Book Fight!

Tough love for literature

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Episode 90: Sarah Hepola, Blackout: Remembering The Things I Drank To Forget

This week’s episode is a bit different from our normal routine. After reading Sarah Hepola’s memoir, Blackout: Remembering the Things I Drank to Forget, we were prompted to discuss our own drinking habits, and whether we should be concerned about them. We recount our own histories with alcohol, including times we’ve felt we had our drinking under control and times we’ve been concerned about it. All in the service of answering a pretty tough question: how do you know when your drinking has become a problem?


Of course we also talk about the book itself, in which Hepola recounts her own arc of addiction, relapse, and eventual recovery. Hepola is a naturally funny writer, and infuses her story with a good bit of self-deprecating humor, which makes the book stand out in a crowded field of (often melodramatic) addiction narratives. She also examines her drinking through a gendered lens, considering how being a problem drinker as a woman is different from being a problem drinker as a man. You can read an interview with Hepola here, at The Rumpus, in which she talks about the process of acknowledging her own drinking problems and the process of writing the book.

And here’s a link to the Caroline Knapp memoir, Drinking: A Love Story, which Hepola discusses in her book and which Mike also read and discussed a bit during the episode.

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 now on Facebook! So come visit us over there, where we are slowly getting better about posting candid studio photos and links to stuff we’ve talked about on the show.

Stream the 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.


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Thanks for listening!


Episode 81: David Carr, The Night of the Gun

This week’s book goes a little dark: a memoir of addiction and recovery by celebrated journalist David Carr, who recently lost a battle with cancer (after surviving lymphoma, years ago, an episode that’s detailed in the book). Carr took an unusual vector through his own drug-fueled experience: he employed the skills he developed from years of journalism to interview friends, lovers, family members and acquaintances, in the service of a more objective picture of his own past than any he could assemble from memory alone.


We talk about what makes a book stand out in the overcrowded field of addiction memoirs, and what it is we want when reading about someone’s problems with drugs and alcohol. Carr himself seemed keenly aware of these issues, saying again and again throughout the book that he wanted to resist some of the most well-worn tropes of the genre. We talk about the fine line between unbridled honesty and rolling around gleefully in one’s own shit, and about the kinds of insights we can glean from others’ struggles.

For more about Carr, here’s a particularly beautiful remembrance by Ta-Nehisi Coates for The Atlantic. Coates, in one of his first journalism jobs, worked for Carr at the Washington City Paper, and credits Carr’s mentorship for a big part of his later success.

In the second half of the show we answer some listener mail. A question about whether to submit a story to journals even if it’s not your best work, and how to know when to cut your losses and move on. Plus we’re asked to weigh in on the recent Harper Lee controversy. Though we should note we did so before this happened. Here’s a link to the Electric Literature round-up we mentioned.

Finally, a listener tries to school us on pronunciation, and another takes us to task for giving short shrift to Meatloaf, chronicler of adolescent male sexual frustration and current Vegas act.

As always, you can stream the episode below, by clicking on the little player thingy. Or download the mp3 file and play it through whatever technology you prefer. You can also find us in the iTunes store, or through just about any podcasting app, where you can subscribe (for free!) and never miss another installment.

We’d love to hear your feedback on the things we talked about. You can always send us an email, or hit us up on Twitter, or just leave a comment right here on the site. Also, if you haven’t yet, please nominate a book for our upcoming bonus episode.

Thanks for listening!


Download Episode 81 (right-click, save-as)


Episode 63: Michael W. Clune, White Out

We welcome a special guest, Leslie Jamison (author of The Empathy Exams) to discuss Clune’s memoir of heroin addiction. While a graduate student in literature at Johns Hopkins University, Clune was also a daily heroin user, a life he chronicles in dreamy, often beautiful prose. We also talk about addiction memoirs more generally, Jamison’s approach to essay-writing, pie shakes, Iowa City, and Haley Joel Osment.


As always, you can stream the episode right here on our site, or download the mp3 file. Or find us in the iTunes store, where you can catch up on previous installments and subscribe (for free!) to never miss another one. We welcome your feedback on what we talked about. You can email us, hit us up on Twitter, or just leave a comment here on the site.

If you’d like to support the show, you can donate by clicking on the little piggy back on the right (in exchange for your donation, we’ll write you a blurb and read it on the show). You can also support us by supporting our sponsor, Powell’s Books. Just click on any of the Powell’s links around our page–including the cover image of Clune’s book, above–and anything you buy from the Powell’s store will send a little money back our way.

Thanks for listening!

Stream the episode:

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