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Episode 192: Summer of Selfies, Gaute Heivoll (Before I Burn)

This week we’re continuing our discussion of literary “selfies” with this novel by Gaute Heivoll, which is about a string of arsons in 1970s Norway, though it’s also about the writer who is haunted by those fires, even years later, enough to write a book about them. Though it’s categorized as a novel, it seems clear the book’s main character is closely aligned with Heivoll himself.

In the second half of the show, we talk about the phenomenon of the Mary Sue in fan fiction, and in the larger world of pop culture. Is it a useful term to describe stories in which writers create characters who are too-perfect versions of themselves? Or is it merely cover for men to offer misogynistic critiques of female characters?

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, you can subscribe 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 191: Summer of Selfies, Jennifer Lundun (“Evidence, in Track Changes”)

This week we continue our discussion of literary “selfies” with a piece by Jennifer Lundun that appeared recently in Diagram, called “Evidence, in Track Changes”). The piece includes an essay written by Lundun, plus margin notes added by her mother and Lundun herself. The original essay was published in the journal River Teeth, Lundun explains. But after some back and forth with her mother over details in the piece–as well as their relationship more generally, which was fractured when her mother left while Lundun was still a girl–she decided to publish this modified, inter-textual piece.

We talk about what makes an experiment like this feel organic, rather than gimmicky, and what sorts of writing lessons that line might offer. Also, plenty of our usual foolishness, including some discussion of trends that (like selfies) might stick around and become more or less accepted, another installment of Millennial M0m3nt, and for some reason a digression into the relative merits of Three Musketeers and its #ThrowShine hashtag. What do you expect from us, high-minded literary talk?

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, you can subscribe 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 190: Summer of Selfies, Curtis Sittenfeld (“Show Don’t Tell”)

This week we’re discussing a recently published story from The New Yorker by Curtis Sittenfeld, author of a number of books, including Prep and American Wife. In “Show Don’t Tell,” Sittenfeld turns her attentions to a fictionalized version of the Iowa Writers Workshop, and the anxious first-year students who are awaiting decisions on their funding for the next year.

Since both of your Book Fight hosts are Workshop grads, we take a little stroll down memory lane and compare our own experiences with those of the story’s characters. Though we also attempt to consider the story on its own merits, and we wonder whether it’s one that people outside the writing world would find compelling.

Also: another installment of Millennial M0m3nt. What American industry are the young people killing this week?

As always, you can stream the show right here on our site, or download the mp3 file. You can also find us in the iTunes store, where you can catch up on back episodes and subscribe (for free!) so you’ll never miss another installment.

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Episode 189: Summer of Selfies, Tom Chiarella (“My Education”)

This week we continue our Summer of Selfies theme by discussing confessional essays, including one by Tom Chiarella, a long-time writer and editor for Esquire. Chiarella is perhaps best known for his in-depth profiles of celebrities, but in this case he turns the lens to focus on himself, writing about the abuse he suffered at the hands of a Catholic-school teacher. What makes “My Education” particularly interesting is Chiarella’s ambivalence about documenting his experience in the first place. What are the benefits of sharing one’s traumas? What are the benefits of reading about someone else’s?

We also talk more generally about confessional essays, and we catch up with Millennials, to see what they’re killing or not killing this week!

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, where you can catch up on back episodes and subscribe (for free!) so you never miss another weekly installment.

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Episode 188: Pam Houston, Contents May Have Shifted

This week, as part of our continuing “Summer of Selfies” theme, we’re discussing Pam Houston’s latest book, a novel that draws heavily from the author’s own life, and whose narrator is even named Pam. This isn’t the first time that Houston has played with the line between fact and fiction, a line she finds to be blurry, at best.

We talk about aspects of the book we find interesting, and some that we find less interesting. Which seems to be one of the challenges of writing autobiographical work: How do you know which of your experiences are interesting only to you, and which will be interesting to an audience of strangers? It also speaks to the fact that first-person, autobiographical works tend to be pretty quirky, and may speak to some people and not to others. Which isn’t a weakness of the form, and in fact might in some ways be a strength.

In the second of the show, we talk about James Frey, who was Houston’s writing student, and when it’s ok, in a work of nonfiction, to make something up.

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, where you can subscribe (for free!) and never miss another installment.

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Episode 187, Summer of Selfies: Hunter S. Thompson

This week we’re discussing Hunter S. Thompson’s famous essay on the Kentucky Derby, “The Kentucky Derby is Decadent and Depraved,” which many credit as the starting point for the author’s gonzo style of journalism. Neither of us had read the piece before, and we realized that a lot of our impressions of Thompson were based on his legend, more so than on the work itself.

You can read the essay itself, as well as some notes on its creation and publication, in this piece put together by Grantland a few years ago.

Also this week, we discuss the phenomenon of raccoon selfies, and animal selfies more generally. Plus: tourists who pay to take pictures with docile (and likely mistreated) tigers and elephants, and why are there so many car selfies on dating sites? As always, you can count on Book Fight to tackle the big questions.

Stream the episode right here on our site, or download the mp3 file. Or, find us in the iTunes store, or wherever you get your podcasts. If you like the show, please consider joining our Patreon: for a measly $5 a month, you’ll get a monthly bonus episode (Book Fight After Dark!) and we’ll blurb you on the show.

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Episode 186: Summer of Selfies #1 (Jia Tolentino, “The Personal-Essay Boom is Over”)

This week we’re kicking off a new season of Book Fight, and also retooling the show a bit. From here on it, all of our readings–books, essays, and stories–will correspond to that season’s theme. For each season, we’ll read three books (a Mike pick, a Tom pick, and a joint pick neither of us has read before). We’ll also read a bunch of stories, essays, and even some criticism, to fully explore that season’s topic.

For summer, we’ll be doing what we’re calling the Summer of Selfies, in which all our readings will be autobiographical pieces. But we’re not just reading first-person books and stories, along with some personal essays. We’ll be exploring the various dimensions of autobiographical writing, and delving into various controversies around personal writing, whether that’s authors alienating people in their lives or sowing doubt about what’s real and what’s not.

In our first installment for the Summer of Selfies, we’ve chosen a Jia Tolentino essay from The New Yorker. It’s not a personal essay itself, but instead a think piece on the state of the personal essay. So it seemed like a good starting point for talking about first-person writing in 2017.

We talk about whether the personal essay is dead, and whether the term “personal essay” is, itself, too broad a term to really be useful. We revisit the internet writing of the early 2000’s, and speculate about how internet culture shaped the literary essay.

As always, you can stream the episode right here on our site, by clicking on the player below. Or download the mp3 file. You can also find us in the iTunes store, or wherever you get your podcasts. Be sure to subscribe (for free!) so you never miss another installment.

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