Episode 87: OOPS! Hiatus.

As you may have gathered from our infrequent posting, we’re taking something of a hiatus. We’re going to have a few special episodes in the coming months, with the goal of getting back into our regular rhythm some time in the spring. But keep your subscriptions current and check back soon. Meanwhile, here’s our going away ditty.


Episode 86: Time to Play the Feud

Literary feuds, aging pro-wrestler memoirs, Labatt Blue, Henry James’ classic story “The Middle Years,” wondering if we’ve done enough with our lives … it’s just another day at WITTScast HQ. Come join us.

Topics & Reading Discussed

Episode 85: Fiction Off the Top Rope

Philip Roth! To Jon’s delight, the boys spend the bulk of this episode ruminating on the style, method, and subject matter of Philip Roth, using the opening of The Human Stain as the springboard for the conversation. They also offer a quick update about their writing, revision, and submission process.

Topics & Reading Discussed

Episode 84: True Refreshment Comes From Within

Brian’s got a new coffee shop across town, Ben’s got heavy equipment next door, and Jon’s got the path to enlightenment right down the street. Despite the distractions, the guys are writing, submitting, and, in this episode, discussing Memory Blake Peebles’ “The Sugar Bowl.”

Topics and Reading Discussed

Episode 83: Continuing Education

It may be the end of summer, but the WITTScasters aren’t letting the dog days get them down. Brian is writing, Jon is revising, and Ben is submitting. One of them is even going back to school, which leads to a debate about the role of formal education in a writer’s life. But first, the boys turn their attention–if not their powers of pronunciation–to Jodi Angel’s story “Centrifugal Force.”

Topics and Reading Discussed

Episode 82: “Joan of Arc With a Skunk” and Other Titles

Pour a glass of fine scotch and sit back while the boys tackle the peaty stench of inspiration, titles, dictionaries, flash fiction, and more. Then they turn to a lively discussion of that writer’s writer’s writer Lydia Davis, and selections from her collected stories.

Topics and Reading Discussed

Episode 81: Honest Fiction

It’s been a hell of a summer in WITTSville, and the guys are still trying to get their shit together. Brian is now a husband, Ben is now a landowner, and Jon is now a father. Amid all the turmoil, they find time to discuss wedding-crashing moose, single-malt free-for-alls, Paris author readings, newborn semaphore, and–better late than never–Edith Pearlman’s “Wait and See.”

Topics and Reading Discussed

  • Edith Pearlman’s “Wait and See” is online at The American Scholar.
  • When dealing with fiction writers, it’s always smart to verify any outlandish tales they tell you. In this case, Brian’s moose story checks out.
  • Ben stumbled onto a Lydia Davis / Jonathan Safran Foer reading at Shakespeare & Co. in Paris. Some pics of the event are here.
  • Is Go Set a Watchman an intriguing complication of an oversimplified character or should it have never been published… or both?
  • If you were disappointed to see Atticus’ flaws in Go Set a Watchman, maybe don’t watch The Trip to Italy.
  • The Things They Carried, Jon says, is a great example of an “honest fiction.”
  • Jon’s still grumbling about All the Light We Cannot See, and while he liked The Narrow Road to the Deep North by Richard Flanagan a lot more than Anthony Doerr’s novel, he sees in both books the “creaky hinge” of the fiction writer trying to wrangle a complicated plot into submission.
  • Beglin, Bender, and Pearlman… quite a lineup.
  • Hold the fucking phone! Everything you thought you knew about shrimp vision is wrong!

Episode 80: Marriage! Kids! Houses! (or, “Bring the Darkness”)

Ben, Brian, and Jon didn’t get to the story they’d planned this week. But it’s fine, it’s fine — instead, they set aside some time to talk about all the big, new milestones in their lives right now, including becoming a father, owning a home, getting married, seeing the world… and assessing all art through the prism of the Barenaked Ladies.

Topics and Reading Discussed

  • Jerry Rice: Number 80 on the field, number one in your heart.
  • Jon’s philosophy of parenting comes from — bear with him — Sheri Fink’s nonfiction book Five Days at Memorial, a life-and-death account of a New Orleans hospital during Hurricane Katrina and one of the best books Jon read last year.
  • Kids these days prefer All the Pretty Horses to Goodnight Moon, at least in the Sealy household.
  • Typing the first few pages of a great story or novel is a great way to jump-start your own writing session; Jon first tried this with Richard Brautigan’s story “1/3, 1/3, 1/3” (PDF) and just recently with Kent Haruf’s Plainsong.  (Just don’t let the whole exercise spiral out of control like it did in Tobias Wolff’s novel Old School.)
  • If you wanted to emulate a writer, you could do a lot worse than Sam Lipsyte or Aimee Bender.
  • “The prince has always liked his London,” begins Henry James’ The Golden Bowl. Hopefully Ben does, too.
  • It will help if London has an answer to Dublin’s Literary Pub Crawl. They must, right?
  • At the very least, Ben should be able to find some locals to talk about the greats of cricket, like Sachin Tendulkar, Lasith “Slinga” Malinga, and… well, they can’t all be great.
  • Historically, Brian will leap to defend Barenaked Ladies, but he thinks their last two albums have been a letdown. Ben has experienced a bit of the same with Lyle Lovett’s latest, Release Me. What to do when you aren’t connecting with your formative favorites anymore?
  • Jon (reliably) relates the problem back to writing, noting that even his dude Cormac McCarthy puts out a dud sometimes.
  • Similarly, sometimes you’re afraid to revisit novels you loved in your youth because they might not resonate like they used to. See McCarthy’s Outer Dark or Michael Chabon’s The Mysteries of Pittsburgh.

Episode 79: How to Be a Husband

Get an attic. Buy your wife a loom. Marry a spicy Canadian. Recycle. Communicate about your depression. Leading up to Brian’s wedding, the guys turn to literature to see what fiction has to say about how to be a good husband. Because only trouble is interesting (as Janet Burroway said in her book on writing fiction), good husbands are hard to find in great literature. But the boys find some solace in Bret Lott’s essay “On Posterity.”

Topics and Reading Discussed

  • Bret Lott’s “On Posterity,” over at the Kenyon Review, provides fodder for an existential discussion about the purpose of writing.
  • In the English marriage plot (see Pride & Prejudice or Jane Eyre), the story ends with the couple getting hitched.
  • By the time modernism rolls around (see Ulysses or Tender Is the Night or Revolutionary Road), affairs and divorce become acceptable subjects for fiction.
  • Brian looks back to the Odyssey to find a husband  who just wants to get home to his wife. Along the way, remember to avoid the sirens, fight the cyclops and dress up as an old woman.
  • Ben noticed Alice Munro often writes about long, relatively happy marriages (at least until the end — see “The Bear Came over the Mountain” in Hateship Friendship Courtship Loveship Marriage).
  • Ben’s favorite authors don’t do much with happy marriages. Gary Lutz’s most recent novel is called Divorcer, and Sam Lipsyte’s The Ask doesn’t end well for the marriage.
  • Jon recommends Levin and Kitty’s marriage in Anna Karenina as a good model.
  • He also noted that the importance of communication shows up in a section of Jonathan Franzen’s The Corrections, and is a central theme of Bret Lott’s The Man Who Owned Vermont and Raymond Carver’s “A Small Good Thing.”

Episode 78: Summertime

It’s summertime! Time to plan our vacation reading and, in Jon’s case, figure out what books are best to read to a newborn. In Episode 78, the guys talk summer reading, infant language development, World War II history, and cat leashes. Then they get blown away by Charles Baxter’s “The Next Building I Plan to Bomb.”

Topics and Reading Discussed