Book Fight!

Tough love for literature

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Episode 162: Winter of Wayback, 1988 (Mary La Chapelle)

This week we’re time-traveling back to 1988: U2’s Rattle and Hum was climbing the charts, Die Hard and Crocodile Dundee II ruled the box office, and A.L.F. was king (of our hearts). Also, the writer Mary La Chapelle won a Whiting Award, and lots of praise for her first story collection, House of Heroes. If you’re unfamiliar with La Chapelle’s work, that may be because she’s yet to publish another book since that promising debut (though she continues to teach at Sarah Lawrence, where she runs the MFA program).


We don’t want to speculate too much about what’s going on with La Chapelle and her work–plenty of writers, after all, have taken lots of years in between books (Mike’s former teacher, Marilynne Robinson, comes to mind). Instead, we dig into the first story in her 1988 collection, “Anna in a Small Town,” about a mime and a giant, which you can read for free via Google Books.

We also talk about lots of other 1988 news, including a Philadelphia garbage barge that found itself on a years-long world tour, plus plenty of behind-the-scenes details about A.L.F., a show that was apparently a lot more fun to watch than it was to work on.

Speaking of A.L.F., here’s the clip we mentioned on the show, in which he says the n-word and also acts like a creep toward his teenaged co-star.

As always, you can stream the show 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, where you can subscribe (for free!) and never miss another weekly installment. If you want to weigh in on what we talked about this week, feel free to leave a comment here on the site, send us an email, or hit us up on Twitter or Facebook.

Thanks for listening!

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Episode 104: Elspeth Davie, “The Night of the Funny Hats”

This week’s story is a Tom pick, from a collection he stumbled upon in the library and picked up entirely based on the title. As it turns out, Elspeth Davie, who passed away in 1995, was a celebrated Scottish novelist and story writer, though her reputation didn’t much travel outside of the UK, and it would appear she’s been largely forgotten. We talk about the title story from this 1980 collection, in which a group of tourists take a bus trip across the Australian outback.

We also talk about what separates writers who are remembered from those who aren’t. And to what (if any) extent can writers control their own legacies?

In this piece, from the blog Writers No One Reads, Katrina Dixon notes that Davie was acclaimed in her time, and makes a case that she deserves a larger audience. In her obituary from The Independent, Davie is said to be “implacably modest,” never one to seek out fame. The Independent also argues that while she wrote a couple novels, it was her stories that were most notable, if not exactly flashy.

She was perhaps old-fashioned in her approach to writing, content to produce quirky, finely honed gems rather than sprawling sagas. Every word told: it was very often what she left out rather than what she put in that was of note.

In the second half of the show, we take one final dive into the National Novel Writing Month forums, where we may have uncovered a game-changing conspiracy afoot. Hold on to your butts!

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 on Facebook, and gradually getting better about posting studio pics and links and such. So come visit us over there, like our page, etc. etc.

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