Book Fight!

Tough love for literature

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Technical Difficulties: Please Stand By

Hi, friends! Just wanted to let you know that we’re having some technical troubles with the files for this week’s episode. Mike is currently running some recovery software on his laptop in the hopes they can be salvaged, but it’s not looking great. Sorry that’s not a very satisfactory answer to the question of when this week’s episode will go up, or whether there will, in fact, be an episode this week.

We’ll keep you posted. In the meantime, you can listen to this crossover episode of the podcast The Drunken Odyssey that Tom and Barrelhouse poetry editor Dan Brady recorded last week at the AWP conference in Tampa.

Stream The Drunken Odyssey-Book Fight Crossover Special

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Book Fight After Dark, Free Preview (full episode available to subscribers)

Hey, everybody! Today marks the debut of our new Book Fight After Dark series, which will be available to anyone who subscribes to our Patreon at $5 a month or more. We’re moving to this model, instead of our usual end-of-year fundraising drive, because it seems a bit simpler, and it gives donors more bonus content. Each month, we’ll record a special bonus episode–for the foreseeable future, these will all be about romance novels, as we explore the many, many subgenres of romance/erotica. Neither of us is a regular romance reader, but we’re ready to learn!

First up, this month we’re talking about a NASCAR-themed romance (yes, that’s a thing that exists).

If you’ve already donated to our Patreon, just go straight to that page to access the full episode. You’ll have a few options for listening: 1) Stream the bonus episode directly on Patreon; 2) Download an mp3 file of the episode, via Patreon; or 3) Copy the private RSS feed (you’ll see it over on the Patreon page), then put that into your preferred podcast player–this option should allow the episodes to download automatically, each month, just like our regular episodes do, though they’ll be in their own feed.

If you haven’t donated yet, what are you waiting for? You already get four free episodes a month–which won’t change–and your donation helps keep the show up and running. Plus: romance novels! What more could a person want? If you’re still not convinced, take a listen to this brief excerpt, and see if it’s for you. If it is, here’s your next stop.

Stream Free Preview:

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Thanks for listening! And for supporting the show!

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Bonus Episode: AWP 2017 with Lyz Lenz

Surprise! Here’s a special mid-week bonus episode featuring Lyz Lenz, the new managing editor for The Rumpus. Lyz is also a writer (we talked about one of her essays back in Episode 102), as well as a noted hater.

We talk about essay pitches, judgy Christians, “men’s fiction,” Little House on the Prairie, how to be a creep at literary conferences, and what kind of pizza is the best pizza. Lyz sent us the below picture so listeners could have a visual image of her preferred style of pie. Yum!

As always, you can stream the show right here on our site, or download the mp3 file and take it with you. Or, find us in the iTunes store, or wherever you normally get your podcasts, where you can subscribe (for free!) and never miss an episode. We’ll be back on Monday with another regular installment.


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Thanks for listening!



2016: The Book Fight! Year in Review

Well, friends, it’s been another year, and we’ve produced another year’s worth of content. So much content! Honestly, if we stop and think about it for too long, it starts to make us tired. Malcolm Gladwell says if you do something for 10,000 hours, you become “world class” at that thing, but what if you spend 10,000 hours doing something kinda dumb?

Looking back on 2016, there were some highs, and there were also some lows. Great books! Not-so-great books! Amazing fanfiction! More amazing fanfiction! Plus snacks! Herewith, some of our favorites (and least favorites) from the year that was.

Tom’s Year in Review

Favorite Books of 2016, in Reverse Order for Most Dramatic Effect, And With Links to Their Respective Episodes

5. Joseph Mitchell, JOE GOULD’S SECRET (Episode 118)
4. Chris Bachelder, ABBOTT AWAITS (Episode 114)
3. Sarah Shotland, JUNKETTE (Episode 110)
2. Rachel Kushner, THE FLAMETHROWERS (Episode 136)
1. Cormac McCarthy, THE ROAD (Episode 146)

Least Favorite Book of 2016

Last year, there were two obvious contenders for this title, both of which were books I just absolutely did not get and did not like, but this year, it’s a bit harder. There were books I liked less than others, but nothing stands out as having been absolutely terrible. All that said, while I appreciate Agatha Christie and value her contributions to American literature, it was shocking to see just how bad her actual writing is. Throw in some weird racism, and AND THEN THERE WERE NONE (Episode 122) gets my pick for worst book we discussed this year.

