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Episode 166: Winter of Wayback, 1877 (Deadwood Dick)

Look, the United States right now is a goddamned nightmare. So we figured we’d time travel back to a better time: 1877! We thought it would be fun to read this dime-store novel by Edward L. Wheeler. We figured we’d check in and see what wacky hijinks America was getting up to at the tail of the 19th century. What could possibly go wrong?

Turns out that what seemed, at first glance, to be nothing more than fun, escapist Old West literature was in fact kind of a turgid mess, and also a story that insisted on reminding us, every few pages, of America’s horrifyingly xenophobic past (luckily we’ve put all that behind us now and everything is super chill).

Also, it turns out 1877 was a pretty bloody year, one in which the diamond-encrusted boots of rich capitalists stomped again and again on the necks of both organized and unorganized labor (luckily America put all that behind us over the last century-plus and everyone these days gets paid a living wage and is treated with the decency that should be afforded all human beings).

Anyway, you should listen to this week’s episode. If, while listening, the Earth’s rising oceans threaten to wetten your ears, take your earbuds out, because that’s probably an electrocution risk.

See you on the other side!

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Episode 164: Winter of Wayback, 1978 (H.L. Sintetos, “Telling the Bees”)

In 1978, the writer H.L. Sintetos had a story featured in the annual Best American Short Stories anthology, after which she seemed to mostly disappear from the literary world. Which is particularly disappointing given how good that story was. We both enjoyed “Telling the Bees,” a thoughtful portrayal of a woman coming to terms with her own solitude.

This week we talk about Sintetos’s story, and what (to our minds, at least) separate it from lesser versions of stories about “wise country folks,” some of which can come across as patronizing. We also try to figure out what happened to Sintetos, and why we’d never heard of her work.

In lieu of a photo of the author, please enjoy this image of a Billy Joel mask, which will make more sense once you listen to this week’s show.


In addition to the story, we talk about lots of other 1978 stuff, including serial killers, a Papal conspiracy theory, dark days in Philadelphia, a possible Owl Man, plus Grease and Sha Na Na!

As always, you can stream the show right here on our site, by clicking on the little player thingy below. Or download the mp3 file to play on your favorite device. You can also find us in the iTunes store, where you can subscribe (for free!) and never miss another episode.

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Episode 162: Winter of Wayback, 1988 (Mary La Chapelle)

This week we’re time-traveling back to 1988: U2’s Rattle and Hum was climbing the charts, Die Hard and Crocodile Dundee II ruled the box office, and A.L.F. was king (of our hearts). Also, the writer Mary La Chapelle won a Whiting Award, and lots of praise for her first story collection, House of Heroes. If you’re unfamiliar with La Chapelle’s work, that may be because she’s yet to publish another book since that promising debut (though she continues to teach at Sarah Lawrence, where she runs the MFA program).


We don’t want to speculate too much about what’s going on with La Chapelle and her work–plenty of writers, after all, have taken lots of years in between books (Mike’s former teacher, Marilynne Robinson, comes to mind). Instead, we dig into the first story in her 1988 collection, “Anna in a Small Town,” about a mime and a giant, which you can read for free via Google Books.

We also talk about lots of other 1988 news, including a Philadelphia garbage barge that found itself on a years-long world tour, plus plenty of behind-the-scenes details about A.L.F., a show that was apparently a lot more fun to watch than it was to work on.

Speaking of A.L.F., here’s the clip we mentioned on the show, in which he says the n-word and also acts like a creep toward his teenaged co-star.

As always, you can stream the show 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, where you can subscribe (for free!) and never miss another weekly installment. If you want to weigh in on what we talked about this week, feel free to leave a comment here on the site, send us an email, or hit us up on Twitter or Facebook.

Thanks for listening!

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Episode 160: Winter of Wayback, 1966 (Philip K. Dick)

It’s the first episode of 2017’s Winter of Wayback, perhaps our favorite seasonal feature. This week, listeners, please join us in time-traveling to 1966. The Beatles were bigger than Jesus! The Church of Satan was founded! And Philip K. Dick published the short story that would eventually be adapted into the movie Total Recall. You can read his story “We Can Remember it for You Wholesale” here.

Here we see the famous sci-fi author predicting both Glamour Shots and Tinder. He really was a soothsayer!


As regular listeners know, Mike doesn’t often like science fiction. This week, he’s perhaps figured out where that mental block comes from. Also, Tom introduces his new seasonal feature, in which he promises to investigate some of history’s greatest (and weirdest) conspiracy theories.

As always, you can stream the show here on our site, by clicking on the player below. Or download the mp3 file, and do with it what you will. You can always find us in the iTunes store, too, or wherever it is you get your podcasts. We’re also happy to hear your feedback. You can leave a comment on the post itself, shoot us an email, or hit us up on either Twitter or Facebook.

Thanks for listening!

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Episode 117: Winter of Wayback, 1935 (John Dickson Carr)

This week we set our literary time machine to 1935, a year that’s considered part of the “Golden Age of Detective Fiction.” That led us to author John Dickson Carr, who became famous as a writer of mystery and detective novels, particularly what’s now known as “locked room” mysteries.

Here’s a picture of him looking all mid-30’s dapper.


