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Episode 289: John McPhee, “Levels of the Game”

Welcome back to our Summer School season, in which we’re reading books, stories, and essays we feel like we should have read by now. John McPhee was in that category for Mike, especially as he’s been teaching (and writing) more creative non-fiction. McPhee is a celebrated essayist who started out at Time Magazine and then moved on to a lengthy career at The New Yorker. In 1969 he wrote a long piece about a tennis match between Arthur Ashe and Clark Graebner that became a short book, Levels of the Game. Renowned as not just a piece of sports writing, but as a study in two contrasting characters at a pivotal moment in American history, McPhee’s essay/book is considered a master of its form.

You can read Part I of the essay online from The New Yorker (the second part requires the use of their archive widget). Or check out the book.

We talk about the essay, and about the very different turns the lives of its principle subjects took after it was published. We also talk about how McPhee put the piece together, which involved lugging a suitcase-sized projector down to Puerto Rico for a U.S. Davis Cup match.

Also this week: Mike tries again to eat a good donut.

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, goofier 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 Robocop.

Thanks for listening!

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Episode 288: Thom Jones, “The Pugilist at Rest”

Thom Jones graduated from the Iowa Writers Workshop in the late 70s, but didn’t truly find his voice–and critical success–until “The Pugilist at Rest,” which was published in The New Yorker in 1991. After that story, Jones published pieces in other big-name magazines and pretty quickly had a story collection out in the world. Journalists really latched onto the late-bloomer story, as well as the fact that Jones was working as a janitor when “The Pugilist at Rest” was published.

We talk about the story, and also about the mythology around Jones, who died in 2016.

Also this week: Mike’s continuing quest to eat a good donut, and why Tom is so tired of reading stories about the 60s.

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, goofier 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 Robocop.

Thanks for listening!

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Episode 287: Sally Rooney, Conversations With Friends

Neither of us had read anything by Sally Rooney, who has been called “the first important Millennial novelist” and “Salinger for the Snapchat generation.” Both of her novels have garnered high praise from both critics and celebrities, including Zadie Smith and Sarah Jessica Parker. So it seemed like time for America’s Most Important Books Podcast to finally weigh in.

We chose Rooney’s first novel, Conversations With Friends, about a kind of love triangle (love rhombus?) between a young woman named Frances, her former girlfriend/current best friend Bobbi, and an older married couple, Melissa and Nick.

We talk about the book’s politics, the narrator’s voice, and what it means to be a “Millennial novelist.” Also this week: Mike’s continuing quest to find a good donut gets complicated.

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, goofier 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 Robocop.

Thanks for listening!

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Episode 286: Annie Dillard, “Total Eclipse”

This week we’re discussing Annie Dillard’s famous essay, “Total Eclipse,” about the time she saw a total eclipse. Neither of us had read it before, and neither of us is quite sure whether we like it. We get Geoff Dyer’s opinion, and Robert Atwan’s, and a couple dissenting opinions from Goodreads, as we try to decide what to make of it. If you’ve never read the piece, you can do so here, via The Atlantic.

Also this week: Mike tries some Indonesian food, and continues his quest for the perfect donut. And Tom has opinions about the correct way to cook a s’more.

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, goofier 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 Robocop.

Thanks for listening!

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Episode 285: Carson McCullers, Ballad of the Sad Cafe

We’re continuing our Summer School season of the podcast, in which we’re reading things we feel like we should have gotten to by now. This week is Mike’s pick, a novella set in a gossipy small town and ending with a knock-down, drag-out fist fight between a woman and her ex-husband.

We talk about McCullers’ writing and her life, including her apparent inability to successfully bed a woman, despite many attempts.

Also this week: Is the word hunchback offensive? Why is so much academic writing impenetrable? And Mike finally sees Jaws!

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, goofier 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 Robocop.

Thanks for listening!

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Episode 284: James Baldwin, “Notes of a Native Son”

We’re continuing our Summer School season of the podcast, in which we’re reading things we feel like we should have gotten to by now. This week is a Tom pick, a particularly famous essay by James Baldwin about the death of his father, bitterness, and race in America. Tom had read other Baldwin works before, but never this piece.

We talk about the ways this essay still feels relevant to American life, and the strength of Baldwin’s prose and his intellect. We also check out some middling Goodreads reviews of Baldwin’s work, to see what the people are complaining about. Plus: bad donuts, missed opportunities, Eagles songs, and why every poet is into astrology.

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, goofier 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 Robocop.

Thanks for listening!

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Episode 283: Summer School! (John D’Agata)

This week we’re kicking off a new season of Book Fight: Summer School! The idea is that we’ll dive into books, stories, and essays that we feel like we should have read by now. That could mean classics, but it could also mean contemporary work that’s been sitting on our to-read pile for a long time, or that we’ve been avoiding for one reason or another.

For the first Summer School episode we’ve got a Mike pick: an essay from John D’Agata’s book Halls of Fame. Mike’s been meaning to get to some of D’Agata’s work for years now, despite having some mixed feelings about his relationship to the truth and “truthiness” (as explicated in the book The Lifespan of a Fact, which traced the back-and-forth between D’Agata and a fact-checker at the Believer who found a number of factual errors in his piece about suicides in Las Vegas).

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, goofier 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 Robocop.

Thanks for listening!

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