Book Fight!

Tough love for literature


Episode 89: Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchett, Good Omens

This week’s book is a bit outside our usual reading habits, but it was chosen for us by a donor to the show during our last fund drive. Neither of us had read anything by either Gaiman or Pratchett before, though we were both aware of their reputations, and we knew this book in particular was something of a cult classic. So we gave it a read, and then tried to figure out what it was, exactly, that made it so beloved to so many people.


During the episode we talk about the book’s humor, and whether it’s appropriate for adults. We try to decide if it’s a satire and, if so, what exactly it’s satirizing. We contemplate the possibility we’re both just a couple of grumps. Oh, and we shit on The Goonies a little, too, just for good measure.


Here’s a link to the Tom Robbins episode we mentioned a couple times. Here’s a link to Philip Hoare’s The Sea Inside, and his previous book The Whale: In Search of the Giants of the Sea. Speaking of our recommendations, you can follow Mike on Instagram @mikeingram00.

As always, we’re happy to hear what you think about the stuff we discussed. 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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Episode 84: Alexander von Humboldt, Personal Narrative of a Journey to the Equinoctial Regions of the New Continent

This week’s book was chosen for us by a donor to our winter fund drive. A famous work of early 19th century natural history, it’s a little outside our usual comfort zone, but we’re always happy to give new things a go. Still, don’t expect that you’re going to hear an expert breakdown of von Humboldt’s findings, or his place in the history of science. Instead you’ll hear us trying to wade through a lot of measurements and descriptions of rocks in search of the good stuff: jaguar-related adventures, fishing for eels, and making jellyfish mad.

You can read (or maybe skim?) the roughly 2,000-page book here, via Project Gutenberg, though we’d probably recommend the abridged Penguin version, which is only 300-some pages and presumably cuts out some of the stuff about water temperatures.


Also this week: a new installment of Raccoon News, which includes a dispatch from our hockey-loving friends to the north. Plus a new segment: James Patterson Novel or Eric Stoltz Movie From the 90s?

As always, you can listen to the episode right here on our site, by clicking on the streaming player below. Or you can download the mp3 file. Or visit us in the iTunes store, where you can listen to back episodes and subscribe (for free!) to make sure you never miss another installment. While you’re in iTunes, please take a second to leave us a rating and a review. Both those things help the show move up the charts and ultimately allow us to reach more people.

We’re always happy to hear what you think about the things we discussed on the show. You can email us directly, hit us up on Twitter, or just leave a comment here on the site. Also: As of a few days ago, we’re now on Facebook! So come visit us over there, where we’ll post occasional photos and show notes, and maybe preview upcoming show features.


Download Episode 84 (right-click, save-as)


Bonus Episode 2015 – The People’s Choice

[UPDATED 4/9: the poll has been updated, eliminating one book option, not so much because it had been hijacked by a small group of people–we encourage multiple votes, and people championing a book– but because their motivation for voting for that book seemed particularly mean-spirited. Empress Theresa is off the list; the book doesn’t look great, but it’s a self-published book by an unknown writer and we have no interest in joining an extended online bullying campaign against him. We don’t think our fans would enjoy an episode devoted to that kind of meanness, and we, frankly, wouldn’t feel good about recording it.]

Because we hit our fundraising goal this year, we’ve promised to record a special bonus episode, based on a book of your choice. Last year, given the choice between exposing us to some compelling indie literature, you chosen instead to cruelly subject Tom to facing his demons and re-reading a book best described as the airport hot dog of literature.

This year, your choices (based on nominations by listeners) are extensive and varied. The list includes canonical novels, famous YA books about scarred wizards, recent bestselling literary novels, small press story collections, comics, a book about sexy vampires (not the one you’re thinking of), and what appears to be a semen cookbook. This is the sort of list that makes us proud to be your dumb podcast of choice. It’s hard to even tell which ones we should be rooting for (or against).

Because of the size of this list, we may end up running the poll in 2 rounds. Unless there’s an obvious runaway juggernaut in this round, we’ll pick the top contenders based on your votes and then have a runoff next week.

This poll will be open for one week. Check the list carefully and then cast your vote. And then go take a nap – you’ve earned it.


Episode 62: Peter Sotos, Mine

Before we get into any details about the book, let’s just get a big TRIGGER WARNING out of the way up top. This novel, the last of the year’s donor picks, is deeply disturbing, and contains material that could trigger anyone who’s had personal experience with child abuse, pedophilia, or sexual assault. Hell, this book could probably trigger someone who hasn’t experienced any of that stuff, but just has a normal level of human empathy and sensitivity to suffering.

That said, we do our best in the episode to stay away from the most graphic stuff. We do read a couple excerpts, but they’re on the tamer side (there were plenty of passages we annotated, in the margins, with comments like “Yikes” and “Oh, Christ”). We do, however, talk (in a non-graphic way) about child pornography, child abductions, and issues surrounding pedophilia–it would be impossible to talk about the book without doing so. And it’s possible this book does have merit, beyond the merely shocking.


While Sotos is an author interested in transgression, as his other works would attest, Mine‘s exploration of the psychology behind men who consume child pornography, and those who actually go so far as to abuse children, could deepen a reader’s understanding of that sort of mind, well beyond what you might get from To Catch a Predator, or an episode of Law and Order: SVU. Which, though disturbing, is work someone should probably be doing. As we discuss during the episode, however, it’s never entirely clear what the book’s point of view is, and a lot of its arguments and analysis seem intentionally opaque. How much of the “I” voice belongs to Sotos himself, for instance? How much of the book is collage-work from other sources?

What many people know about the author–if they know about him at all–is that in the mid-80s he was convicted for possession of child pornography. Though even that’s complicated, as he purportedly had those images–which came from an underground publication called Incest–because he was using them to construct a boundary-pushing, transgressive zine called Pure, which was devoted to serial killer lore. In interviews, too, Sotos often seems a bit cagey about his own relationship to the material he writes about, and the taboo desires explored in his work. You can read this interview he did with the publisher of Nine-Banded Books, which issued the paperback edition of Mine, to get a sense for how he talks about his work, and others’ interpretations of it.

OK, so if you’ve read all that, and are still interested, rather than simply grossed out, please check out the episode, which you can stream below. You can also find us in the iTunes store, where you can download individual episodes or subscribe (for free) so you never miss another installment. If you have opinions about Sotos, this book, or anything else we talked about on the episode, feel free to leave a comment below, send us an email, or hit us up on Twitter.

Also this week, we’ve got our first official rebuttal! Joshua Isard, former guest and author of Conquistador of the Uselesss, took issue with our panning of Howard Jacobson’s The Finkler Question in Episode 58. So, being the democratically minded dudes we are, we gave him some time to weigh in. That starts around the 30-minute mark, if you’d like to hear Josh’s (well-reasoned, actually) take on the book, but don’t think you’re up for the rest of the episode.

We’ve also got a blurb, for a donor whose name we’re not going to write on the website, so that she’s not forever SEO-linked to a book about kiddie porn. And our usual MATRs. In fact, here’s the link promised in Mike’s recommendation: after you’ve bathed in the filth of Mine, take a cold shower and then listen to some good tunes. Who loves ya, baby? (Probably lots of people, actually, but add us to the list.)

Honestly, we’ve probably oversold the ick factor of the episode itself (if not the book). We’re certainly not wallowing in the book’s gorier details, but instead trying to decide how we should read it, and what it might add to the body of psychological knowledge about pedophilia, child abuse, and violence against children.

Thanks, as always, for listening.


Download Episode 62 (right-click, save-as)