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.

Weekly Geeks – Why haven’t I read this yet?

WeeklyGeeks.BottomThis week’s Weekly Geeks asks you to choose a book that has been languishing on your bookshelf and ask that age old question, why haven’t I read this yet?

It’s a good meme and a good question.  Because the first step is admitting you have a problem.  I’m a compulsive book buyer.  I’m tempted to go into a long, drawn out explanation touching on my first book memory, visits to the public library as a child, the constant re-arranging & reorganizing of my bookshelf at milestones of my life – but it’s probably safe to assume that most people reading this have the same problem.  So let’s cut straight to the chase…

The Nautical Chart by Arturo Pèrez-Reverte (current shelf life:  1 year, 1 month) – This novel was bought during a vacation on Sanibel Island last year, probably at the same time I purchased The Flander’s Panel.  If the bookmark stuck between the pages 34-35 is to be believed then this novel was engaged at some point.  It’s the story of a hunt for sunken treasure, features a down trodden hero and a beautiful woman with questionable motives.  The mystery is built around a lot of clever puzzles involving nautical maps and equipment.  Overall it is the kind of book I’d gobble up in two sittings.

The Lost City of Z: A Tale of Deadly Obsession in the Amazon by David Grann is a different kind of mystery story altogether (current shelf life:  4-6 months).  It’s the true account of  the author’s modern day attempt of find out what happened to British explorer Percy Fawcett, who entered the Amazon in 1925 and never returned.  Grann researches the history of Fawcett’s expeditions (up to & including his last) and examines his obsession with finding the City of Z.   He also tells the stories of the explorers who went in search of Fawcett after his disappearance.   All that alone would have made a good book, but Grann takes it one step further (of course he does, he’s a staff writer for The New Yorker).  After stumbling onto a clue to the location of Fawcett’s last base camp, Grann makes his own journey into Bolivia in search of the man who disappeared  80+ years before.

Mellon:  An American Life by David Cannadine (current shelf life: 1 year, 5 months) – Andrew J. Mellon, along with his contemporaries Rockefeller, Frick and Carnegie, was one of those robber barons at the turn of the century who lived life large.  I love reading about these guys.  They took bold risks, had fabulous homes, and left huge legacies.  They were the great philanthropists of their time, making & giving millions, usually on the backs of their employees.  Of that group I would argue that Mellon is the least well known and for reasons that can be easily understood.  As the treasury secretary for 4 presidents leading into the Great Depression Andrew Mellon’s popularity has waned (let that be a lesson to you Ben Bernanke!).   His part in the 1929 economic collapse has all but overshadowed his other achievements.  These included one of the  greatest gifts ever given to this country:  The National Gallery of Art, which is at the heart of what has become the Smithsonian Collection.

There you have it.  My confession.  While I’d like to say that these are the only books gathering dust throughout my house, that would be a lie.  And as we all know, lying is wrong.

So, I’m interested in hearing what other books are out there being neglected & wrongfully ignored.  Please feel free to leave your confession… I mean comment… below.