Book Fight!

Tough love for literature


Episode 118: Joseph Mitchell, Joe Gould’s Secret

This week’s book is made up of two long New Yorker profiles Joseph Mitchell wrote about Joe Gould, a writer and poet and all-around bohemian raconteur in 1930s Greenwich Village. The first piece, “Professor Seagull,” was published in 1942, while the second, “Joe Gould’s Secret,” came out some 20 years later. The latter was substantially longer, and covered Mitchell’s ongoing relationship with Gould in the years since the first New Yorker profile, during which he grew increasingly annoyed with him and began to suspect that the book he’d supposedly been working on for years, which Gould referred to as The Oral History, did not, in fact, exist.


We debate the relative ethics of the writer-subject relationship, and whether Mitchell was fair in his portrayal of Gould, a man who clearly suffered from mental illness. We also talk about Mitchell’s famous writer’s block: the second Gould profile was, as far as anyone can tell, the last substantial piece of writing he ever did, though he went on working at The New Yorker for years.

We’ve also got some South Philly News this week, about an aggrieved mom and a hipster coffee shop and the surveillance video that will determine who’s telling the truth about what happened between a barista, a little girl, and a noisy cell phone game. Intrigue!

As always, you can stream the episode right here on the site, or download the mp3 file. You can also visit us in the iTunes store, or wherever you get your podcasts. Thanks for listening!


Download Episode 118 (right-click, save-as)


Episode 110: Sarah Shotland, Junkette

Hey, look, it’s another episode! On the one hand, maybe this isn’t surprising, since we’ve been putting out new episodes every week for a few years now. On the other hand, life is a precarious undertaking. You never know when your favorite thing might simply stop existing. One of us could get a dream job in another place. One of us could insult the other’s honor, and then we’d be forced to duel, and even if we both managed to survive said duel it’s probably difficult to carry on podcasting after you’ve dueled with someone. You’d be chatting about books or whatever but you’d also be thinking: I wonder if he’s got a pistol under the table. Or: what’s he doing with his hands over there? Or: is it possible this beer he just gave me is poisoned?

It would be a terrible way to live.

Anyway, we didn’t have a duel this week, and both our honors remain as intact as ever (let’s say semi-intact?). And we’re still in our regular ol’ jobs in our regular ol’ city. So we figured we might as well get together and talk about a book. Here’s what the cover looks like.


If you were at the Barrelhouse Conversations and Connections conference in Pittsburgh this past fall, you may remember this particular book, which was the featured novel. Maybe you even took home a copy. It was published in 2014, by White Gorilla press, a relatively new outfit publishing fiction and poetry and headquartered in New Jersey. The book is about a woman who wants to escape her life but is having some trouble getting going. She’s addicted to heroin, and is in codependent relationships with her boyfriend and, in a sense, with the city of New Orleans. She’s got a bus ticket to Boulder, and a year to use it, but she’s having a tough time with those first, important steps.

On today’s episode we talk about the book for a while, though as usual you don’t have to read the book to enjoy the discussion. We consider what makes fiction feel “honest,” and the ways in which an engaging fictional narrator is like a tour guide to a place you’ve never been.

In the second half of the show, we’ve got a new, South Philly-centric segment we’re trying out, plus a few gripes about literary magazine submission guidelines, or at least the ones that include lots of pedantic rules. Hot takes all over the place!

Also: no duels. This week’s episode is an entirely duel-free zone.

If you like the show, and want us to keep making it, you can always donate money to the cause by clicking on the little piggy bank over there in the right-hand column. But this year, even more than money, we’re hoping you’ll consider helping us reach new listeners. You can do that in a few ways:

  • Post about the show on Twitter, or Facebook, or Tumblr, or whatever cool new social media site you’re hip to that we don’t even know exists.
  • Write us a review in iTunes, which helps us connect with more people via Apple’s complicated algorithms.
  • Tell your book-loving friends about the show.

If you do either of those first two (or can figure out a way to prove to us that you did the third) we will write you a blurb and read it on the show, as we’ve done in the past for our financial backers. Just send us a screencap, or tag us in the post (we’re on Twitter and Facebook; we don’t really understand Tumblr, and something about the missing ‘e’ has always struck us as suspicious).

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.

You can also support the show by shopping at Powell’s: if you click on any of the links around our site, then shop as you normally would, we’ll get a small percentage of every dollar you spend.

Stream Episode 110:

Download Episode 110 (right-click, save-as)