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Episode 170: Winter of Wayback, 1866 (Silas Weir Mitchell)

This week we’re setting our time-machine for 1866, our earliest year yet. The Civil War had recently ended. Americans were still mourning the loss of Abraham Lincoln, and trying their best to tolerate the dope who’d replaced him. Also, people were, by and large, really fucking racist.

Our story this week is called “The Case of George Dedlow,” by Silas Weir Mitchell, and you can read it here, via Cornell University’s free Making of America archives. For context, we’d also suggest this 2009 article from The Lancet. You may recognize Mitchell’s name: he later became famous, as a physician, for coming up with “the rest cure.” But he also wrote fiction, including this story that attempted to build upon his experiences as a surgeon in the Civil War.

Here’s the author in a more contemplative moment, perhaps still thinking about the many amputees he encountered in the war.

Lots of other stuff to talk about this week, too: debates over reconstruction; the sex lives of mermaids; racist medical practices; conspiracies about Lincoln’s assassination; and a man who was sued for $100k by the woman he failed to marry.

A couple links for further reading: Three Months Among the Reconstructionists, by Sidney Andrews, and a case for more aggressive reconstruction by Frederick Douglas, both published in 1866 in The Atlantic.

As always, you can stream the episode right here on our site. Or visit us in the iTunes store, where you can catch up on back episodes and subscribe (for free!) so you never miss another weekly installment. Our show should also be available through any of the popular podcasting apps. If you can’t find us with your preferred app, please let us know! We’re also happy to hear your feedback on the things we talked about. You can always email us, leave a comment here on the site, or hit us up on Twitter or Facebook.

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Episode 168: Winter of Wayback, 1961 (Tillie Olsen)

This week we’ve set the time machine for 1961, and we’re reading a story by the renowned writer and activist Tillie Olsen. She’s not a household name these days, but her work is still appreciated (and taught in universities). The story we read, “I Stand Here Ironing,” comes from her one story collection, Tell Me A Riddle, and was featured in the Best American Short Stories anthology.

Here’s a photo of the author and her husband modeling gender equality via bicycle.


In addition to the story, we talk about other 1961 literary news, including hipster poets and a critical J.D. Salinger backlash. Plus: a racist conspiracy, Philadelphia corruption, and gigolos!

As always, you can stream the episode right here on our site, by clicking on the little player thing below. Or download the mp3 file. You can also find us in the iTunes store, where you can download back episodes and subscribe (for free!) so that you’ll never miss another weekly installment.

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Episode 166: Winter of Wayback, 1877 (Deadwood Dick)

Look, the United States right now is a goddamned nightmare. So we figured we’d time travel back to a better time: 1877! We thought it would be fun to read this dime-store novel by Edward L. Wheeler. We figured we’d check in and see what wacky hijinks America was getting up to at the tail of the 19th century. What could possibly go wrong?

Turns out that what seemed, at first glance, to be nothing more than fun, escapist Old West literature was in fact kind of a turgid mess, and also a story that insisted on reminding us, every few pages, of America’s horrifyingly xenophobic past (luckily we’ve put all that behind us now and everything is super chill).

Also, it turns out 1877 was a pretty bloody year, one in which the diamond-encrusted boots of rich capitalists stomped again and again on the necks of both organized and unorganized labor (luckily America put all that behind us over the last century-plus and everyone these days gets paid a living wage and is treated with the decency that should be afforded all human beings).

Anyway, you should listen to this week’s episode. If, while listening, the Earth’s rising oceans threaten to wetten your ears, take your earbuds out, because that’s probably an electrocution risk.

See you on the other side!

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Episode 164: Winter of Wayback, 1978 (H.L. Sintetos, “Telling the Bees”)

In 1978, the writer H.L. Sintetos had a story featured in the annual Best American Short Stories anthology, after which she seemed to mostly disappear from the literary world. Which is particularly disappointing given how good that story was. We both enjoyed “Telling the Bees,” a thoughtful portrayal of a woman coming to terms with her own solitude.

