Okay, I admit, I’m not really “counting.” This is just a list of reasons, in no particular order, that Book Fight! is my favorite podcast.
It’s about books, reading, writing, and other book-adjacent topics. But, its hosts are comfortable following all kinds of tangents to almost anywhere. (This second part is not for everyone, but I myself am totally on board with the tangents.)
Speaking of the hosts, their names are Mike Ingram and Tom McAllister. The first thing I love about them, as hosts, is that while they have occasional guests, there are never guest hosts. The only episodes that featured only Tom or only Mike were the AWP bonus episodes, the one year that Tom went to the AWP Conference and Mike stayed back in Philadelphia. I appreciate that level of commitment, where they’ll sometimes record two or three episodes in advance if one of them is going to be out of town, so listeners will always have both of them on the show.
The whole atmosphere of the show is very relaxed. The two guys have been friends for at least ten years, I think, having met when they both attended the highly-respected Iowa Writers’ Workshop. They usually record in Tom’s basement (aka “the Book Fight! Basement”), and often drink beer while they record. They swear a lot, so if you’re offended by mature language, this show is NOT for you. In many episodes, one of them will make a questionable comment, followed by the statement, “We’ll probably just cut that,” or, “Might want to edit that out.” I have no idea how often they actually DO edit things out, but considering the amount of stuff they say they’ll cut but never do, I’m guessing that almost all of it stays in. So they say a lot of goofy or potentially offensive things, but they’re very self-aware and often poke fun at themselves as well as one another.
Other common occurrences to listen for:
The skillful transition from one segment or topic to another, which is immediately made less impressive because they still can’t resist calling attention to what a good transition it was;
The mispronunciation of many words and names, which they usually apologize for and try to correct, but even after that they might still get it wrong, but you forgive them because it’s endearing and you know they don’t mean any harm — except maybe with the name Coetzee because that was sort of a running gag of its own;
Mentions of their ongoing “feud” with Hobart magazine (which I’m pretty sure is a joke), and their strong dislike for Narrative magazine (which is definitely not a joke);
Tom’s tendency in the earlier episodes to say he was “on the Tweeters” when he talked about Twitter;
Reminders that Mike is from The South, even though he has no southern accent at all;
All the times that Tom uses the words “rage” or “enraged,” which unfortunately DOES paint him as “the Angry One” even though he dislikes that moniker;
All the times that Mike uses the word “delightful,” sometimes paired with a hearty and genuine laugh, which unfortunately adds to the perception that Tom is “the Angry One”;
Mentions of Tom’s wife, who sounds like a glorious and kind person who has the patience of a saint;
Mike talking about his bad memory, and corresponding evidence to support that statement — for example, the fact that they’ve done a ton of episodes, and Mike is the one who edits them, but he usually forgets if it’s the rating or recommendation that comes first, as well as who is supposed to rate first;
and last but certainly not least, mentions of Matthew Quick, aka “Q,” and references to his novel The Silver Linings Playbook (including the extra-long special episode where Mike and Tom discussed and dissected the book, and explored Tom’s frustration with the book’s success).
The thing that really hooked me on Book Fight! was the way it made me laugh — specifically, this exchange from the episode Writers Ask: Take This Job and Shove It:
T: This question is from Mike P. — not you, Mike P.
M: I wonder if “P” stands for “Pterodactyl.”
T: (laughs) Mike Pterodactyl. He’s the last of his kind.
M: Do you think that, if you have a name where the first letter is silent, do you still abbreviate it as that letter?
T: Like Mike Pt., or would it be Mike T.?
M: So if you knew a guy named Mike Pterodactyl —
M: — and somebody said like, “Hey, Mike P.!” I feel like you might be like, “Wait, wait, who are they talking about?”
T: Mike Pterodactyl. Ah —
M: Although I guess if your last name was Pterodactyl, people would probably just not shorten it, cuz that’s an awesome last name.
T: It sounds like a gumshoe’s name: Detective Mike Pterodactyl, swooping in.
M: (Laughs.) Sorry to derail the question. Sorry, Mike.
T: No, that’s actually, he didn’t ask a question, it just says “From Mike P.” Do with it what you will.
M: Just talk about my name.
T: No, Mike P. has kind of a sad question, actually. Prepare yourself.
