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Tough love for literature


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Episode 254: Fall of Finales, Helen Dunmore (“Girl, Balancing”)

Neither of us had ever read the work of Helen Dunmore, but the more we looked into her career, the more we felt like we should have. For this week’s episode we discussed the story “Girl, Balancing,” which was the title story of her final story collection, published posthumously.

In the second half of the show, we talk about the ultimate finale—death. And, in particular, funeral practices in America and elsewhere. Plus: we continue our month-long deep dive into the NaNoWriMo forums.

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 253: Fall of Finales, William Trevor (Mrs. Crasthorpe)

William Trevor died in 2016, at the age of 98. Two years later, his final book of short stories appeared—titled, appropriately enough, Last Stories. For this week’s episode, we read one of those stories, “Mrs. Crasthorpe,” which Julian Barnes, in a review for The Guardian, singled out as one of the book’s best.

We talk about the story, and about Trevor’s stories more generally. He was a writer who sought the complex story, rather than the simple or flashy one, and his characters always feel richly drawn.

In the second half of the show, we talk about another kind of finale: breakups (and how to do them properly). Also, we’ve got more questions from the NaNoWriMo forums, now that participants are nearing the midpoint of the month-long project.

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!

Stream Episode 253:

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Episode 252: Fall of Finales, Philip Roth (Nemesis)

This week we’re back into our Fall of Finales season, in which we consider the final published work of notable authors. Philip Roth published the novel Nemesis in 2010, about two years before he announced that it would be his last published book. In interviews at the time, he said he’d turned his attentions to helping his biographer understand his various papers, and that he was also re-reading his own books, in reverse order, to take stock of his own career.

Nemesis doesn’t necessarily feel like a swan song of a novel. Though it returns to themes (and places) Roth wrote about throughout his career. The book takes place during the polio epidemic of 1944, in the Weequahic neighborhood of Newark, New Jersey. The novel’s protagonist is a young man whose eyesight kept him from WWII, and who is spending the summer working for the parks department, watching after some local boys, more than one of whom falls ill.

We talk about our impressions of the novel, but also about Roth more generally, including some of his naysayers, who often cite his treatment of women–both in his fictional universes and in real life–as one of the primary reasons to dump his work.

In the second half of the show, we also begin our annual dive into the forums of National Novel Writing Month, or NaNoWriMo, to see what kinds of questions this year’s batch of scribes has as they begin their arduous month of writing.

As always, you can stream the episode right here on our site, or find us in Apple Podcasts–or wherever you normally get your podcasts. Thanks for listening!

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!

Stream Episode 252:

Download Episode 252 (right-click, save-as)

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Episode 251: Henry Miller, The Air-Conditioned Nightmare (with special guest Evan Madden)

We’re taking a little break from our Fall of Finales season this week to chat with special guest Evan Madden, drummer with many hardcore and metal bands over the years, most recently Drones for Queens. It’s always fun when we can get a non-writer onto the show to talk about their relationship to books and reading. Evan’s book pick for the episode was Henry Miller’s The Air-Conditioned Nightmare, about a road trip the author took across America in 1940, after living for years in France (though the book wasn’t published until 1945, by New Directions, after it was rejected by Doubleday. Evan chose the book because he’d read, and liked, some of Miller’s novels, including Tropic of Cancer and Tropic of Capricorn. But he didn’t quite know what he was getting himself into with this one.

In the second half of the show, we talk to Evan about touring with rock bands, the ins and outs of life in a van, and why he hates Tom Clancy.

As always, you can stream the episode right here on our site, or find us in Apple Podcasts–or wherever you normally get your podcasts. Thanks for listening!

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!

Stream Episode 251:

Download Episode 251 (right-click, save-as)

Thanks for listening!