Book Fight!

Tough love for literature

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Episode 55: George Bataille, Blue of Noon

This week we’ve got another listener pick, which is both a modernist classic and kinda gross. There’s lots of depravity in Bataille’s novel, including characters befouling a hotel room and a narrator who maybe had sex (or at least contemplated sex?) with his dead mother. We try to figure out if the book is shocking for the sake of being shocking, or if there’s a greater aesthetic pursuit in Bataille’s work. We also talk about the Spanish Civil War, the pitfalls of academic analysis, and surrealist absurdity.


In our second segment, we consider the role of a creative writing instructor when it comes to students writing unsettling work. Mike talks about an interview question he was forced to answer after the Virginia Tech shooting, and Tom shares a couple anecdotes about issues that have cropped up in his classes.

You can read Bataille’s piece The Solar Anus here, through The Anarchist Library. You can order Lee Klein’s Thanks and Sorry and Good Luck here, on the Barrelhouse site. You can support Powell’s (and give back to the show) by clicking on the cover image above, or any of the Powell’s links on our site.

As always, stream the episode here on our site, or visit us in iTunes, where you can subscribe (for free) and never miss another episode. Also, we’re happy to get feedback on what we talked about: drop us a line, or leave a comment here on the site.


Download Episode 55 (right-click, save-as)


Episode 37: Tom Robbins, Even Cowgirls Get the Blues

This week Mike revisits an author he loved as a 17-year-old, and takes Tom along for the ride. How could that possibly go wrong?

Tom Robbins’ second novel, published in 1976, tells the story of Sissie Hankshaw, a beautiful woman with just one physical abnormality: her giant thumbs. Sissie makes use of her imperfection to become the world’s most successful hitchhiker, and later hooks up with the cowgirls of the Rubber Rose Ranch, who have taken over that former spa and remade it in their own image.


Talking points for the episode include: hippies, the band Phish, Tom’s grumpiness, Teddy Roosevelt’s love of rubber meatballs, metaphors for sex parts, and creepy uncles.

If you’re interested in the upcoming Barrelhouse-sponsored Philadelphia writers’ conference, you can get more information here. If you want to submit to the Barrelhouse joke contest, you can do that here. If you want to read the article Tom recommended in our MATR segment, here’s a link for that.

As always, you can stream the episode for free here on the site, or you can visit the iTunes store, where you can download all our episodes, and subscribe, so you never miss another episode. And please visit our sponsor, Powell’s, a great indie bookstore with a pretty tricked-out website. If you use the links on our site to get there, Powell’s will give us a small percentage of whatever money you spend. Win win!

Thanks for listening!


Download Episode 37 (right-click, save-as)

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Episode 25: Svetislav Basara

This week’s book, a Dalkey Archive translation of the Serbian writer Svetislav Basara’s Chinese Letter (Eastern European Literature), basically landed in Tom’s lap, and we figured we might as well read it. Luckily, the book turned out to be crazy in all the best possible ways. Talking points include: surrealism, humor as rapid-fire truth telling, white slave merchants, Raymond Queneau, and whether it’s ever okay for a book reviewer to use the phrase “show, don’t tell.” Also, Mike ambushes Tom a little about The Silver Linings Playbook, forcing him to finally explain why he hates that book and will never see the movie.


Our episode this week is sponsored by Outpost 19, a press with offices in New York and San Francisco, and specifically by Matthew Vollmer’s Inscriptions for Headstones. Each short piece in Vollmer’s collection is a single sentence, meant as a headstone inscription, and the constraint of form opens up really cool avenues for Vollmer to explore. You can hear Mike read one of the pieces at the 36:00 mark, and we pretty much dare you to listen to that and then NOT go buy the book immediately. Click on the link above, or the image below, to check it out on the Powell’s site, where it was a featured indie book (and if you buy it from Powell’s, we’ll get a small cut of the purchase price, so win-win).


If you don’t believe us, you can read a review of Vollmer’s book here, or an excerpt here. See? We like the book so much we’re willing to link to Hobart; every now and then they accidentally get something right.

As always, you can stream the episode here on the site, or you can download the mp3 file. Or, click the iTunes link to download it (for free) in iTunes, or subscribe to the show and never miss another episode. While you’re in the iTunes store, it would be really great if you’d leave us a brief review and a rating, as those help us reach more new listeners. Thanks!

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Download Episode 25: Svetislav Basara, Chinese Letter (right-click, save-as)