Book I Didn’t Love But Am Glad I Read

WHO CENSORED ROGER RABBIT, by Gary K. Wolf (Episode 126), not because it was good, exactly, or thought-provoking, but it was a fun, weird book with a great premise, and I clearly have a higher tolerance for some of the conventions of noirish detective books than Mike does. Besides, reading this allowed us to have Jen Miller on the show, and she was a great guest.

Favorite Story or Essay of 2016

“Pet Milk” by Stuart Dybek (Episode 147), which I hadn’t read in many years and now, after having re-read it, think it might just be a perfect story.

Least Favorite Mike Pick

AND THEN THERE WERE NONE was my least favorite book of the year, so that has to be the pick here too. Let me just take the opportunity now to complain that, due to various scheduling quirks, Mike got to pick nine books this year, while I only got to pick eight, and I can only hope that the guilt over this injustice keeps him up at night.

Favorite Guest Pick

As always, our guests picked a great variety of books and it’s hard now to sort through and pick just one. But I really enjoyed ABBOTT AWAITS, Andrew Brininstool’s pick for episode 114. It’s the kind of weird, funny, relentlessly sad book that feels like it was made for me.

Favorite Winter of Wayback Discovery

I really enjoyed learning everything we did about the bizarre, tragic life of Alfred Chester in Episode 115. I liked his weird story, “As I was Going Up the Stair,” too, but reading about his sad life, his associations with other literary figures of the era, and the whole arc of his career was exactly the kind of discussion I love about the Winter of Wayback.

Recommendation I’d Like to Take Back

Looking through the MATR archive, I realize now that I actually gave really top-notch recommendations all year, and so therefore I take none of them back, though I will re-recommend the documentary The Imposter. If I could retract one of Mike’s recommendations, it would be the time he recommended beans. Beans are fine. But this is not what the people want.

Best Bonus Episode in Which Matthew Vollmer and I Play a Weird Old Mummy Board Game

This one

Three Worst Foods We Consumed During the Fall of Food

3. Mountain Dew Energizing Midnight Grape Kickstart, a drink so extreme it needed 6 names.

2. 7-11 chips that allegedly tasted like sausage with peppers and onions but instead tasted like something a wizard would give you to put you to sleep for a hundred years

1. Whatever the hell those fish things were that a generous listener/assassin sent to us from Japan.

Most Upsetting Fanfiction Corner Segment, Which We Can Only Hope Has Killed That Segment Forever

The Alvin and the Chipmunks fanfic (from Episode 144) in which Alvin develops a diaper fetish, and I’m sorry, again, for typing that sentence.

Best Short Story or Essay That Mike Didn’t Give a Chance Because He’s Not Super Into Fun

John Dickson Carr’s supernatural stories, (discussed in Episode 117). These stories were pretty good! Mike was more interested in discussing monkey antics.

Author Most Deserving of the Second Chance We Gave Them This Summer

Sheila Heti, who of course does not need our approval, but whose book we were pretty harsh on years ago, and now we’ve both come around on her and realized we were probably not reading that book fairly. Discussed in Episode 143.

Mike’s Year in Review

Favorite Books of 2016, in Reverse Order for Most Dramatic Effect, And With Links to Their Respective Episodes

5. Cormac McCarthy, THE ROAD (Episode 146)
4. Sarah Shotland, JUNKETTE (Episode 110)
3. Javier Marias, A HEART SO WHITE (Episode 144)
2. Han Kang, THE VEGETARIAN (Episode 154)
1. Chris Bachelder, ABBOTT AWAITS (Episode 114)

Least favorite book of 2016

Honestly, this was kind of tough this year, as there weren’t many books I really loathed. But I’m going with Kanan Makiya’s THE ROPE (Episode 132), a book that’s earned plenty of praise but which I found wholly underwhelming. It’s a worthwhile project, attempting to examine why so many people (including Makiya himself) were wrong about what would happen in Iraq after the American invasion. But as a work of fiction, it really falls flat.

Book From My Childhood I’m Very Glad I Revisited

I’m always a little nervous to re-read something I loved as a kid, because it feels like you’re setting yourself up for disappointment. But this year I confirmed that C.S. Lewis’s THE LION, THE WITCH & THE WARDROBE (Episode 120) is indeed a very good book.

