The Magic of Podcasts (Redux)

The next best thing to reading a book is reading about books. Fact. But let’s face it: there are only so many hours in the day. Thankfully there are the Podcasts. (Seriously, what is sexier than an Ipod?) I subscribe to a few different ones on a variety of topics. Below are a few of my favorite literary podcasts. Needless to say (we are in a recession) they’re all free to download.

The Penguin Podcast – Beware! There are both British & American versions. My personal favorite is the British and it’s not just because of the nifty accent. Its has been a great source for new books and authors that haven’t yet made the leap across the pond. Luckily, even we Yanks can order from AmazonUK. All the books featured are published by Penguin (and eventually its American affiliates). Additional value comes from good quality production, entertaining readings by the authors and rather catchy music mixes featuring quotes from books in the Penguin library. Average time: 15 minutes per episode, with new episodes about 1-2 times a month (though lately they seem to be updating less).

Slate Audio Book club – Young, terminally hip and bordering on unacceptably smug… this podcast conforms to the Slate brand identity. The NYC group of three usually discusses a book that falls squarely into the critically acclaimed bestseller category. (Lately they’ve been reading a lot of recently deceased authors such as Updike and Wallace). Keep in mind that this is a discussion group, not a reading and not a review, so major plot points are revealed. There’s the added frustration of listening to people express opinions you don’t agree with and can’t respond to. On the plus side, it’s always informative, and a great resource for current fiction and non-fiction. Each episode lasts 1 hour.

World Book Club (The BBC) – I love the BBC (that accent again). This podcast features author interviews done in front of a live audience – doing a quick question and answer with the host and then taking audience, call in and emailed questions from readers. The authors featured are always at the top of their game. Toni Morrison, David Guterson, Iain Banks, Armistead Maupin and Michael Ondaatje are some examples. Overall the podcast is very entertaining, informative, with the added bonus of hearing the audiences’ responses, laughter and applause. Each episode lasts approximately 1 hour.

KCRW Bookworm – This is National Public Radio – kickin’ it OLD SCHOOL! Here is your chance to experience the classic author interview, done by an erudite NPR host. Expect obscure questions and inferences into the text that even the author has trouble following. Marvel at the strange emotional intonations and inappropriate pauses for emphasis as the interviewer goes on lengthy tangents that no one understands. And always expect to be faced with the age old question – who is REALLY the expert on this book? – The author or the NPR host/critic? Bookworm is a weekly radio program (more of an institution) out of California, so scheduling is consistent, shows 1 hour in length, and features a steady stream of relevant & established contemporary authors.

Short Stories (for those awful and unfortunate times when you can’t read):

The New Yorker: Fiction – The podcast features short stories from the archives of the New Yorker. The stories are guaranteed to be well written and well read. The stories are selected and read by a contemporary figure (writers, actors) – and always feature an insightful (or at least interesting) interview as to why the story was chosen. Each episode averages about a ½ hour, and they come out monthly. These are great on headset for doing chores, running errands, walking the dog or commuting to work.

PRI: Selected Shorts – Fabulous reading from members of the American Theater at the NY Symphony Space (broadcast by NY Public Radio). Each episode lasts about 1 hour and consists of a variety of short readings. One program I listened to included a short story by Kate Chopin, Mark Twain, a fairy tale and readings from Capote letters. The readers are equally as impressive, featuring the likes of John Lithgow (my personal favorite). Recommend listening while making dinner.

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