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Episode 157: Fall of Food, Jack London (“A Piece of Steak”)

This week we continue our exploration of food in literature by reading the classic Jack London story, “A Piece of Steak.” Tom King, an aging boxer, just wants one more payday, and a big, juicy piece of steak. But standing in his way is a much younger, fitter opponent. Will age and experience win out, or will youth have its way? A classic narrative struggle!

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In addition to the story, we’ve got some snacks to discuss, all of them new to us: Faygo Red Pop (drink of choice of Juggalos everywhere), Twinkies Chocodiles, plus some truly weird (and disturbing) 7-11 chips.

Also: lots of other stuff! Seriously, it’s good, and interesting, the one of us who writes these recaps is just a little tired here at the end of the semester, and after a three-day parental visit, so maybe use your imagination to fill in the details of how great this week’s episode is. Or even better: give it a listen! You can stream the episode below, or download the mp3 file, or check us out in the iTunes store, where you can subscribe (for free!) and never miss another weekly installment.

Thanks for listening!

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Episode 150: Fall of Food With Special Guest Sarah Sweeney

This week we’ve got a special Fall of Food episode with guest Sarah Sweeney, author of the new essay collection Tell Me If You’re Lying, releasing soon from Barrelhouse Books. Sarah picked an essay for us to read, a piece from Esquire about the chef Ferran Adria, considered one of the pioneers of molecular gastronomy. We talk about the line between interestingly descriptive food writing and ridiculous, over-the-top food writing. We also consider the current state of the “celebrity chef,” and whether that concept has gone too far.

Here’s a picture of Ferran Adria looking rather joyful in his kitchen.

adria

In the second half of the show, Sarah fixes us some traditional Mexican snacks, including a mango dish and a drink made from hibiscus flowers. She also forces us to drink some Mexican booze she brought back from her most recent trip to Oaxaca. Good times!

We talk to her about her book, and about growing up in North Carolina, including her barbecue preferences, and why her mother wouldn’t let white creamy foods into her childhood home. Plus all our usual lightning-round questions.

As always, you can stream the show right here on the site, or download the mp3 file. You can also find us in the iTunes store, or wherever you normally get your podcasts, where you can subscribe (for free!) and never miss another weekly installment.

Also: You can order Sarah’s book directly from Barrelhouse Books, before it’s available in bookstores or on Amazon. And for a limited time, get 10% off when you use the offer code POPTART.

Thanks for listening!

Stream:

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Fall of Failure #8: Brian Oliu and the Psychology of Failure

Helloooooooo, Book Fighters! Welcome to the final week of our Fall of Failure! Yes, yes, we know it’s actually winter now. But this is how our schedule worked out. And we recorded this episode in the tail end of fall. And also get off our damn backs already.

This week’s reading is an unconventional essay by Brian Oliu called “As Is.” The piece is constructed like an ebay listing for Oliu’s body, including its history, its uses, and its defects. We talk about ways to experiment with narrative form without being gimmicky, and how experiments in form can open up your writing.

Also this week, we’re wrapping up our discussion of failure by talking about the psychology of failure. Why do we insist on attaching a narrative to our personal and collective failures, and what can we learn from the particular narrative we choose to attach? We talk about the linguistic history of the word “failure” itself, and how it changed over the course of the 19th century in America, when business failures became inextricably linked with personal and moral failures. Here’s a link to check out the book Mike talked about–highly recommended!–called Born Losers: A History of Failure in America.

As always, you can stream the episode right here on our site, by clicking on the little player thingy below. Or download the mp3 file. You can also visit us in the iTunes store, or through just about any of the available podcast apps, where you can subscribe (for free) and never miss another episode.

If you want to check out the Fall of Failures playlist Mike compiled on Spotify, you can see/hear it here.

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We always welcome your feedback on what we talked about on the show. You can email us, hit us up on Twitter, or just leave a comment here on the episode post. Thanks for listening!


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Fall of Failure Episode 7: Stefan Zweig and Failed Comebacks

In this, our penultimate Fall of Failure episode, we’re reading the Stefan Zweig story The Royal Game, which was the last piece of fiction ever published by one of the world’s most popular writers. Zweig mailed the story to his editor along with his completed autobiography and his suicide note. Zweig was living in Brazil at the time, in a self-imposed exile from his home country of Austria, in the midst of WWII.

