Weekly Geeks: Did Somebody Say “Podcast”?

I haven’t participated in a Weekly Geeks for a while – but I couldn’t resist this week’s entitled “Podcasts Anyone?”

My original list of favorite podcasts went up back in April – but since then I’ve discovered a few more to share.  Because, I’ll say it again, the next best thing to reading books is reading about books.  And when that isn’t an option…

The Guardian Books Podcast (with Claire Armitstead) –  This weekly podcast provides an overview of what’s going on in the world of books, authors, literary prizes and festivals on the other side of the pond.  It’s a showcase of all things literary out of the UK and I became completely hooked thanks to their series on the 2009 Hay Festival (a yearly literary festival held at Hay-on-Wye in England).  Festivals aren’t your thing?  The author interviews and book discussions are also well done, informative and entertaining.  The podcasts provides a nice heads up on books yet to be published Stateside.  But there is a dark side…  How so? you ask.  Well, lets just say I’ve discovered first hand the strength of the dollar on amazon.uk.

Start the Week with Andrew Marr –While not ostensibly about books, Marr hosts men and women with different areas expertise – often authors, musicians, filmmakers and other artsy types – in a roundtable discussion.  It’s a lot like finding yourself at a fabulous cocktail party full of interesting people.  There’s no theme and appears to be no logic as to who is chosen for a particular show.  (Case in point, the programme information from this week reads: “Tom Sutcliffe discusses tradition and modernity with musician Nitin Sawhney, drama and wartime plots with writer and director Stephen Poliakoff, progress and conservation with the science historian Harriet Ritvo, and the uses and abuses of scientific ideas with Dennis Sewell”).    Your best course of action, at the party and with the podcast, is to nod knowingly and attempt to laugh at appropriate times.   Added bonus of the podcast:  no need to try to keep up with the witty repertoire.

Book Reviews with Simon Mayo – The Brits  take their reading seriously.  My current fave,  Book Reviews with Simon Mayo features two authors, their books, 3 critics and Simon (or is it 2 critics and Simon?… dam accent).  Everyone, including the authors, have taken the time to read both books and are expected to weigh in with their opinions.  The discussion is in-depth (down to the cover art).  Even better: no one pulls their punches.  That means not all books get a positive review.   But the tone is civil and the critique usually spot on.  These are people who love books and are having a good time discussing what they’ve read.  Rather than attempting to impress each other with their literary prowess.

The Moth PodcastThe Moth is an open mike where people tell true stories, without notes, in front of a live audience.  That’s the intro to the podcast. (Yes, I memorized it. No, I don’t have a life).  If you only have time to download one podcast after reading this post – this is the one.  The stories  range from incredibly funny (the American editor of French Vogue’s haunted apartment in Paris), to harrowing (a girl in her 20’s capture and escape from Congolese rebels), to a combination of the two.  The Moth is proof positive, week after week, that you can’t make this stuff up.

The New York Review of Books (NYRB) –This seems to have become a BBC scewed list.  Thank goodness for my NYRB!  Not to be confused with The New York Times Book Review, the NYRB is a monthly-ish journal that features reviews of fiction & non-fiction titles, as well as articles on current events that may not have made it to prime time.   The podcast ties into the current issue  and provides an in-depth discussion of a single article featured in the print copy.  This is not a re-hashing of the actual article, but a companion piece that often takes the form of an interview with the author.  Listen to the NYRB and if you ever do get invited to that cocktail party at Andrew Marr’s you might have something to add to the conversation.

Is This the Future of the Book Group? I sure hope so!

The Guardian posted an interesting article that I recommend taking a moment to read, particularly if you think of reading as a social activity (that’s what BookSexy is all about!).  The author was invited to take part in a Book Swap.  He and another writer were instructed to bring along a book to discuss, and eventually swap, with the audience.  The creative mind behind this is Scott Pack, described as one of the mavericks of the British book trade. He hosted the first event in his hometown and according to the article it was incredibly successful at creating a lively discussion/exchange between the attendees.

Pack’s idea is that a  Book Swap would be an alternative to literary festivals or author book tours.   But I could easily imagine swaps taking the place of the ubiquitous book clubs that have started to become a bit stagnant in my opinion.  Whereas I could see a swap being attractive to a more diverse audience – younger, hipper, both men and women – rather than niche groups interested in only the one author, genre or book that these events usually feature.

Here are a few benefits I see of a Book Swap over a traditional Book Club:

  • Rather than reading a specific title, you could pick a theme for the meet-up: works by a specific author, from a specific time period,  hold a poetry or art book night, bring along your favorite Pulitzer Prize winner, etc.
  • Let’s face it, everyone’s free time is limited these days. The beauty of a book swap is that no one will be obligated to read a  book that they are not interested in.  Even if someone is having a particularly hectic month, they can still take part with a book they’d read in the past.
  • The group wouldn’t be dependent on the same people showing up for every meeting. Attendance at the prior event wouldn’t be necessary, so swapping people in and out wouldn’t be disruptive
  • The atmosphere would be more cocktail party and less AA meeting.  The added bonus is it makes it more difficult for that one person (you know who I mean) to take over the floor and use the get together as their own personal therapy session.

Click here for a description of the original event hosted at a renovated & re-purposed fire station in Pack’s hometown. It gives a glimpse into his intentions and pointers on how to put together an invitation/advertisement to hold your own.

And because I want to give credit for a fabulous idea where credit is due, here is a link to Scott Pack’s blog.