(Mike P. recently lost his job as an adjunct teacher at “Giant State University.”)
T: So there was a school at a Giant where there was a creative writing class taught by a pterodactyl … this sounds amazing.
(Tom and Mike go on to discuss the cons of being an adjunct in academia instead of a regular member of the teaching staff.)
T: With no job security, no insurance … the fact that you can lose your job two days before the semester [starts], like the pterodactyl did.
What starts as an amusing, off-the-cuff comment from Mike, is then woven into a more serious conversation about the difficulties of adjunct positions in universities. When I first heard this episode, I was one of those people who still couldn’t tell which voice was Mike and which was Tom, but it didn’t matter: once I’d been introduced to Mike Pterodactyl, I was all in on Book Fight!
In my opinion, one of the funniest episodes ever is Episode 50, the 2013 Christmas Spectacular, where they discuss a slightly Christmas-themed romance novella by Lori Foster, and the book The Christmas Wedding by James Patterson and Some Other Guy. (The holiday episodes always feature two books.) I’m not sure how many times I’ve listened to it, but there are parts of it that still make me laugh out loud. “That’s just Gabby!” “She’s a menace!” I also love the “sex montage” in the romance novella, where according to Mike and Tom, there’s a sort of “camera” that pans from one bedroom to the next, where we get bits of conversation, before each of the couples start having sex. (Truthfully, any time the guys tackle a romance novel, the results are delightful.)
A few of my other favorites:
Spring of Spite: Richard Yates, “Oh Joseph, I’m So Tired” — The discussion of the story is solid, and Mike and Tom both enjoyed reading it, but my favorite part of the episode is the story Mike found on Reddit, about the guy with all the pies. Priceless!
Episode 95: Elissa Washuta, “Consumption” — This episode might hold the record for Greatest Number of Minutes Into the Episode Before the Book/Essay/Story is Finally Introduced. Tom has a novel coming out in the not-too-distant-future-we-hope, and a couple days before they recorded this episode, his publisher told him to come up with a different title for the book. The guys feel bad about short-changing the essay, which they both liked, but the Epic Title Discussion just couldn’t be contained.
Writers Ask: Here Comes Your 19th Nervous Breakdown — This is another one I’ve listened to so many times I’ve lost count. Mike is feeling down in the dumps, as the novel he’s been writing for a significant amount of time just isn’t coming together. Even though he has reservations about National Novel Writing Month (though Tom has a stronger dislike for it, as documented in the Writers Ask episode NaNoWriMoNoNo), Mike is considering whether he should actually participate in it, to give himself time and distance from his troublesome writing project, and force him to think about something completely different. The trip into the NaNoWriMo forums is hysterical, resulting in an idea for a book called “Jerk Ghost,” as well as questions like, “Do you think all the characters are just named after third-rate sodas?” and, “Are the answers that this person is insane and they’re experiencing a psychotic break?” This ep also shows a less angry side of Tom, who says at one point, “I’m trying to comfort you here!” Good job, Tom!
Actually, all of the episodes that feature NaNoWriMo provide some laughs, so just go to bookfightpod.com and search for “nanowrimo” to track them down. (The 2015 episodes are slightly less funny because Tom’s feelings about the enterprise have mellowed, but they still include wacky questions from the forums.)
Fall of Failure #8: Brian Oliu and the Psychology of Failure — Sometimes, the guys do tackle bigger subjects and have substantive, thought-provoking conversations. Their exploration here of the “psychology of failure” is a great example.
One last point that is minor for some people, but I feel it needs to be said: the file size for each episode is ALWAYS REASONABLE. There are times when I want to download an episode of some other podcast, and it’s like 80 or even 100 MB for maybe an hour-long show, or even less than that. If you see an episode of Book Fight! that tips 40 MB, you can be sure you’re getting over an hour of Mike and Tom doing their thing.
In the weeks since I decided to write a blog post documenting my endless affection for Book Fight!, I’ve realized there’s one thing that’s still missing from my life that would definitely have come in handy: an episode index! Their website is great, and the search function works, but if I were independently wealthy and had a chunk of time to devote to a project with limited real-world value that would bring me many hours of contentment and laughter, I would totally start compiling that index.
But for now, this is one affectionately counted round in the books.
(Ready? Click one of the links above, buckle up, and listen to the award-winning Book Fight! podcast!)