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Episode 74: Greg Baxter, A Preparation for Death

In keeping with our fall theme, this week we’re discussing a memoir about failure: Greg Baxter’s A Preparation for Death, which recounts the author’s unraveling after failing to sell his first novel, moving to Dublin, and getting divorced. “Traditional autobiography is composed after the experience has passed,” Baxter writes in the memoir’s preface. “I wrote this book in the very panic of the experiences that inspired it.”

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A March 2013 New Yorker essay called Baxter’s book “grim reading,” and said there was “much to dislike” about it. Since Mike is interested in the line between honesty and self-indulgence in memoir writing, and also often likes writing that’s polarizing, that skewering was enough to make him pick it up, and then foist it upon Tom.

We’ve also got another installment this week of Raccoon News, and another dip into the NaNoWriMo forums. Yes, we know it’s December, but we gave NaNoWriMo pretty short shrift this year.

As always, you can stream the episode 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, or through just about any of the available podcast apps, where you can subscribe (for free) and never miss another episode.

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We always welcome your feedback on what we talked about on the show. You can email us, hit us up on Twitter, or just leave a comment here on the episode post. Thanks for listening!

 

Also: please take a minute to vote for us in The AV Club’s Best Podcast of 2014 poll. 


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Fall of Failure Episode 6: Daniel Hoyt and Artistic Failure

Our story this week, “Here I Am,” by Daniel Hoyt, was originally published in the winter issue of The Cincinnati Review. It’s about a man who continues to live after his head is violently separated from his body. We’re also talking this week about artistic failure. We consider why those treacly lists of “famous people who failed/were rejected” get under our skin. And then we talk about a couple specific “failures” (application of the term is always somewhat debatable): Antonin Gaudi’s La Sagrada Familia, which is still incomplete nearly 90 years after his death; and the attempted smear campaign against Edgar Allan Poe by his literary nemesis.

For good measure, we cap off this week’s episode by considering the adult career of Jonathan Lipnicki.

As always, you can stream the episode 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, or through just about any of the available podcast apps, where you can subscribe (for free) and never miss another episode.

Stream:

Download Fall of Failure #6 (right-click, save-as)

We always welcome your feedback on what we talked about on the show. You can email us, hit us up on Twitter, or just leave a comment here on the episode post. Thanks for listening!


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Fall of Failure Episode 3: Kseniya Melnik, “Strawberry Lipstick,” and Failed Dog Breeds

This week our short story comes from Kseniya Melnik, whose debut collection, Snow in May, came out this spring from Macmillan. The story we chose, “Strawberry Lipstick,” traces the increasingly troubled marriage of a young woman in 1950s Russia.

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We’re also continuing our Fall of Failure theme by looking into failed dog breeds, including one, the “turnspit,” that people put into their ovens, because humans are total garbage monsters. We also talk about the Moscow Water Dog, the Hawaiian Poi Dog, and several other breeds that, for one reason or another, either went extinct or never quite lived up to their initial billing.

As always, you can stream the episode right here on our site, or download the mp3 file to listen to whenever you want. You can also visit us in the iTunes store, where you can find back episodes and subscribe (for free) to never miss another installment.

We’re always interested in hearing your thoughts on what we talked about. You can send us an email, tweet at us, or just leave a comment on this here post.

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Thanks for listening!


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Fall of Failure Episode 2: Bechdel and Betamax

Welcome back to the Fall of Failure! This week we’re looking at an excerpt from Fun Home, the 2006 graphic memoir by Alison Bechdel, who just a couple weeks ago was awarded a MacArthur Genius Grant. So: definitely not a failure. But you know what was a failure? Betamax. Such a failure, in fact, that people still use “betamax” as slang for failed products, or the verb form as the act of failing. Which is, in a weird way, a kind of success? The Fall of Failure is only a couple weeks old and already it’s full of conundrums.

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The bit we chose from the Bechdel book was excerpted in the 2007 edition of The Best American Nonrequired Reading, edited by Dave Eggers. That edition also contains a couple Barrelhouse pieces: Lee Klein’s essay “All Aboard the Bloated Boat,” about Barry Bonds and steroids, and a few Ed Asner poems by Greg Ames, one of which you can read here.

We talk about the ethics involved in writing about family: Who gets to tell your family’s story? What stories belong to you? Should you worry about the repercussions of portraying family members in your work? Should you honor family members’ requests that you keep certain things private? Mike talks about his own family’s reaction to a recent essay about his grandfather, which appeared in the Spring 2014 issue of The North American Review. And Tom talks about a former bully’s reaction to hearing that Tom had written about him in his memoir.

Also: Betamax. Why did it lose out to VHS, despite evidence that it was the superior technology? What did Sony do wrong, and JVC do right? And did pornography have anything to do with it?

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As always, you can stream the episode right here on our site, or download the mp3 file to listen to whenever you want. You can also visit us in the iTunes store, where you can find back episodes and subscribe (for free) to never miss another installment.

Thanks for listening! We’re always interested in hearing your thoughts on what we talked about. You can send us an email, tweet at us, or just leave a comment on this here post.

Stream:

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Fall of Failure Episode 1: J.D. Daniels, “Letter from Majorca”

This week we’re debuting a new series: the Fall of Failure. In these episode we’ll be talking about short stories and essays and also discussing failure in all its permutations: artistic failures, personal failures, military failures, and flops of all kinds. If you have suggestions for failures we should discuss, feel free to leave them in the comments, email us, or hit us up on Twitter.

In today’s episode we’re discussing the J.D. Daniels essay “Letter from Majorca,” which you can read on the Paris Review website. Mike recommended the essay way back in Episode 39, before we were discussing short pieces on the show, and wanted to revisit it now.

We also talk about the concept of failure: why it’s artistically interesting, why it’s important for people to fail, and why Americans, in particular, seem so lousy at it.

As always, you can stream the episode right here on our site, or download the mp3 file. You can also check us out in the iTunes store, where you can subscribe (for free) and never miss another installment. Also: we’ve now got t-shirts! Stop walking around shirtless, like some sort of creep. Support the show while hiding your shame!

We’ve also got an upcoming live event, September 25 at the Spiral Bookcase in Philadelphia. If you live in the area, please come out and join us!

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