This week we talk about Sintetos’s story, and what (to our minds, at least) separate it from lesser versions of stories about “wise country folks,” some of which can come across as patronizing. We also try to figure out what happened to Sintetos, and why we’d never heard of her work.

In lieu of a photo of the author, please enjoy this image of a Billy Joel mask, which will make more sense once you listen to this week’s show.


In addition to the story, we talk about lots of other 1978 stuff, including serial killers, a Papal conspiracy theory, dark days in Philadelphia, a possible Owl Man, plus Grease and Sha Na Na!

As always, you can stream the show right here on our site, by clicking on the little player thingy below. Or download the mp3 file to play on your favorite device. You can also find us in the iTunes store, where you can subscribe (for free!) and never miss another episode.

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Episode 162: Winter of Wayback, 1988 (Mary La Chapelle)

This week we’re time-traveling back to 1988: U2’s Rattle and Hum was climbing the charts, Die Hard and Crocodile Dundee II ruled the box office, and A.L.F. was king (of our hearts). Also, the writer Mary La Chapelle won a Whiting Award, and lots of praise for her first story collection, House of Heroes. If you’re unfamiliar with La Chapelle’s work, that may be because she’s yet to publish another book since that promising debut (though she continues to teach at Sarah Lawrence, where she runs the MFA program).


We don’t want to speculate too much about what’s going on with La Chapelle and her work–plenty of writers, after all, have taken lots of years in between books (Mike’s former teacher, Marilynne Robinson, comes to mind). Instead, we dig into the first story in her 1988 collection, “Anna in a Small Town,” about a mime and a giant, which you can read for free via Google Books.

We also talk about lots of other 1988 news, including a Philadelphia garbage barge that found itself on a years-long world tour, plus plenty of behind-the-scenes details about A.L.F., a show that was apparently a lot more fun to watch than it was to work on.

Speaking of A.L.F., here’s the clip we mentioned on the show, in which he says the n-word and also acts like a creep toward his teenaged co-star.

As always, you can stream the show right here on our site, by clicking on the little player thingy below, or download the mp3 file. You can also visit us in the iTunes store, where you can subscribe (for free!) and never miss another weekly installment. If you want to weigh in on what we talked about this week, feel free to leave a comment here on the site, send us an email, or hit us up on Twitter or Facebook.

Thanks for listening!

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Episode 160: Winter of Wayback, 1966 (Philip K. Dick)

It’s the first episode of 2017’s Winter of Wayback, perhaps our favorite seasonal feature. This week, listeners, please join us in time-traveling to 1966. The Beatles were bigger than Jesus! The Church of Satan was founded! And Philip K. Dick published the short story that would eventually be adapted into the movie Total Recall. You can read his story “We Can Remember it for You Wholesale” here.

Here we see the famous sci-fi author predicting both Glamour Shots and Tinder. He really was a soothsayer!


As regular listeners know, Mike doesn’t often like science fiction. This week, he’s perhaps figured out where that mental block comes from. Also, Tom introduces his new seasonal feature, in which he promises to investigate some of history’s greatest (and weirdest) conspiracy theories.

As always, you can stream the show here on our site, by clicking on the player below. Or download the mp3 file, and do with it what you will. You can always find us in the iTunes store, too, or wherever it is you get your podcasts. We’re also happy to hear your feedback. You can leave a comment on the post itself, shoot us an email, or hit us up on either Twitter or Facebook.

Thanks for listening!

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Episode 117: Winter of Wayback, 1935 (John Dickson Carr)

This week we set our literary time machine to 1935, a year that’s considered part of the “Golden Age of Detective Fiction.” That led us to author John Dickson Carr, who became famous as a writer of mystery and detective novels, particularly what’s now known as “locked room” mysteries.

Here’s a picture of him looking all mid-30’s dapper.


Other stuff happened in 1935, too. Some weird-sounding Australian animal went extinct. Philadelphia politics got real ugly. And monkeys ran amok in the streets of New York City, leading to headlines like this one.

