Book Fight!

Tough love for literature


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Please Stand By: We Are Experiencing Technical Difficulties

Hi, everybody! In his recent move, apparently Mike misplaced a cord required for editing episodes we’ve recorded with our portable recorder. A new one is on the way! And we’ll get the new episode–on Lincoln in the Bardo, by George Saunders–up as quickly as we can!

Sorry for any disturbances this has caused in your weekly routine. Please rest assured that Mike has been punished appropriately. We should have the new episode up in the next day or two, depending on when the cord arrives.

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Episode 142: John McManus, Bitter Milk

This week’s book is a Tom pick, the first novel from John McManus, though he’d previously published two story collections and become the youngest-ever Whiting Award winner. Reading the book made Mike question why he continues to do this podcast. So: good times!

BitterMilk

Seriously, from time to time our need to keep the show honest bumps up against our desire to not burn too many bridges or be mean to people we might eventually meet in real life. And sometimes that tension causes things to get a little weird.

In the second half of the show, Mike puts Tom on the metaphorical couch to help him figure out why he keeps feeling pulled away from the book project he’s supposed to be working on. All of that probably sounds unbearably heavy, but don’t worry, there’s plenty of the usual goofiness, too.

If you want to read Mike’s essay about winter biking and online dating, you can do so here, at The Smart Set. You can read the Amy Butcher essay Mike recommended here, at The American Scholar. And here’s Tom’s latest mascot story, which he mentions at the end of the episode.

As always, you can stream the new episode right here on our site, or download the mp3 file and do with it what you will. You can also check us out in the iTunes store, or wherever you normally get your podcasts.

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Episode 135: Summer of Second Chances, Harlan Ellison (“I Have No Mouth, and I Must Scream”)

Welcome to a new season of Book Fight, in which we revisit writers we’ve panned in the past and give their work another go. Last spring, we didn’t much care for Ellison’s spite-fueled essay, “The Three Most Important Things in Life.” Now, we’ve read one of his most lauded stories, “I Have No Mouth, and I Must Scream.” Will it change our assessment of Ellison, or will we double down on the hate?

Here’s a picture of Ellison just chillaxing at home.

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We also talk about when you should give your own work a second (or a third, or a fourth) chance. How do you know when to keep revising, and when to give up on a piece and move on? Plus, another installment of Raccoon News!

As always, you can stream the episode below, or download it from the iTunes store, or wherever you normally get your podcasts.

Thanks for listening!

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Episode 124: Don DeLillo, Zero K

Don DeLillo’s new novel doesn’t come out until next week, but we’re discussing it now, because we’re on the cutting edge of literature. Tastemakers! Or, you know, we just emailed a publicist. Turns out it’s pretty easy to get advance review copies of big-release books when you have a semi-popular literary podcast.

Anyway, we promise this episode won’t spoil anything for you “normals” who have to wait until the book’s actual release date to read it. We will, however, talk about our past experiences with DeLillo books, some of the things we tend to love (and not love) about his work, and how this new book stacks up against his formidable back catalog.

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In the second half of the show we talk about a recent essay from The Walrus, “I Don’t Care About Your Life: Why Critics Need to Stop Getting Personal In Their Essays.” The piece made the rounds on Twitter, sparking debate about whether too much of what passes for book or cultural criticism is actually self-reflexive and, ultimately, shallow.

As always, you can stream the show right here on our site. You can also find us in the iTunes store, or wherever you normally get your podcasts.

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Episode 119: Winter of Wayback, 1975 (Harry Crews)

Spring is in the air, Book Fighters! It’s also on the calendar. Which means this is your last installment of the Winter of Wayback for the year, before we move on to our next theme. But more on that later. For now, let us take you back to 1975: Queen’s “Bohemian Rhapsody” was topping the pop charts, along with America’s “Sister Golden Hair” and “Fox on the Run,” a song one of us always thinks is by ELO but is actually by a band called Sweet, which originally called itself Sweetshop, but in the early 70s began to gradually transition from their bubblegum pop sound into a glam-rock outfit that dressed like this:

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Speaking of what people looked like in 1975, here’s a picture of author Harry Crews from that era. This week’s reading selection was an essay he published in Playboy, about meeting some grits near the Appalachian Trail, in Johnson City, Tennessee.

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The essay we read was later collected in his book Blood & Grits, which seems to be out of print these days, though you can track down copies at used bookstores or online. We got a scanned copy of the essay through our university library, because we’re super fancy. And resourceful! That also means we got to read the Playboy cartoons scattered throughout the scanned pages, a selection of which we’d post here except they all have boobs in them.

