t simply have to go wanting.


  3. Great show. Three guys with degrees from writing schools who sit around and take jabs at a book by a guy who was largely self taught. Especially that little nasally kid from Washington. I found a few stories of his online. I wouldn’t wipe my ass with them. Seriously though, love the show.

  4. William, please at least reassure us that you’ve found suitable materials for wiping your ass.

  5. Wow, how the heck did this episode bring out all the haters? Is it just because folks are such huge Salter fans?
    Man, I thought this was a great ep. I could really feel you guys working here (in a good way). And I thought Dave brought a lot of really fresh takes to the discussion that I really enjoyed. He felt like a unique voice.

    I came on here to write about how much I liked this episode so I was surprised to find all the mean’ness.

    OK, on to what I wanted to say.

    A big part of this conversation – largely between Mike and Tom – raised a question that has always been pretty important to me. Which, I guess, comes down to, how important is plot? I’ll just put my cards on the table and say that I’ve never been into that books who’s “story” is just, roughly, one person’s life. That’s not much of a story to me. To me, a story is a series of events in which a variety of motivations and decisions collide, start to blossom out from each other and proceed to a conclusion that reveals something about everything that came before. To me, a life isn’t a story. It’s a lot of stories (obviously this a debatable point and there isn’t a right answer – just saying what I think).

    So I was really interested to hear you guys discuss this point. Basically, Mike seemed to disagree with me. He seemed to be of the opinion that as long as a book is revealing things about life, it’s good, even if it’s pieces don’t hang together. Whereas Tom seemed to disagree. He seemed to think (like me) that a book shouldn’t just be a lot of good parts, but it should also be a whole, too. And he wasn’t satisfied with the whole that was this book.

    I haven’t read the book, but generally speaking I find myself to be on Tom’s side.

    I think I would also argue that as writers get long in the tooth and distinguished, they become more and more likely to do the ficitional biography (like it sounds like this was), because publishers will let them get away with it. I’ll say that for both of the novels I have drafted, I have spent TONS of time writing backgrounds for characters, especially the main one, and all that writing feels wasted without putting it in. But I don’t put it in, because I know that as a new writer the potential publisher is going to be looking for a tight punchy book oriented around a core plot. Not all the fat I come up with to figure out the characters.

    But when a writer is established they can get away with it. And I don’t know if it’s entitlement or laziness or hubris, but it seems like older writers do tend to take the option to get away with throwing in everything they come up with, even if writing a disciplined, shorter, more focused book would make for a better book.

    I guess I also just think writing someone’s biography is just easier than coming up with a really compelling plot about a more finite story.

    So that’s my opinion, but I guess my larger point is this: to me, this question of how important plot is or what a novel should look like is an important one for writers to have right now. Different readers, markets and writers will come to different conclusions and that’s fine, but I also think it’s important to hear the discussion had out loud, and it was nice to hear you guys have it, in the context of Salter’s book.

    And I thought it was a quite intelligent discussion, thankyouverymuch Mr. Katteridge and Ms. Putnam.

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