Screen Shot 2016-02-22 at 7.56.10 PM

A real wacky year. And a very entertaining episode! Which we would say more about here, except a) you should just click on the player thingy below and listen to it, and b) one of us went out last night, ostensibly to “have a couple beers” and watch a televised college basketball game with a few friends, and was then talked into more beers, and even more beers, and two changes of venue, the second of which found your correspondent dancing to club remixes–“bangers,” we think the kids call them–at a Philadelphia gay bar. It was a good time, and yet also a reminder of why we rarely stay out till last call these days. Anyway: enjoy the episode!

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Episode 113: Winter of Wayback, 1883 (Sarah Orne Jewett)

Hey, did you catch last night’s big game? You know, the football contest? The Carolina Whats-Its against the Denver Something-Or-Others?

Sorry, we actually kind of hate it when writers talk that way about sports. I mean, we get it: you’re far too intellectual and cultured to ever watch a sport as brutish as American football, which of course you always refer to as American football, to distinguish it from those Premier League matches you get up early for on Saturdays. “This is the real football,” you say to your empty apartment. “I’m a citizen of the world.”

Anyway, one of us watched the big game. The other of us met a friend for drinks at a bar with no television. Said friend is a European academic, and an avowed socialist, so it’s possible that one of us will soon be deported. We’ll have to record the show via Skype. Anyway, the one of us who didn’t watch the game doesn’t have anything against football per se, or the NFL, he’s just kind of ambivalent about the whole deal, so when given the option of drinking a couple fancy IPAs and eating half of a burrata flatbread and talking to an interesting friend about life, and books, and the vagaries of online dating (said friend recently joined, and then promptly quit, an online dating site, after being barraged with messages from creeps), the choice was easy enough.

Sorry, none of this has anything to do with this week’s episode, which is really quite good, but which is not about football, nor about sharing drinks with European academics, but about the year 1883, a year which presumably featured all kinds of great literature, though the story we picked–“An Only Son,” by Sarah Orne Jewett–was, to be honest, not super-great. We understand Jewett is a celebrated chronicler of New England life, but: woof.

No offense to Jewett, though really, if she didn’t want us to make fun of her, she should’ve written a more interesting story.

Luckily for you, the listener, lots of other, much more interesting stuff was happening in 1883. Like, a tugboat painter kept having the same painting stolen. And a Philadelphia contest challenged people to drink water from the Schuylkill River (something neither of us would advise). Also, Mike’s great-great-great grandfather may or may not have killed a Native American.


Here’s a picture of the general store in Saratoga, Wyoming, run by Mike’s great-great-great grandfather and his brother. Here’s a link to the obituary of Mike’s ancestor, W.B. Hugus. We’d link here to the book passage that suggests Hugus helped murder a Native American, but it’s only available behind a library-site paywall (but you can hear it read on the show).

You can stream this week’s episode by clicking on the little player thingy below, or you can download the mp3 file. Or, visit us in the iTunes store, or wherever you get your podcasts, to download past episodes and subscribe (for free!) to make sure you never miss another installment. While you’re over there in iTunes, leave us a rating and a review.

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Episode 109: Winter of Wayback, 1914 (The Smart Set)

Back by popular demand (or at least “occasional request”) we’re embarking upon another Winter of Wayback! For those of you who weren’t with us the last time around, here’s how it works: 1) We pick a year (actually, a year is picked for us by a random number generator). 2) We pick a story or essay to read from that year. 3) Each of us does some research into other happenings from that year, literary and otherwise. 4) We get together and press record and then start talking into microphones. 5) You listen to the things we said and you laugh and/or cry and/or experience other human emotions. 6) You tell your friends how podcasts work, and then you wait patiently for them to finish listening to Season 1 of Serial, and then you tell them about our podcast, and specifically these Winter of Wayback episodes, and they’re like, “Have you been sitting there this whole time, while I listened to Serial? Because honestly that’s kind of weird. Though not as weird as America’s criminal justice system, am I right?” 7) You might have to get new friends. Or just listen to more episodes of our podcast, and let us be your friends. We won’t judge you for turning down a Friday-night date because you’d rather eat Swedish Fish and watch ALF reruns on YouTube. We won’t judge you for drinking that expired eggnog at the back of the fridge. “You’re totally right,” we’ll say, “pouring a little more rum in there will totally kill off any harmful bacteria.”