Favorite Story or Essay of 2016

“Pet Milk” by Stuart Dybek (Episode 147). This is probably unfair, since I picked this story knowing full well that I loved it. But guess what? I still love it.

Favorite Winter of Wayback Discovery

There were so many great discoveries this year, at least two of them involving monkeys: the phenomenon of “monkey dinners” (Episode 111) and monkeys running wild through the streets of New York City (Episode 117). Though I think the one that will have the most lasting impact was getting to read the snarky columns of H.L. Mencken in The Smart Set (Episode 109).

Favorite Thing I Learned About Tom This Year

That he once got dumped via Fleetwood Mac lyrics (Episode 139)

Favorite Guest Pick

This one’s tough, as two of my top-5 books were picked by guests, and even though I didn’t love the Roger Rabbit book Tom mentioned above, I was really glad that Jen Miller made us read it. But I’m giving this one to Hanif Willis-Abdurraqib (Episode 156), who finally got me to read Lester Bangs’ collected works, a collection of reviews and essays I’m very happy to finally slide from the “to-read” shelf to the “have-read” shelf. Plus, Hanif was fun to hang out with and he read a really great poem at Tire Fire and wasn’t too put off by my downstairs neighbor’s Trump window sign, which was the bane of my existence for several months.

Recommendation I’d Like to Take Back

I Am Not Your Guru, the documentary about Tony Robbins, is not as good as I thought it was, and could definitely use a bit more healthy skepticism toward its subject. On the other hand, I’m glad I recommended it, since some of you checked it out and then tweeted or messaged me about it. The main takeaway: it’s kind of amazing I’ve yet to be lured into a cult.

Best Pop Tart Flavor

Strawberry Frosted

Best Fanfiction Corner Segment, A Feature Which Will Definitely Be Continuing in 2017 And Which Only Gets Stronger Because It Feeds On Tom’s Disgust

The Alvin and the Chipmunks fanfic (from Episode 144) in which Alvin develops a diaper fetish.


So there you go, folks! All the best (and worst!) stuff from 51 weeks of podcasting in 2015. We’ll be back next week with another exciting episode, plus we’ll be reviving the Winter of Wayback. So get yourself ready for that. In the meantime, if you like our show, please help spread the word to your book-loving friends and family. We’ve hit some great milestones in 2016, but we’re hoping to keep improving the show and growing our audience in 2017. Thanks again for all your support!

That’s another … YEAR … in the books!



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?


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.


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.


Download Bonus Episode: NaNoWriMo 2016 (right-click, save-as)



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Bonus Episode: Matthew Vollmer

A special mid-week bonus episode for you, Book Fight fans. Tom recently traveled to Blacksburg, Virginia, for a conference at Virginia Tech, where he sat down with Matthew Vollmer, author of Inscriptions for Headstones and Future Missionaries of America. His most recent book is Gateway to Paradise, a story collection from Persea Books.


Tom talks to Matthew about what it’s like when your publisher goes bankrupt, how to balance teaching and writing, and what he’s reading these days. He also reminds Matthew of a workshop letter he wrote to him, back in grad school, that ended up having a pretty big effect on his work.

As always, you can stream the episode right here on our site, or visit us in the iTunes store, or wherever you get your podcasts, to catch up on back episodes and subscribe (for free!) so you never miss another installment. We’ll be back on Monday with another full-length episode.


Download Bonus Episode: Matthew Vollmer (right-click, save-as)

Thanks for listening!


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AWP Extra: Elisa Gabbert

Hey, friends! We’ve got a bonus mini-episode for you today, a quick conversation with poet and essayist Elisa Gabbert, recorded at the AWP conference in Los Angeles last week. We talked to Elisa about navigating the AWP bookfair, the kinds of poems that go over well in bars, her sometimes-controversial advice column at Electric Literature, and whether doing SEO and content-marketing work is a good gig for a poet.


The National Review, of all people, wrote a rather pearl-clutching response to one of Elisa’s columns, after she suggested white male writers should maybe just chill a little bit (actually, what’s the threatened-white-male version of pearl clutching? privilege-clutching?). You should definitely follow Elisa on Twitter, and you should order her most recent book, The Self Unstable, if you didn’t order it after Mike recommended it way back in Episode 57.

As always, the episode is free to stream here on our site, by clicking on the little player below, or you can download the mp3 file. Or visit us in the iTunes store, or wherever you get your podcasts.

We’ll be back on Monday with our next regular episode. Thanks for listening!

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