Book Fight!

Tough love for literature


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Episode 294: Virginia Woolf, To The Lighthouse

It’s the last week of our Summer School season, and we’re ending on a book (and author) Tom had never read. Topics include: Diner en Blanc, the titular lighthouse (and whether they’ll ever reach it), mental health, donut holes, pumpkin spice, and why the kids these days love the TV show Friends.

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 and would like more Book Fight in your life, consider subscribing to our Patreon. For $5/month, you’ll get access to regular bonus episodes, including monthly episodes of Book Fight After Dark, where we read some of the world’s weirdest romance novels. We’ve also recently begun a new series of Patreon-only mini-episodes called Reading the Room, in which we offer advice on how to navigate awkward, writing-related social situations.

Thanks for listening!

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Episode 293: Ford Madox Ford, The Good Soldier

For years, Mike would see references to Ford Madox Ford in articles about famous modernist writers and think: “I should really check that guy out one of these days.” Well, listeners, that day is today. Mike drags Tom along for an exploration of The Good Soldier, Ford’s most famous book, a short novel about two couples whose lives intersect at a German spa for people with heart ailments. “This is the saddest story I have ever heard,” the book begins, before plunging readers into a sometimes disorienting tale of infidelity and (maybe?) murder.

We talk about the book’s non-chronological storytelling technique, as well as the unreliable narrator at its center, whose version of events we’re never quite sure how much to trust. Also this week: #DonutQuest2019 continues, with Tom bringing over a couple samplings from his home state of New Jersey.

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 and would like more Book Fight in your life, consider subscribing to our Patreon. For $5/month, you’ll get access to regular bonus episodes, including monthly episodes of Book Fight After Dark, where we read some of the world’s weirdest romance novels. And starting this week, we’ll be adding new mini-episodes in a series called Reading the Room, in which we offer advice on how to navigate awkward, writing-related social situations.

Thanks for listening!

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Episode 292: Jim Harrison, “The Summer He Didn’t Die”

This week is a Tom pick: a novella by Jim Harrison featuring his beloved character Brown Dog. In “The Summer He Didn’t Die,” Brown Dog has some tooth problems, and also some sex. Just regular old Brown Dog stuff. Harrison is considered a master of the novella form, and a chronicler of Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. Is this his best work? Reviews are mixed.

Pictured: Jim Harrison with a brown dog. Not to be confused with Brown Dog, a human character.

Also this week: Mike continues his summer-long quest for a good donut, with a return trip to Philly favorite Federal Donuts.

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 and would like more Book Fight in your life, consider subscribing to our Patreon. For $5/month, you’ll get access to regular bonus episodes, including monthly episodes of Book Fight After Dark, where we read some of the world’s weirdest romance novels. And starting this week, we’ll be adding new mini-episodes in a series called Reading the Room, in which we offer advice on how to navigate awkward, writing-related social situations.

Thanks for listening!

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Episode 291: Roland Barthes, A Lover’s Discourse

Welcome to Week Two of a series we didn’t intend to undertake: Tom and Mike Read Books They’re Not Quite Smart Enough to Understand. Actually, we did a slightly better job with this one than we did with last week’s reading, Jenny Boully’s The Body. Though we can already hear the sound of 1,000 grad students rolling their eyes in response to our discussion of Barthes. But hey, we’re giving it our best. We can’t help it if there are rocks where our brains are supposed to be.

This week’s book was a Mike pick, because he’s been on the English department faculty of a major university for too long to not have read anything by Roland Barthes. A Lover’s Discourse was billed as one of his more accessible works, so we figured it could make a good starting place. And it wasn’t bad! At least the parts that we understood. Which were some of the parts!

Look at those punctuation marks, just going to town on each other.

Anyway, we talked this week about the Barthes book, and about books that make us want to be smarter versus books that make us feel like we’re ok being kinda dumb. Also, we’ve got another chapter in Mike’s continuing quest to eat a good donut in Philadelphia.

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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Episode 290: Jenny Boully, “The Body”

This week we’re talking about a lyric essay that was first published in 2002 and has since become part of a new canon of creative nonfiction: Jenny Boully’s “The Body,” which first appeared in The Seneca Review and was re-released in book form by Essay Press.

The big question of this episode: are we smart enough to understand this piece, which is written in footnotes to an invisible text? Or is it even a thing meant to be “understood” in a traditional narrative sense? Is “The Body” a beautiful evocation of a language just beyond conventional meaning? Is it a whole bunch of word salad? And, seriously, are we big dummies who just barely manage to get our pants on each morning?

We do our best to unpack the piece, and also to trace its path to becoming a regular touchstone for writers and teachers of creative nonfiction.

Also this week: In Mike’s continuing search for a good donut, he pits two bitter Pennsylvania rivals against each other. That’s right, it’s Sheetz vs. Wawa.

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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Episode 289: John McPhee, “Levels of the Game”

Welcome back to our Summer School season, in which we’re reading books, stories, and essays we feel like we should have read by now. John McPhee was in that category for Mike, especially as he’s been teaching (and writing) more creative non-fiction. McPhee is a celebrated essayist who started out at Time Magazine and then moved on to a lengthy career at The New Yorker. In 1969 he wrote a long piece about a tennis match between Arthur Ashe and Clark Graebner that became a short book, Levels of the Game. Renowned as not just a piece of sports writing, but as a study in two contrasting characters at a pivotal moment in American history, McPhee’s essay/book is considered a master of its form.

You can read Part I of the essay online from The New Yorker (the second part requires the use of their archive widget). Or check out the book.

We talk about the essay, and about the very different turns the lives of its principle subjects took after it was published. We also talk about how McPhee put the piece together, which involved lugging a suitcase-sized projector down to Puerto Rico for a U.S. Davis Cup match.

Also this week: Mike tries again to eat a good donut.

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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Episode 288: Thom Jones, “The Pugilist at Rest”

Thom Jones graduated from the Iowa Writers Workshop in the late 70s, but didn’t truly find his voice–and critical success–until “The Pugilist at Rest,” which was published in The New Yorker in 1991. After that story, Jones published pieces in other big-name magazines and pretty quickly had a story collection out in the world. Journalists really latched onto the late-bloomer story, as well as the fact that Jones was working as a janitor when “The Pugilist at Rest” was published.

We talk about the story, and also about the mythology around Jones, who died in 2016.

Also this week: Mike’s continuing quest to eat a good donut, and why Tom is so tired of reading stories about the 60s.

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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