Sorry, at least one-half of us is a little punchy this evening. A new semester starts tomorrow. It’s our last evening of freedom. And you know what we’re doing with it? Writing up these show notes, and making sure the episode is set to drop in the morning, because that’s how much we love you. Well, at least one-half of us loves you. The other half of us is off in suburban Jersey right now, probably drinking small-batch bourbon and watching old California Raisin videos on the internet, like some kind of goddamned robber baron.

What were we talking about again? Oh, right: the Winter of Wayback. It’s happening. It’s here. Get excited.

Up first is 1914. Which, as it turns out, is the year H.L. Mencken took over as editor of a magazine called The Smart Set, which after several years of serving as the only slightly higher-minded companion to the gossip rag Town Topics was completing its transition into a more serious literary publication. In fact, a number of scholars have posited that The Smart Set, under Mencken, served as a model for The New Yorker, which was founded in 1925.

You can check out back issues of The Smart Set, as well as several other influential journals of the period, via The Modernist Journal Project, which is a really great resource. You can also check out the re-booted, online Smart Set, which is run by Drexel University right here in Philadelphia.

H.L. Mencken in his office. He probably hates your dumb novel.

Mencken in his office. He probably hates your novel.

Rather than read one story this week, we checked out a few things from The Smart Set’s 1914 run, including Mencken’s pretty great roundups of new fiction. We also researched a couple authors published in the 1914 issues that we’d never heard of, including one who was a mentee of Theodore Dreiser’s and was later institutionalized, and another who was sued for libel and once attacked someone with a tennis racket. Literature!

Look, did we mention we were a little punchy? Did we mention we were feeling overworked and under-bourboned, as of late? Did we mention it’s nearly midnight, and we’re listening to Lucinda Williams and drinking Sleepytime Tea and hoping we’re adequately prepared for tomorrow’s classes?

Also this week we’ve got some news about tugboats, for some reason, and also some news about ladies, and also just a whole smorgasbord of high-quality podcasting entertainment. Won’t you give a listen?

Stream today’s episode by clicking on the little player below. Or download the mp3 file, and do with it what you will. Or, even better, visit us in the iTunes store, where you can subscribe (for free) and download all the back episodes you’ve missed while catching up on Adam Carolla or whatever. While you’re there, leave us a review, and a rating, which will help us reach new listeners. And tell your literature loving friends! Unless you hate the show, in which case: mum’s the word.

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Winter of Wayback: 1944

This week we’ve set the Wayback Machine for 1944, where we’re reading a bit of literary criticism by Raymond Chandler: an essay called “The Simple Art of Murder” (which you can read for free at that link). The essay was originally written in 1944, and then revised for inclusion in Chandler’s 1950 story collection of the same name. In the piece, Chandler argues that too much second-rate detective fiction is rooted in fundamental dishonesty, and he praises the hard-boiled style of fellow writer Dashiell Hammett.

Of course we’ve also got lots of other 1944-related stories, including the origins of the Chiquita Banana jingle and cartoon character. Here she is in “Chiquita Banana and the Cannibals,” saving a man’s life and then making banana scallops with her suddenly human hands.

Also: The story of The Cleve Cartwell affair, in which Cartwell, a science fiction writer, penned a story about an atomic bomb that convinced the government there must be a mole in the Manhattan Project. You can read the two-part story about Cartwell in Asimov’s Science Fiction here, and here.

You can read the interview with Jonathan Franzen we talked about, in which he throws some shade at Jennifer Weiner, here, via Booth.

As always, we’d love to hear what you think. You can send us an email, hit us up on Twitter, or just leave a comment right here on the site. Also, don’t forget: We’re still in the thick of our annual fund drive, so if you haven’t already, please check out our Indiegogo campaign and give us a little bit of your hard-earned cash.

You can stream the episode right here on our site, by clicking on the little player thingy below. Or download the mp3 file. Or, visit us in the iTunes store, where you can subscribe (for free!) and never miss another installment. While you’re there, leave us a rating and a review, which will help us reach new listeners.


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