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Tough love for literature


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Episode 228: Edna O’Brien, The Country Girls

This week we’re discussing Irish writer Edna O’Brien, and her debut novel from 1960: The Country Girls. The book’s frank depiction of sex–or, more accurately, the sexual thoughts of young girls and women–was enough to get it banned, and even burned, in its native country. We consider how the book has aged, and whether it still feels scandalous today. We also talk a bit about O’Brien’s trajectory as a writer, and as a young woman, enduring what seemed to be a pretty lousy marriage before breaking free and joining swinging London society.

In the second half of the show, we talk about the recent scandal at the Swedish Academy that has forced the Nobel Prize in Literature to go on hiatus for a year. We unpack the scandal’s details, and consider how a group of Swedes got into a position to dole out the biggest prize in letters in the first place.

As always, you can stream the episode right here on our site, or download the mp3 file. You can also find us in the iTunes store, or in just about any app you might use to listen to podcasts.

If you like the show, please consider subscribing to our Patreon, which helps offset our costs and allows us to keep doing the podcast each week. In exchange for $5, you’ll also get access to a monthly bonus episode, Book Fight After Dark, in which we explore some of the weirder reaches of the literary universe: Amish mysteries, caveman romances, end-times thrillers and more!

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Episode 227: Robert Clark Young, Brad Vice, Barry Hannah and Wikipedia

This week we’ve got a real scandal to unpack: the strange case of a writer named Robert Clark Young, who apparently “revenge-edited” the websites of several authors connected to the Sewanee Writers Conference, including Barry Hannah. He was eventually outed by a reporter for Salon, but there are still several lingering questions.

A few of those revolve around the writer Brad Vice, who was the subject of a rather vitriolic takedown by Young, after Vice had been accused of plagiarizing elements of his story collection, The Bear Bryant Funeral Train, which was eventually pulped by the University of Georgia Press. Though Vice maintained his story was an intentional homage, not a plagiarism.

As always, you can stream the episode right here on our site, or download the mp3 file. You can also find us in the iTunes store, or in just about any app you might use to listen to podcasts.

If you like the show, please consider subscribing to our Patreon, which helps offset our costs and allows us to keep doing the podcast each week. In exchange for $5, you’ll also get access to a monthly bonus episode, Book Fight After Dark, in which we explore some of the weirder reaches of the literary universe: Amish mysteries, caveman romances, end-times thrillers and more!

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Episode 226: Zhu Wen, “I Love Dollars”

This week we’re continuing our Spring of Scandal season with a novella by the Chinese writer Zhu Wen, who stirred controversy by writing about sex, money and Chinese capitalism.

In the second half of the show, we discuss last fall’s big YA-world scandal about a book that seemingly scammed its way onto the NY Times bestseller list. More importantly, we talk about how that scandal ended up outing the author of the internet’s most infamous piece of fanfiction, “My Immortal.”

As always, you can stream the episode right here on our site, or download the mp3 file. You can also find us in the iTunes store, or in just about any app you might use to listen to podcasts.

If you like the show, please consider subscribing to our Patreon, which helps offset our costs and allows us to keep doing the podcast each week. In exchange for $5, you’ll also get access to a monthly bonus episode, Book Fight After Dark, in which we explore some of the weirder reaches of the literary universe: Amish mysteries, caveman romances, end-times thrillers and more!

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Episode 225: Michel Houellebecq, The Elementary Particles

This week we’re continuing our Spring of Scandal by discussing author Michel Houellebecq, who’s been a polarizing figure in the literary world for years now, particularly in France, where his books have been much-discussed best sellers but he’s been largely rebuked or ignored by the literary establishment. He didn’t necessarily help his cause when, in a 2001 interview, he went on a rant about Islam and its practitioners.

The book we read was The Elementary Particles, a novel about two brothers whose adult lives are–in different ways–rather isolated and unhappy. The book offers a pretty pointed critique of liberal French politics, though one wonders how seriously we’re meant to take the book’s various political rants.

As always, you can stream the episode right here on our site, or download the mp3 file. You can also find us in the iTunes store, or in just about any app you might use to listen to podcasts.

If you like the show, please consider subscribing to our Patreon, which helps offset our costs and allows us to keep doing the podcast each week. In exchange for $5, you’ll also get access to a monthly bonus episode, Book Fight After Dark, in which we explore some of the weirder reaches of the literary universe: Amish mysteries, caveman romances, end-times thrillers and more!

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Episode 224: Danilo Kis, A Tomb for Boris Davidovich

This week we’re talking about another literary scandal–the case of Danilo Kis’s A Tomb for Boris Davidovich, for which he was accused of plagiarism, though it eventually became clear there were simply some people who were out to discredit him, however they could.

We talk about the politics around the book, and Kis, and provide a brief recap of a plagiarism scandal Wikipedia refers to as “tedious.”

In the second half of the show, we talk about another literary plagiarism scandal–this one involving Martin Amis and a successful TV writer. We also eat a new Pop Tart flavor–or at least it’s new to us.

As always, you can stream the episode right here on our site, or download the mp3 file. You can also find us in the iTunes store, or in just about any app you might use to listen to podcasts.

If you like the show, please consider subscribing to our Patreon, which helps offset our costs and allows us to keep doing the podcast each week. In exchange for $5, you’ll also get access to a monthly bonus episode, Book Fight After Dark, in which we explore some of the weirder reaches of the literary universe: Amish mysteries, caveman romances, end-times thrillers and more!

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Episode 223: J.T. LeRoy, The Heart is Deceitful Above All Things

This week we resume our Spring of Scandal by diving into the strange story of “J.T. LeRoy,” the early-aughts It Boy of the literary scene, who attracted celebrity fans including Bono, Madonna, and Winona Ryder before being unmasked, in 2006, as a fraud, the creation of a thirty-something Brooklyn woman named Laura Albert, who’d enlisted her sister-in-law to “play” LeRoy in public.

We recount the ins and outs of the story, and discuss whether we should view the whole episode as a scam, performance art, or something in between. We also talk about the work itself, and how it holds up, independent of the false premise at the heart of its creation–or whether it’s even possible, or desirable, to separate the art from the author, when the two were presented as so inextricably linked.

If all that sounds like pretty heady stuff, don’t worry, we also talk about raccoons.

As always, you can stream the episode right here on our site, or download the mp3 file. You can also find us in the iTunes store, or in just about any app you might use to listen to podcasts.

If you like the show, please consider subscribing to our Patreon, which helps offset our costs and allows us to keep doing the podcast each week. In exchange for $5, you’ll also get access to a monthly bonus episode, Book Fight After Dark, in which we explore some of the weirder reaches of the literary universe: Amish mysteries, caveman romances, end-times thrillers and more!

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Episode 177: Spring Fling, William Trevor (“A Bit on the Side”)

This week we’re talking about a William Trevor story, “A Bit on the Side,” which traces the final moments of an affair. The story comes from his collection of the same name, first published in 2005.

We also discuss the curious case of Alexander Maksik, whose debut novel, You Deserve Nothing, was perhaps based on his own illicit affair with a 17-year-old student while he was teaching in Paris. The novel earned rave reviews, and this piece of reporting by Jezebel, which included interviews with former students of Maksik’s, didn’t seem to get much traction in the literary world.

Plus: literary gossip! Dating advice! And much, much more.

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

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