We also talk about some failed comebacks: Hollywood comebacks, athletic comebacks, and the rather fascinating story of America’s late-19th-century Gum King.

Speaking of gum, here’s a link to one of the greatest–and most necessary–PowerPoint presentations of all time, as mentioned by Tom on this week’s show.

As always, you can stream the episode right here on our site, by clicking on the little player thingy below. Or download the mp3 file. You can also visit us in the iTunes store, or through just about any of the available podcast apps, where you can subscribe (for free) and never miss another episode.

Stream:

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We always welcome your feedback on what we talked about on the show. You can email us, hit us up on Twitter, or just leave a comment here on the episode post. Thanks for listening!


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Fall of Failure Episode 6: Daniel Hoyt and Artistic Failure

Our story this week, “Here I Am,” by Daniel Hoyt, was originally published in the winter issue of The Cincinnati Review. It’s about a man who continues to live after his head is violently separated from his body. We’re also talking this week about artistic failure. We consider why those treacly lists of “famous people who failed/were rejected” get under our skin. And then we talk about a couple specific “failures” (application of the term is always somewhat debatable): Antonin Gaudi’s La Sagrada Familia, which is still incomplete nearly 90 years after his death; and the attempted smear campaign against Edgar Allan Poe by his literary nemesis.

For good measure, we cap off this week’s episode by considering the adult career of Jonathan Lipnicki.

As always, you can stream the episode right here on our site, by clicking on the little player thingy below. Or download the mp3 file. You can also visit us in the iTunes store, or through just about any of the available podcast apps, where you can subscribe (for free) and never miss another episode.

Stream:

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We always welcome your feedback on what we talked about on the show. You can email us, hit us up on Twitter, or just leave a comment here on the episode post. Thanks for listening!


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Fall of Failures Episode 5: Kevin Sampsell and Failed Utopias

This week we’re reading Kevin Sampsell‘s essay “I’m Jumping Off the Bridge,” originally published on Salon and featured in last year’s Best American Essays, edited by Cheryl Strayed. We’re also talking about failed utopias, including dangerous cults, geometry-obsessed vegetarians, Shakers, libertarians, and more.

Check out Sampsell’s novel, This Is Between Us, or his memoir, A Common Pornography, at Powell’s. Anything you buy from the Powell’s site will kick back a little money our way.

As always, you can stream the episode right here on our site, by clicking on the little player thingy below. Or download the mp3 file, and do with it what you will. We’re also in the iTunes store, and in just about any of the available podcast apps floating around in the world. If you subscribe, through one of those methods, you’ll never miss another episode.

Stream:

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Thanks for listening!

We’d love to hear your feedback on what we talked about. You can send us an email, hit us up on Twitter, or just leave a comment right here on this post.


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Fall of Failure Episode 4: Eula Biss and Failed Amusement Parks

This week’s short is a Tom pick, an essay by Eula Biss called “Time and Distance Overcome,” which is about, among other things, early telephone technology, resistance to telephone poles, and the widespread lynching of black men in early-20th century America. We talk about non-linear essays, and whether it’s more interesting or less interesting to know something about the behind-the-scenes construction of a piece.

We also talk this week about failed amusement parks: some that were proposed but never built, like an entire theme park in Indiana that would’ve been devoted to Garfield, and some that probably shouldn’t have been built, all things considered, including a wild-animal safari in New Jersey responsible for at least two deaths, and Dickens World in the UK, which seems like the Saddest Place on Earth.

You can read more about Dickens World here, in a great New York Times Magazine piece by Sam Anderson. Here’s a link to some photos of the creepy (and now demolished) Gulliver’s Kingdom in Japan.

Finally, here’s a Dailymotion mini-documentary about Action Park, featuring comedian Chris Gethard. We would highly recommend you spend the next twelve minutes of your life watching it. That starting image is an actual, non-photoshopped picture of the park’s looping waterslide, in case you thought Mike was making that up.

And in case you missed the link above, you can read the essay here.

As always, you can stream the episode right here on our site, by clicking on the little player thingy below. Or download the mp3 file, and do with it what you will. We’re also in the iTunes store, and in just about any of the available podcast apps floating around in the world. If you subscribe, through one of those methods, you’ll never miss another episode.

