Book Fight!

Tough love for literature


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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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Bonus: Snooki, A Shore Thing

We’re taking a quick break between seasons of the show, getting our ducks in a row for Summer School–in which we’ll be reading books, stories, and essays that we feel like we should definitely have read by now, but have skipped for one reason or another. In the meantime, here’s a bonus episode that was originally available only to our Patreon subscribers. Back in the fall, we read the debut novel by Nicole “Snooki” Polizzi, star of the MTV reality show Jersey Shore. A Shore Thing follows a Snooki-like character and her BFF as they navigate the Jersey Shore boardwalk for a summer–jobs, drinks, and lots of boys.

If you enjoy this episode, you can get one just like it every month by subscribing to our Patreon. You’ll be helping to support the show, and for $5 you’ll get a bonus episode each month.

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Episode 282: Climate Fiction

This week, we wrap up our Spring Forward season by diving into a new (to us) genre called climate fiction, or cli-fi. Matter published a collection of cli fi pieces in response to a Margaret Atwood essay wondering if fiction centered on climate change could change people’s thinking or even spur action. Which seems like a noble pursuit, though these stories were kind of a mixed bag. We talk about the pitfalls of fiction that leads with its agenda, as well as stories that get mired in world-building and forget about the actual story part.

Also: letters from children to the future, written in the 70s!

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 Battleship (yes, based on the popular board game).

Thanks for listening!

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Episode 281: J.G. Ballard, High Rise

This week we’re continuing our Spring Forward season by reading J.G. Ballard’s 1973 novel High Rise, considered by many critics to be an under-appreciated gem. The book follows several characters as they deal with the breakdown of social order in a residential high-rise tower. The residents of the complex form clans, pitting the upper floors against the middle and lower floors, and what started as petty squabbling soon turns violent and deadly. We talk about whether the book’s premise feels dated, tied as it is to the rise (pun sort of intended) of residential towers in both the U.K. and the U.S. during the 60s and early 70s. We also talk about Ballard’s vision of human nature, which seems especially bleak, even cynical–though perhaps not entirely unrealistic.

In the second half of the show, we talk a bit about architecture and urban planning in science fiction, from the Jetsons to Blade Runner, as well as Korea’s “city of the future,” which has loads of smart-city technology but not nearly as many people as planners had hoped for.

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 Battleship (yes, based on the popular board game).

Thanks for listening!

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Episode 280: Mark O’Connell, To Be a Machine

This week we’re continuing our Spring Forward season by diving into Mark O’Connell’s book To Be a Machine: Adventures Among Cyborgs, Hackers, and the Futurists Solving the Modest Problem of Death. O’Connell, an Irish journalist and writer, throws himself into the world of transhumanism, spending time with a number of people who are trying, in various ways, to “solve the problem of death.” That includes a company that will cryogenically freeze your head, scientists working to dramatically extend humans’ life spans, and “grinders,” who surgically implant pieces of technology inside themselves, in an attempt to become part machine.

In the second half of the show, we revisit some early-80s predictions for jobs that would be “stolen” by robots, and try to figure out how many of those predictions came true.

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 Battleship (yes, based on the popular board game).

Thanks for listening!

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Episode 279: Ray Bradbury

As we continue our Spring Forward season–in which we’re reading forward-looking books, stories, and essays–this week we checked out four famous Ray Bradbury stories and talked about Bradbury’s visions of the future. The stories we read include one about a sentient house, one that introduced the idea of the butterfly effect to the world, one about a veldt (and some evil children) and one about a man out for an evening walk in a future society in which that kind of behavior can get you locked up.

Also: Ray Bradbury fun facts! And an early-20th-century plan to give New York City a central vacuum system.

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 Battleship (yes, based on the popular board game).

Thanks for listening!

Stream Episode 279:

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Episode 278: Ecotopia, by Ernest Callenbach

Since we’re doing an entire season on future-looking books, stories, and essays, it seemed like it would be a real oversight to not consider at least one utopian novel. Ernest Callenbach wrote Ecotopia while living in Berkeley and working as an editor for the University of California Press. He couldn’t find a publisher, but managed to get the money together to self-publish the novel (a more expensive, and more difficult proposition in 1974 than it is today). The book built up a cult following, and after an excerpt appeared in Harper’s Magazine, Ecotopia was picked up by Bantam and given a wider release. Now, more than forty years after its release, it’s a book that’s still taught at universities and discussed in environmental circles.

The novel is set in 1999, a few years after the Pacific Northwest and Northern California have seceded from the United States. The book’s narrator is the first journalist to visit and report from inside Ecotopia; the book alternates between his newspaper dispatches and his personal journals. We talk about the book’s utopian vision, and to what degree it still feels environmentally relevant. We also talk about utopians more generally. We live in a time when dystopian stories are everywhere–in novels, on movie screens, and on television. Is there room in our current world for utopian storytelling? And what might that look like?

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 Battleship (yes, based on the popular board game).

Thanks for listening!

Stream Episode 278:

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