Book Fight!

Tough love for literature

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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!

Stream episode:

Download episode (right-click, save-as)


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!”


“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!


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.


Bonus Episode 2015 – The People’s Choice

[UPDATED 4/9: the poll has been updated, eliminating one book option, not so much because it had been hijacked by a small group of people–we encourage multiple votes, and people championing a book– but because their motivation for voting for that book seemed particularly mean-spirited. Empress Theresa is off the list; the book doesn’t look great, but it’s a self-published book by an unknown writer and we have no interest in joining an extended online bullying campaign against him. We don’t think our fans would enjoy an episode devoted to that kind of meanness, and we, frankly, wouldn’t feel good about recording it.]

Because we hit our fundraising goal this year, we’ve promised to record a special bonus episode, based on a book of your choice. Last year, given the choice between exposing us to some compelling indie literature, you chosen instead to cruelly subject Tom to facing his demons and re-reading a book best described as the airport hot dog of literature.

This year, your choices (based on nominations by listeners) are extensive and varied. The list includes canonical novels, famous YA books about scarred wizards, recent bestselling literary novels, small press story collections, comics, a book about sexy vampires (not the one you’re thinking of), and what appears to be a semen cookbook. This is the sort of list that makes us proud to be your dumb podcast of choice. It’s hard to even tell which ones we should be rooting for (or against).

Because of the size of this list, we may end up running the poll in 2 rounds. Unless there’s an obvious runaway juggernaut in this round, we’ll pick the top contenders based on your votes and then have a runoff next week.

This poll will be open for one week. Check the list carefully and then cast your vote. And then go take a nap – you’ve earned it.

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Vote for a book! And give us feedback!

Hey, everybody. First off, a big thanks for making our fund drive a success. When we set a goal of $5,000, we worried it might be a little ambitious, but you proved us wrong. Your donations are a vote of confidence that you like what we’re doing, and they’re a good motivator for us to keep on doing it.

At the beginning of the fund drive we promised that if we hit the $5,000 mark, we’d record a special bonus episode that would be free to everyone (not to be confused with the three-pack of special holiday episodes available only to donors). So now it’s time for the first step in making that bonus episode a reality: you pick a book for us to read.

Last year you picked The Silver Linings Playbook, by Matthew Quick (or “Q” to his friends) and I think we can all agree that worked out splendidly for everyone involved. So what’ll it be this year? The only ground rules are that the book has to be written in (or translated to) English, it has to be commercially available as either a physical book or an ebook (we’re not going on a wild goose chase through antiquarian bookstores) and it has to be under 500 pages. It can be a work of fiction, literary nonfiction, or a hybrid of the two. I suppose you could make us read poetry, as long as you understand we’re kinda dumb about poetry.

Ok, so here’s how this will work. Via the form below, nominate any book, as long as it meets the guidelines above. Author and title, please. You can include your justification for nominating it if you want, but that’s not required.

We’ll take nominations for a week or so, after which we’ll post a poll where you can all vote. Top vote-getter will be featured in a future bonus episode of Book Fight! Second place gets a cup of coffee and a set of steak knives. Third place can go fuck itself.

Just kidding! All books are wonderful, unique snowflakes.

Oh, one more thing! While you’re nominating a book, we’re also going to ask you a few questions about what you like and don’t like about the podcast. As much as we might come across as two doofuses (doofi?) who do very little advanced planning for anything, we actually do spend time talking about the direction of the show: how to make it better; how to grow our audience; how to eventually take over the entire literary world and bend it to our will. So your feedback to that end is very much appreciated.

Thanks, everybody, for your support. For your votes. For your kind (and kindly critical!) words. We look forward to another great year of podcasting!

From Tom’s basement to your ears (and hearts):

Mike and Tom



T-shirt design poll

As we sadly near the end of the Summer of Shorts, it’s time for us to honor that unsung hero of all of our wardrobes: the t-shirt.

Thanks to listener, writer, and artist Killian Czuba, we now have 5 great t-shirt designs in the queue, and as we decide how many shirts to print, and in which styles, we need your input.  Check out the designs, study them, memorize them, and then select your favorites (choose up to 2) in the poll below. And then go follow Killian on Twitter @killianczuba. And then, after that, start clearing space in your t-shirt drawers and on your torsos.

bookfight egg color (1) bookfight horsenames color (1) bookfight corgi color (2) beer and books w text (1) detective baby shirt test (3)