Stream:

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Thanks for listening!

We’d love to hear your feedback on what we talked about. You can send us an email, hit us up on Twitter, or just leave a comment right here on this post.


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Fall of Failure Episode 3: Kseniya Melnik, “Strawberry Lipstick,” and Failed Dog Breeds

This week our short story comes from Kseniya Melnik, whose debut collection, Snow in May, came out this spring from Macmillan. The story we chose, “Strawberry Lipstick,” traces the increasingly troubled marriage of a young woman in 1950s Russia.

SnowInMay

We’re also continuing our Fall of Failure theme by looking into failed dog breeds, including one, the “turnspit,” that people put into their ovens, because humans are total garbage monsters. We also talk about the Moscow Water Dog, the Hawaiian Poi Dog, and several other breeds that, for one reason or another, either went extinct or never quite lived up to their initial billing.

As always, you can stream the episode right here on our site, or download the mp3 file to listen to whenever you want. You can also visit us in the iTunes store, where you can find back episodes and subscribe (for free) to never miss another installment.

We’re always interested in hearing your thoughts on what we talked about. You can send us an email, tweet at us, or just leave a comment on this here post.

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Fall of Failure Episode 2: Bechdel and Betamax

Welcome back to the Fall of Failure! This week we’re looking at an excerpt from Fun Home, the 2006 graphic memoir by Alison Bechdel, who just a couple weeks ago was awarded a MacArthur Genius Grant. So: definitely not a failure. But you know what was a failure? Betamax. Such a failure, in fact, that people still use “betamax” as slang for failed products, or the verb form as the act of failing. Which is, in a weird way, a kind of success? The Fall of Failure is only a couple weeks old and already it’s full of conundrums.

Fun_Home_cover

The bit we chose from the Bechdel book was excerpted in the 2007 edition of The Best American Nonrequired Reading, edited by Dave Eggers. That edition also contains a couple Barrelhouse pieces: Lee Klein’s essay “All Aboard the Bloated Boat,” about Barry Bonds and steroids, and a few Ed Asner poems by Greg Ames, one of which you can read here.

We talk about the ethics involved in writing about family: Who gets to tell your family’s story? What stories belong to you? Should you worry about the repercussions of portraying family members in your work? Should you honor family members’ requests that you keep certain things private? Mike talks about his own family’s reaction to a recent essay about his grandfather, which appeared in the Spring 2014 issue of The North American Review. And Tom talks about a former bully’s reaction to hearing that Tom had written about him in his memoir.

Also: Betamax. Why did it lose out to VHS, despite evidence that it was the superior technology? What did Sony do wrong, and JVC do right? And did pornography have anything to do with it?

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As always, you can stream the episode right here on our site, or download the mp3 file to listen to whenever you want. You can also visit us in the iTunes store, where you can find back episodes and subscribe (for free) to never miss another installment.

Thanks for listening! We’re always interested in hearing your thoughts on what we talked about. You can send us an email, tweet at us, or just leave a comment on this here post.

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Fall of Failure Episode 1: J.D. Daniels, “Letter from Majorca”

This week we’re debuting a new series: the Fall of Failure. In these episode we’ll be talking about short stories and essays and also discussing failure in all its permutations: artistic failures, personal failures, military failures, and flops of all kinds. If you have suggestions for failures we should discuss, feel free to leave them in the comments, email us, or hit us up on Twitter.

In today’s episode we’re discussing the J.D. Daniels essay “Letter from Majorca,” which you can read on the Paris Review website. Mike recommended the essay way back in Episode 39, before we were discussing short pieces on the show, and wanted to revisit it now.

We also talk about the concept of failure: why it’s artistically interesting, why it’s important for people to fail, and why Americans, in particular, seem so lousy at it.

As always, you can stream the episode right here on our site, or download the mp3 file. You can also check us out in the iTunes store, where you can subscribe (for free) and never miss another installment. Also: we’ve now got t-shirts! Stop walking around shirtless, like some sort of creep. Support the show while hiding your shame!

We’ve also got an upcoming live event, September 25 at the Spiral Bookcase in Philadelphia. If you live in the area, please come out and join us!

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