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Tough love for literature

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Episode 69: Andre Dubus III, Townie: A Memoir

This week we’re talking about the 2011 memoir from Andre Dubus III, author of House of Sand and Fog and son of the acclaimed short story writer Andre Dubus. The book details the younger Dubus’s childhood in a series of rough New England neighborhoods, his eventual prowess as a fighter, his struggles to find better outlets for his anger, and his evolving relationship with a mostly absent father.


Also: the first installment of a new feature, Raccoon News.

As for the book, we talk about the need to balance thoroughness with concision in memoir, the arc of Dubus’s life and whether aspects of that arc have been artificially shaped in the narrative. Though there’s a lot to admire about the memoir, including its examination of male violence, and the transformation Dubus underwent as he learned to replace his anger with empathy.

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

Thanks for listening! And we hope we’ll see some of you this Thursday (Sept. 25) at our first-ever live event at the Spiral Bookcase in Philadelphia!


Download Episode 69 (right-click, save-as)


Episode 53: Jesmyn Ward, Men We Reaped

This week is a Tom pick—Jesmyn Ward’s memoir, Men We Reaped, which recounts the deaths of five young black men in her hometown of DeLisle, Mississippi. We talk about de facto segregation in the American South, writing about family members, and amateur sociology. We also bring back our Sticks and Stones segment, read a couple more donor rejections, and try to figure out what happens in the 4th dimension.


If you want to take advantage of the special offer code we mentioned in the episode, here’s the place to go to pre-order a copy of Lee Klein’s book, Thanks and Sorry and Good Luck. While you’re there, we hope you’ll consider picking up an issue of Barrelhouse, and also our first poetry collection, Justin Marks’ You’re Going to Miss Me When You’re Bored.

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

Download Episode 53 (right-click, save-as)

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Episode 41: Joan Didion, The Year of Magical Thinking

Just a little light summer reading: Joan Didion’s 2005 memoir about grief and illness and loss. We talk about what distinguishes good nonfiction from bad, whether rich people are allowed to have problems, and gendered expectations for memoirs.


Hey, if you’re in the Philadelphia area, check out our fall writers’ conference on Saturday, Sept. 28. A full day of craft sessions and panels, plus a keynote address by J. Robert Lennon. At $65 ($55 for students) it’s a great bargain. Get more info, and register, here.

Get more info on Mike’s recommendation here, and more on Tom’s here.

As always, you can stream the episode here on the site, download the mp3 file, or check us out in the iTunes store, where you can subscribe and never miss another episode. Thanks for listening!


Download Episode 41

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Writers Ask: Airing of Grievances

What happens when you portray someone in an unflattering light in your memoir? What happens when that person is hopped up on scotch and sitting a few feet away from you in your basement? For those of you who’ve complained that there’s not enough “fight” in the Book Fight podcast, this is your week.

We also manage to answer some listener questions. How do you create memorable characters? How should you describe your writing on a date? Continue reading