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Tough love for literature


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Episode 262: Winter of Wayback, 1993 (John Edgar Wideman, “Newborn Thrown in Trash and Dies”)

This week we time-travel back to 1993 to see what was going on in literature, technology, and pop culture. For our reading, we’re diving into the John Edgar Wideman short story, “Newborn Thrown in Trash and Dies,” part of his prize-winning collection All Stories Are True. The story was inspired by a 1991 news report about a baby who had been discarded down the trash chute of an apartment building; Wideman puts the reader inside the head of the child, though its consciousness is a larger, more universal one, as it considers the various lives it could have led.

In publishing news this week, Mike looks at the state of “electronic books” on CD-ROM, which in 1993 were beginning to be sold in some book stores, and Tom has details of a crime novel published on floppy disc (and the surprising outrage that caused). Also: a major San Francisco publisher gets desktop computers in its offices, and a computer programmer teaches his Macintosh to “write” a romance novel.

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We’ve also got another 90s Movie Club this week, as Mike rewatches the 1993 film The Thing Called Love, the last completed movie River Phoenix shot before his tragic overdose death outside the Viper Room in L.A. And Tom’s got another installment of Video Game News, this time involving parental outrage over violent street-fighting games.

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, funnier 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 261: Winter of Wayback, 1992 (“Fire Notes,” by Larry Brown, from The Oxford American)

This week we’re time-traveling back to 1992, and the first issue of The Oxford American, which in its early years was frequently referred to as “The New Yorker of the South.” We read an essay by Larry Brown called “Fire Notes,” which would later be published as part of Brown’s memoir On Fire. Brown was a firefighter and a self-taught writer who began banging out fiction on a typewriter during downtime in the firehouse. The essay we read is about his work for the fire department, and how he got his start as a writer. We also took a look at this brief piece by John Grisham, from the same issue of The Oxford American, in which the author is very tired of people asking him about William Faulkner.

We couldn’t really talk about The Oxford American without talking about the cloud of scandal under which its founding editor, Marc Smirnoff, was dismissed. Here’s a link to the New York Times piece in which Smirnoff told his side of the story to Julie Bosman (though he later complained that the article was unfairly biased against him).

Also this week, Mike takes a look at what it was like to be an editorial assistant for a big New York magazine in 1992. And Tom reports on early research into whether video games were breaking kids’ brains. Plus font news, 90s Movie Club, and much, much more.

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, funnier 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 260: Winter of Wayback, 1991 (Nelson Algren Prize Winners)

It’s the second week of our tour through the 1990s, which means we’re on to 1991. For our reading this week we chose two stories: the winner and runner-up in the annual Nelson Algren Fiction Prize. The contest, which is still active, awards cash prizes and prints the winning stories in the pages of the Chicago Tribune. The winner for 1991 was Tom Barbash’s story “Howling at the Moon,” and the runner-up was Patricia Stevens’ “Leaving Fort Ord.” You can also read an article about all the winners here.

Also this week, we talk about a Jacob Weisberg piece that rocked the publishing world in 1991. Weisberg laid into several of the big New York publishers for putting out hastily edited books that were nearly unreadable. He also called out a couple big-time editors by name, accusing them of not even reading the books on their lists. As might be expected, there was some serious blowback, though Howard Kurtz’s prediction that Weisberg would be blackballed from American publishing turned out to be pretty far off the mark.

1991 was also a big year for video games, with new higher-bit consoles and the introduction of Street Fighter II, considered to be a landmark in the industry.

And of course there’s lots, lots more: an unsolved murder, the Gulf War, Mike’s first cigarette, another edition of Nineties Movie Club, and the tantalizing smells of teen spirit.

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, funnier 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 259: Winter of Wayback, 1990 (“The Things They Carried”)

Welcome to another Winter of Wayback season, Book Fight friends! After last year’s run through the 1950s, this year we’re skipping ahead to take on the 90s. It’s a decade we both lived through, though this season might end up highlighting our age difference.

For the next ten weeks we’ll be reading stories and books published in the 90s, revisiting favorite movies, and discussing other cultural touchstones of the decade.

We’re aware that there are currently a lot of 90s nostalgia projects, and we’re not trying to be another one. Instead, we’re going to dig into some of the best, most interesting, and weirdest writing published over the course of the decade, while looking at ways publishing changed over those ten years: the rise and fall of print magazines; the dawning of the internet age; and a generation of supposed “slackers” who embraced the DIY ethic of the previous decade’s punk scene to carve out their own alternative cultural niche.