Other stuff happened in 1935, too. Some weird-sounding Australian animal went extinct. Philadelphia politics got real ugly. And monkeys ran amok in the streets of New York City, leading to headlines like this one.

Screen Shot 2016-02-22 at 7.56.10 PM

A real wacky year. And a very entertaining episode! Which we would say more about here, except a) you should just click on the player thingy below and listen to it, and b) one of us went out last night, ostensibly to “have a couple beers” and watch a televised college basketball game with a few friends, and was then talked into more beers, and even more beers, and two changes of venue, the second of which found your correspondent dancing to club remixes–“bangers,” we think the kids call them–at a Philadelphia gay bar. It was a good time, and yet also a reminder of why we rarely stay out till last call these days. Anyway: enjoy the episode!

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Thanks for listening! Come back next week, and tell your literature-loving friends!


Episode 113: Winter of Wayback, 1883 (Sarah Orne Jewett)

Hey, did you catch last night’s big game? You know, the football contest? The Carolina Whats-Its against the Denver Something-Or-Others?

Sorry, we actually kind of hate it when writers talk that way about sports. I mean, we get it: you’re far too intellectual and cultured to ever watch a sport as brutish as American football, which of course you always refer to as American football, to distinguish it from those Premier League matches you get up early for on Saturdays. “This is the real football,” you say to your empty apartment. “I’m a citizen of the world.”

Anyway, one of us watched the big game. The other of us met a friend for drinks at a bar with no television. Said friend is a European academic, and an avowed socialist, so it’s possible that one of us will soon be deported. We’ll have to record the show via Skype. Anyway, the one of us who didn’t watch the game doesn’t have anything against football per se, or the NFL, he’s just kind of ambivalent about the whole deal, so when given the option of drinking a couple fancy IPAs and eating half of a burrata flatbread and talking to an interesting friend about life, and books, and the vagaries of online dating (said friend recently joined, and then promptly quit, an online dating site, after being barraged with messages from creeps), the choice was easy enough.

Sorry, none of this has anything to do with this week’s episode, which is really quite good, but which is not about football, nor about sharing drinks with European academics, but about the year 1883, a year which presumably featured all kinds of great literature, though the story we picked–“An Only Son,” by Sarah Orne Jewett–was, to be honest, not super-great. We understand Jewett is a celebrated chronicler of New England life, but: woof.

No offense to Jewett, though really, if she didn’t want us to make fun of her, she should’ve written a more interesting story.

Luckily for you, the listener, lots of other, much more interesting stuff was happening in 1883. Like, a tugboat painter kept having the same painting stolen. And a Philadelphia contest challenged people to drink water from the Schuylkill River (something neither of us would advise). Also, Mike’s great-great-great grandfather may or may not have killed a Native American.


Here’s a picture of the general store in Saratoga, Wyoming, run by Mike’s great-great-great grandfather and his brother. Here’s a link to the obituary of Mike’s ancestor, W.B. Hugus. We’d link here to the book passage that suggests Hugus helped murder a Native American, but it’s only available behind a library-site paywall (but you can hear it read on the show).

You can stream this week’s episode by clicking on the little player thingy below, or you can download the mp3 file. Or, visit us in the iTunes store, or wherever you get your podcasts, to download past episodes and subscribe (for free!) to make sure you never miss another installment. While you’re over there in iTunes, leave us a rating and a review.

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Episode 111: Winter of Wayback, 1922 (Best American Short Stories, Ring Lardner)

Did you know that The Best American Short Stories anthology existed in 1922? Ok, probably you did know that, but did you know that in 1922 the editor of the Best American Short Stories anthology, Edward O’Brien, gave every single story published in America a star rating, and then tallied up the stars to give every American literary magazine a ranking? Let’s take just a moment to imagine how much work that would be. Let’s take another moment to imagine how much consternation and hand-wringing would happen in the lit world if that sort of thing happened today. The outraged tweets alone could be printed out, taped end-to-end, and then used as a bridge to move our society to the moon.


Collier’s Weekly: the Hobart of its day.

Out of the 1922 BASS anthology, we chose Ring Lardner’s “The Golden Honeymoon,” since we’d both heard of Lardner, but neither of us could remember having read much, or any, of his fiction. One of us quite enjoyed the story, with its portrayal of a grumpy old cheapskate on vacation with his wife, while the other of us expressed an opinion that was wrong.

Incidentally, you can read the entire 1922 BASS anthology via the Internet Archive, because truly we are living in magical times. Enjoy it now, humans! Soon Trump will be king, the earth will be consumed by either ice or fire, and if we’re lucky the moon will turn out to be a decently hospitable place to live. As long as podcasts still exist, and Golden Girls reruns, we’ll all pull through.

Sorry, what were we talking about? Oh, right: this week’s episode. And 1922! A year that included at least one tugboat tragedy, and one very famous Hollywood murder. Also: a series of events that led one of us to this:


Anyway, you should listen to the episode. It’s the cat’s pajamas! (That’s 1922 slang for “on fleek.”) Just click on the little player thingy below to stream it, or download the mp3 file to play on your computer or mobile device. Or visit us in the iTunes store, where you can download older episodes and also subscribe (for free) to get new Book Fights delivered to you each week. While you’re there, leave us a rating and review, which helps us to reach new listeners.

Thanks for listening!

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