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Tough love for literature

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Episode 308: Winter of Wayback, 1920!

We’re kicking off our Winter of Wayback season, in which we travel to the past and dig up some forgotten (or under-appreciated) books and stories, and use them to learn some things about the time period. This year we’ll be traveling through the 1920s, a decade neither of us knows all that much about, outside of the stereotypical images of flappers and speakeasies and Lost Generation writers smoking jazz cigarettes at Parisian cafes. For 1920 we’ve unearthed some old issues of Black Mask, a pulp magazine begun by H.L. Mencken as a way to fund his more literary magazine, The Smart Set.

We break down a few stories from the magazine’s early issues and talk about story-writing in an age before television. We also talk about our (limited) knowledge of the 20s, and what we hope to learn this season.

As always, you can stream the show right here on our site, or download the mp3 file to listen to later. Or check us out in Apple podcasts, where you can subscribe (for free!) and catch up on older episodes. We’re also available on Spotify, Stitcher, or just about any other podcast app. If for some reason you can’t find us in your favorite app, please reach out and let us know!

If you like the show and would like more Book Fight in your life, consider subscribing to our Patreon. For $5/month, you’ll get access to regular bonus episodes, including monthly episodes of Book Fight After Dark, where we read some of the world’s weirdest–and steamiest!–novels. We’ve also recently begun a new series of Patreon-only mini-episodes called Reading the Room, in which we offer advice on how to navigate awkward, writing-related social situations.

Thanks for listening!

Stream Episode 308:

Download Episode 308


Episode 109: Winter of Wayback, 1914 (The Smart Set)

Back by popular demand (or at least “occasional request”) we’re embarking upon another Winter of Wayback! For those of you who weren’t with us the last time around, here’s how it works: 1) We pick a year (actually, a year is picked for us by a random number generator). 2) We pick a story or essay to read from that year. 3) Each of us does some research into other happenings from that year, literary and otherwise. 4) We get together and press record and then start talking into microphones. 5) You listen to the things we said and you laugh and/or cry and/or experience other human emotions. 6) You tell your friends how podcasts work, and then you wait patiently for them to finish listening to Season 1 of Serial, and then you tell them about our podcast, and specifically these Winter of Wayback episodes, and they’re like, “Have you been sitting there this whole time, while I listened to Serial? Because honestly that’s kind of weird. Though not as weird as America’s criminal justice system, am I right?” 7) You might have to get new friends. Or just listen to more episodes of our podcast, and let us be your friends. We won’t judge you for turning down a Friday-night date because you’d rather eat Swedish Fish and watch ALF reruns on YouTube. We won’t judge you for drinking that expired eggnog at the back of the fridge. “You’re totally right,” we’ll say, “pouring a little more rum in there will totally kill off any harmful bacteria.”


Sorry, at least one-half of us is a little punchy this evening. A new semester starts tomorrow. It’s our last evening of freedom. And you know what we’re doing with it? Writing up these show notes, and making sure the episode is set to drop in the morning, because that’s how much we love you. Well, at least one-half of us loves you. The other half of us is off in suburban Jersey right now, probably drinking small-batch bourbon and watching old California Raisin videos on the internet, like some kind of goddamned robber baron.

What were we talking about again? Oh, right: the Winter of Wayback. It’s happening. It’s here. Get excited.

Up first is 1914. Which, as it turns out, is the year H.L. Mencken took over as editor of a magazine called The Smart Set, which after several years of serving as the only slightly higher-minded companion to the gossip rag Town Topics was completing its transition into a more serious literary publication. In fact, a number of scholars have posited that The Smart Set, under Mencken, served as a model for The New Yorker, which was founded in 1925.

You can check out back issues of The Smart Set, as well as several other influential journals of the period, via The Modernist Journal Project, which is a really great resource. You can also check out the re-booted, online Smart Set, which is run by Drexel University right here in Philadelphia.

H.L. Mencken in his office. He probably hates your dumb novel.

Mencken in his office. He probably hates your novel.

Rather than read one story this week, we checked out a few things from The Smart Set’s 1914 run, including Mencken’s pretty great roundups of new fiction. We also researched a couple authors published in the 1914 issues that we’d never heard of, including one who was a mentee of Theodore Dreiser’s and was later institutionalized, and another who was sued for libel and once attacked someone with a tennis racket. Literature!

Look, did we mention we were a little punchy? Did we mention we were feeling overworked and under-bourboned, as of late? Did we mention it’s nearly midnight, and we’re listening to Lucinda Williams and drinking Sleepytime Tea and hoping we’re adequately prepared for tomorrow’s classes?

Also this week we’ve got some news about tugboats, for some reason, and also some news about ladies, and also just a whole smorgasbord of high-quality podcasting entertainment. Won’t you give a listen?

Stream today’s episode by clicking on the little player below. Or download the mp3 file, and do with it what you will. Or, even better, visit us in the iTunes store, where you can subscribe (for free) and download all the back episodes you’ve missed while catching up on Adam Carolla or whatever. While you’re there, leave us a review, and a rating, which will help us reach new listeners. And tell your literature loving friends! Unless you hate the show, in which case: mum’s the word.

Stream Episode 109:

Download Episode 109 (right-click, save-as)

Thanks for listening!