Book Fight!

Tough love for literature


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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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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!


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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?

nanowrimo_sticker1

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.

novelists_0

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.

Stream:

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nano


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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.

Vollmer

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.

Stream:

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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.

SelfUnstable

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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2015: The Book Fight! Year in Review

As professionally licensed “content creators,” we’re statutorily required to assemble a year-end list of all our favorite and least favorite things from the past twelve months of doing our show. Here is that list!

Two lists, actually, which as any mathematician can tell you is twice as good as one.

Mike’s Year in Review

Favorite Books of 2015, in Reverse Order for Most Dramatic Effect, And With Links to Their Respective Episodes

5. Rachel Glaser, PAULINA & FRAN (Episode 93)
4. Karl Ove Knausgaard, A TIME FOR EVERYTHING (Episode 99)
3. James Baldwin, IF BEALE STREET COULD TALK (Episode 76)
2. Maggie Nelson, BLUETS (Episode 86)
1. D.J. Waldie, HOLY LAND (Episode 83)

Least Favorite Book of 2015

Penelope Lively, MAKING IT UP (Episode 105): It presented itself like a book, with words forming themselves into sentences and sentences into paragraphs, but the jury is still out on whether this can properly be considered a book.

Book I Didn’t Love But Am Glad That I Read

AJA Symons, THE QUEST FOR CORVO (Episode 78): I wanted to enjoy the experience of reading this book more than I actually did, but the high points were quite high, and the overall concept was great, plus it seems like one of those cult classics that might one day come up at a party and I’ll feel like Mr. Cool Literary Guy for having read it.

Book I Enjoyed Quite A Bit And Think You Should Purchase But Which I’m Disqualifying From The List Because I’ve Met Its Author, Who Is A Delightful Person And Who Also Gave Us Money

James Tate Hill, ACADEMY GOTHIC (Episode 101): I’m not sure I fully expressed on this episode just how nervous I was to read this book, since its author gave us money in our annual fundraiser and seemed like a genuinely nice person (at that point I’d yet to meet him in real life). I kept thinking “What if I hate his book? Will we have to trash it on the show?” Luckily, his book turned out to be great. Funny, smart, and offering a satire of academia  that actually feels fresh (in 2015!). Anyway, you should order it from his publisher.

Favorite “Very Special Episode” of Book Fight

Sarah Hepola, BLACKOUT (Episode 90): In which Tom and I read a (quite good!) memoir about problem drinking and discussed our own drinking histories and habits. Shit got kinda real. Which is my fault, as I’m the one who suggested the book and then took a deep dive into my own psyche, dragging Tom along for the ride.

Favorite Story or Essay of 2015

The Sailor Steve Costigan Tales (Winter of Wayback: 1932): So much punching! While not the most serious or “literary” stories we read this year, I really enjoyed traveling back to the glory days of pulp magazines and learning about Robert E. Howard, who also created Conan the Barbarian. Though perhaps he could lighten up on some of the Asian stereotyping.

Favorite Spite-Based Phenomenon

Spite houses (Spring of Spite: Richard Yates): File this one under “things I wouldn’t know about if not for doing this podcast.” I found the whole concept of spite houses to be fascinating, particularly the story of Charles Crocker’s Nob Hill mansion and the “spite fence” he built to drive away his neighbor.

Favorite Winter of Wayback Discovery

Lawn Chair Larry (Winter of Wayback: 1982): There were a lot of good discoveries to choose from, but I think my favorite is still the story of “Lawn Chair” Larry Walters, which comes at the tail end of this episode. It starts off as a goofy tale of an eccentric crank and then gets really fucking sad.

Least Favorite Tom Pick

Neal Stephenson, SNOW CRASH (Episode 91): As with the last category, there were lots to choose from this year, including my least favorite “book” that I read for the show, Penelope Lively’s MAKING IT UP. But for sheer, visceral pain, I’ve got to go with SNOW CRASH, a book I found insufferably, obnoxiously un-funny. Sample dialogue:

“Let’s put on our acid-washed jeans and hack the ‘Net!”

“Cowabunga!”

“Eat my shorts!”

Favorite Guest Pick

Emily Carroll, THROUGH THE WOODS (Episode 96, picked by Kelly Phillips and Claire Folkman): This category is especially tough, because all our guests picked books I liked this year. Annie Liontas made us read a James Baldwin book that easily made my top five, and Asali Solomon sprung Marlon James’s THE BOOK OF NIGHT WOMEN on us, which was a difficult and seriously powerful novel. But I’m giving the nod to this collection of spooky illustrated stories for two reasons: 1) I never would have read it if not for Kelly and Claire, and 2) I loved hearing their thoughts about how illustrated stories work, which taught me some new things.

Favorite Piece of Fan Fiction

Barack Obama and the Unicorn (Episode 87):  Having to choose just one piece of fan fiction is like having to choose your favorite child. As someone who doesn’t have any children, I can only imagine that is super easy! Anyway, this erotic story has everything you could possibly want: Barack Obama. A unicorn. The feeling of a cold beer bottle against your privates. Gandhi. JFK. Did I mention there was a unicorn?

Recommendation I’d Like To Take Back

I know some of you expected me to take back my recommendation (from Episode 96) for pizza-flavored beer, but no! I’m doubling down on that shit. In fact, after suggesting this category and then going back over my recommendations for the year, I have to say: they’re all pretty great. So: Not Applicable/Spotless Record/Thinkfluencer Of The Year.