We hope you’ll come along with us for the ride!

For this first episode, we’re discussing the title story from Tim O’Brien’s 1990 book The Things They Carried. It’s sort of unbelievable that neither of us had read it before, and we figured it was time to remedy that. We speculate about why the early 90s featured so many Vietnam stories, and why this story’s become such a touchstone in both literature and creative writing classes.

Also this week: we trace the brief history of a magazine targeted specifically at doctors’ offices (which managed to get a short story into the 1991 Best American Short Stories anthology). Tom dips into the Nintendo-dominated video game landscape of the early 90s. And Mike revisits Pump Up the Volume, a movie he loved as a teen and which may have indirectly led to the existence of this very podcast.

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, funnier 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 220: Winter of Wayback, 1959!

This week we’re talking about Allen Ginsberg and Diana Trilling. Specifically, we’re talking about an essay Diana Trilling wrote for The Partisan Review about attending an Allen Ginsberg reading at Columbia University in 1959, one which her husband–famous literary critic Lionel Trilling–chose to skip, despite being Ginsberg’s former teacher. We try to parse Diana Trilling’s attitude toward the reading, which seems to be simultaneously salty and tender.

You can read Diana’s essay, and peruse all of The Partisan Review’s archives, via Boston University.

We also talk about lots of other 1959 goings-on, including monkeys in space!

As always, you can stream the episode right here on our site, or download the mp3 file. You can also find us in the iTunes store, or in just about any app you might use to listen to podcasts.

If you like the show, please consider subscribing to our Patreon, which helps offset our costs and allows us to keep doing the podcast each week. In exchange for $5, you’ll also get access to a monthly bonus episode, Book Fight After Dark, in which we discuss the wide world of romance novels.

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Episode 219: Winter of Wayback, 1958!

This week we continue our season-long exploration of the 1950s with an essay by Truman Capote, first published in Holiday Magazine, called “A House on the Heights.” The piece is essentially Capote’s walking tour of his Brooklyn neighborhood, which was in the process of being gentrified by artists, writers, and various hipster types. One of the houses he describes in the essay–the one he assumes to be the oldest in the neighborhood–went up for sale a couple months ago, for the low low price of $10.5 million.

We also talk about lots of other 1958 goings-on, including the first hit by Little Anthony and the Imperials, South Jersey’s version of Levittown, the Thalidomide tragedy, and the young couple who would inspire the 1994 movie Natural Born Killers.

As always, you can stream the episode right here on our site, or download the mp3 file. You can also find us in the iTunes store, or in just about any app you might use to listen to podcasts.

If you like the show, please consider subscribing to our Patreon, which helps offset our costs and allows us to keep doing the podcast each week. In exchange for $5, you’ll also get access to a monthly bonus episode, Book Fight After Dark, in which we discuss the wide world of romance novels.

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Episode 218: Winter of Wayback, 1957!

In 1957, Pulitzer Prize-winning author James Gould Cozzens published the novel By Love Possessed, which took the literary world by storm. Glowing reviews poured in: from Harper’s, The New York Times, The New Yorker, and Time Magazine. It was called the best book of the year, and even the best book of its generation. Then, in January 1958, critic Dwight MacDonald–apoplectic over seeing so much praise for a book he thought was terrible–wrote one of the greatest literary take-downs of all time, “By Cozzens Possessed,” for Commentary Magazine.

That review is credited with ruining Cozzens’s literary reputation (though a 1957 Time interview in which Cozzens comes off like a real racist, misogynistic and anti-semitic buffoon probably deserves an assist). At any rate, we decided we had to check out this book, to see what all the fuss was about. And it is … really something. For more, you’ll have to listen to the episode.

In the second half of the show, we dive into other important cultural events of 1957, including a still-unsolved mystery in South Jersey, the life and times of Mickey Mantle, a little book called On The Road, and much, much more.

As always, you can stream the episode right here on our site, or download the mp3 file. You can also find us in the iTunes store, or in just about any app you might use to listen to podcasts.

If you like the show, please consider subscribing to our Patreon, which helps offset our costs and allows us to keep doing the podcast each week. In exchange for $5, you’ll also get access to a monthly bonus episode, Book Fight After Dark, in which we discuss the wide world of romance novels.

Stream Episode 218:

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