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One of us liked the essay quite a bit. The other of us felt the voice was a bit contrived or put-on, but maybe that’s because the other of us has never lived in the south? Then again, one hallmark of our show is that everyone is entitled to their opinions, even when those opinions are wrong and dumb.

Speaking of opinions that are wrong and dumb, 1975 also marked the beginnings of what became the Men’s Rights Movement. Though at first it was really just a pleasant adjunct to feminism, a way to examine how rigid notions of masculinity could be harmful to dudes. Fair enough! Later, the movement split into different factions, including one faction that held the kinds of sensitivity retreats that were well-meaning but also easy to mock. And then another faction that grew neckbeards and developed strong opinions about custody laws and ethics in videogame journalism, which opinions they like to shout at feminists on Twitter and elsewhere on the internet.

We’ve got plenty of other 1975 stuff on this week’s episode, too, but we won’t spoil it for you. Give the episode a listen, won’t you? It’s free, and anyway, what the hell else have you got going on? You can stream the episode below, or download the mp3 file. Or visit us in the iTunes store, or wherever you normally get your podcasts. See you next time! Thanks for listening!

Oh, and if you’re at AWP this year: drop by the Barrelhouse Magazine table and say hello, or come to our panel on Saturday morning, about literary podcasting. If you’re nice to us, maybe we’ll even give you a beer koozie (or at least a postcard).

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Episode 105: Penelope Lively, Making It Up

Penelope Lively has written more than thirty books, and for some reason Tom picked this one. The novel purports to be an “anti-memoir” that blends the line between fiction and real life, but neither of us found that to be true. If anything, the novel reads more like a series of (admittedly well-written) fiction exercises.

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In the second half of the show we’ve got a special Christmas-themed edition of Fan Fiction Corner, in which we see what some of your favorite characters are up to for the holidays, including the casts of Love, Actually, Veronica Mars and Law & Order: SVU. You won’t want to miss this, as you start getting into the ol’ Yuletide spirit!

Some relevant links:

  • Learn more about (and purchase a copy of) Nicole Steinberg’s Getting Lucky.
  • Check out the Guardian’s review of Making It Up.
  • Bone up on your Detective Eliot Stabler knowledge via Wikipedia.
  • Read Lindy West’s hilarious (and insightful!) takedown of the movie Love, Actually, via Jezebel.
  • Watch the trailer for Holiday in Handcuffs and then read this Buzzfeed list about why it’s the “craziest movie ever.”

As always, we’re happy to hear what you think about the stuff we talked about this week. You can email us directly, hit us up on Twitter, or just leave a comment here on the site. Also: we’re on Facebook, and gradually getting better about posting studio pics and links and such. So come visit us over there, like our page, etc. etc.

You can stream today’s episode by clicking on the little player thingy below, or download the mp3 file to play on your favorite device. Or visit us in the iTunes store, or wherever you normally get your podcasts, where you can download back episodes and subscribe (for free) so that you never miss another weekly installment.

Thanks for listening! And if you like the show, tell your friends!

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Episode 94: Elfriede Jelinek, Greed

This week’s book was a donor pick, and boy was it a weird one. Elfriede Jelinek is an Austrian author sometimes compared to Thomas Bernhard, though Greed strikes us as more difficult (and more stand-offish) than Bernhard’s novels. Jelinek wrote this novel, her tenth, just before winning the Nobel Prize for literature, though the win wasn’t without its controversy; one member of the Nobel committee resigned in protest.

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We try to decide whether the book is intentionally off-putting, or if perhaps there’s something strange about the translation. We also talk about whether the book is difficult in an interesting way, a frustrating way, or both.

Then we move on and delve into some fan fiction, because that’s kind of our thing. This week’s sampling includes a pairing that pretty much no one in the known universe, outside of the author, could have seen coming.

As always, we’re happy to hear what you think about the stuff we talked about this week. You can email us directly, hit us up on Twitter, or just leave a comment here on the site. Also: we’re on Facebook, and gradually getting better about posting studio pics and links and such. So come visit us over there, like our page, etc. etc.

To check out today’s sponsor, Story Supply Co., head over to their website, or straight to the Kickstarter for the Pocket Staple Notebook

You can stream today’s episode by clicking on the little player thingy below, or download the mp3 file to play on your favorite device. Or visit us in the iTunes store, or wherever you normally get your podcasts, where you can download back episodes and subscribe (for free) so that you never miss another weekly installment.

Thanks for listening! And if you like the show, tell your friends!

Stream:

Download Episode 94 (right-click, save-as)