Favorite Tom Rant

“Book Title —-> Matthew Quick Thanksgiving —–> Book Title: Reprise” (Episode 95): Algonquin decided they didn’t like the title of Tom’s forthcoming book, and also suggested he might like to meet Matthew Quick on his upcoming trip to North Carolina. This actually made me LOL a bunch of times while editing the episode. #ClassicTom

 

Tom’s Year in Review

Favorite Books of 2015, in Reverse Order for Most Dramatic Effect, And With Links to Their Respective Episodes

5. Emily Carroll, THROUGH THE WOODS (Episode 96)
4. Emmanuel Carrere, THE ADVERSARY (Episode 79)
3. David Carr, THE NIGHT OF THE GUN (Episode 81)
2. Marlon James, THE BOOK OF NIGHT WOMEN (Episode 88)
1. James Baldwin, IF BEALE STREET COULD TALK  (Episode 76)

Least Favorite Book of 2015

Elfriede Jelinek, GREED (Episode 94). This book was picked by one of our regular donors and a very nice guy who we met at our live show, and he warned me that this book would be very difficult. Because he’s been so generous to the show, and I had assured him that we can handle difficult (he’s the same donor who suggested Mine, by Peter Sotos),I really, really tried to see the virtues of this book. But, even after reading some interesting critical writing of her work, I just found the whole thing to be very unpleasant. I think it spawned an interesting discussion, though, and it also made me think more deeply about the value and function of confrontational art like this. Still, the book itself… I was not up to the challenge of this book (see the donor’s comments on that episode post for some helpful context on the book and the author).

Favorite Story or Essay

Flannery O’Connor, “Enoch and the Gorilla (from the Spring of Spite): I liked a lot of the shorts we read this year, but this one was so delightfully weird that it led indirectly to me writing my own sad gorilla story. It was good, too, to go back and read Flannery O’Connor again after having probably not read her since high school.

Least Favorite Mike Pick

Marguerite Duras, THE LOVER (Episode 92): I didn’t dislike this book, but Mike actually did pick a bunch of good books this year (it does pain me to admit this, given all his recent griping, but his list was definitely better than mine) and I was required by law to rank something last. I got the sense that if I’d read this book a second time, I would get more out of it, but the first time through I never really connected with it.

Favorite Piece of Fan Fiction

I don’t know that “favorite” is the word for this, but I found the unexpected pairings of this episode’s fan fiction to be absolutely fascinating (no spoilers!). 

Book I Didn’t Love But Am Glad That I Read

Karl Ove Knausgaard, A TIME FOR EVERYTHING (Episode 99): I get it. I get it. He’s good at writing. I just also maybe don’t care as much as everyone else seems to. It was interesting enough, and I liked a lot of the stuff about angels, but it also never clicked for me as essential reading the way I guess it was supposed to.

Favorite Guest Pick

Marlon James, THE BOOK OF NIGHT WOMEN (Episode 88, picked by Asali Solomon): This one doubles as my favorite episode of the year, and one of my top three episodes in show history, thanks almost entirely to Asali, who brought great energy and really pushed us to step up our game. This book was what I want out of great literature – it dealt with heavy questions, challenged me with complex characters, was the sort of thing I don’t think I could ever produce, and it was engaging as hell to read.

Favorite Winter of Wayback Factoid

All I wanted to do was talk about the Gum King here, but I guess he was actually covered in a December episode about Failed comebacks, so now I’m at a loss. I did really enjoy digging up information on James Ferry, whose only published story turned up in Best American 1982, and then he disappeared from the lit world. My favorite thing about the wayback episodes was thinking about what makes a literary career last, and why some writers seem to find an audience while others disappear.

Favorite Spite-Fueled Story

All the details of Gore Vidal’s many lit feuds, especially the bitter exchanges with Truman Capote.

Recommendation I’d Like to Take Back

The Science Vs. podcast (recommended in episode 91), in which I pretty quickly lost interest. Some weeks I’m stuck for a recommendation and so I just pick the newest media thing I’ve begun consuming, and sometimes it backfires.

Top 3 Apples Discussed On The Show This Year (don’t eat the skins)

1) honeycrisp

2) granny smith

3) gala

 

Top 2 Galas

 

Worst New Segment

James Patterson Novel or Eric Stoltz Movie From the 90s? – Debuted by Mike, shortly before Mike realized I don’t know anything about Eric Stoltz. It’s hard for a segment to live up to the promise of raccoon news, to be fair.

 

Best Book Mike Didn’t Finish

Snow Crash, although by my count this year, he finished all but two books, and the other was a 2000 page thing that nobody asked us to read and probably nobody has ever read in its entirety, and anyway it seemed important to still include this category. I didn’t love Snow Crash, but thought it was much better than Mike gave it credit for being, and, as I said on the show, I don’t think Mike ever gave that book even half a chance to be good before he quit on it. Thumbs down to Mike.

 

So there you go, folks! All the best (and worst!) stuff from 52 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 2015, but we’re hoping to keep improving the show and growing our audience in 2016. Thanks again for all your support!

That’s another … YEAR … in the books!


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Bonus episode final voting

Because we’re making the rules up as we go along, and because the first round of bonus episode voting offered an unwieldy number of options, we’re running a second round of voting here, in which we’ve selected all the books that had at least 1% of the vote in the previous round. Just like last time, we’ll run this poll for one week, and the winner of this round will be the book for our bonus episode.

At least one of these books appears to have a very strong backing (or maybe just one person who keeps voting over and over and over. And over.) so you’ll have to campaign hard to rally support for your book choice.