You can’t get far today without talking about podcasts. They’ve been around for a long time. When I first started listening, they were all of the homebrew variety and the only professional one was the Daily Source Code by Adam Curry, but now they are increasingly being produced by large media and publishing companies.
I think Serial did a great job of showing the power of the medium, which is really the AUDIO medium and goes all the way back to the radio dramas that were big in the pre-television era.
Naturally, I have been interested in sampling them and seeing what might be interesting. In fact, I used to have a significant commute, but now it is shorter, so I don’t get quite as much time to listen. Even so, a significant portion of the time is spent listening to literary podcasts.
One caveat. I don’t want a podcast with readings. I hate readings. I hate them in person and even more on a podcast. So those are out. Also, I’m not interested in your audio book club. Nor your book club. (My line is that book clubs take away the best part of reading, which is solitude.)
It isn’t easy to make a good book podcast, just because there are SO MANY books. Many of the ones I have sampled have focused on YA and fantasy, which is fine and understandable given the audience sizes, but not my cup of tea.
The obvious go-to choice is the New York Times Book Review. This is a staple and is always good if for no other reason than they get access to the good authors. Sometimes I’d rather hear from the reviewer than the author, but this is a consistent high-quality podcast that has made the transition to Pamela Paul as host. They also discuss publishing news and add in a personal note with what they are reading (a favorite married book nerds topic). This allowed me to discover Emmanuel Carrere.
One podcast that is excellent but not literary specific is Studio 360 with Kurt Andersen. Just excellent. The American Icons series is especially strong, but this podcast addresses creativity in all its forms and Andersen gets the people talking about what creativity means to them, not just about their latest works. They have recently moved to Slate.
I have also listened to Other PPl, from Brad Listi. It is generally a high-quality podcast featuring a long (or LONGform) interview with an author who is usually from the indie world more than the NY Times world. Sometimes the interviews get too long and sometimes Listi talks too much about himself, but you can always switch it off it gets too far off track. There’s almost always 45 minutes of strong content.
I tried listening to the Book Riot podcasts and also Books on the Nightstand (no longer produced), but just found too much description of the books themselves–books I will never find a chance to read–to find it consistently interesting, despite the obvious passion and highly insightful commentary both podcasts provide.
I honestly think there’s room in this space for new entries, and maybe better ones exist. One idea I have comes from a podcast they did to accompany the show The Americans, where there was an interview with people inside the show that ran after every episode. It was excellent…could be the actors or the writer or the directors or the set designers or the costumers, but you really got an idea the depth of creativity applied to ever single detail in the show.
Why couldn’t you do the same thing with books? Now, you never know when people are reading a book–oh wait, you don’t with TV anymore either–but think about this. New book comes out. Let’s say Gentlement in Moscow. You could do a podcast covering, say, every 75 pages. They’d only need to be 10-12 minutes long and the reader would stop and listen when they hit that interval. I honestly think that’s a way to modernize the reading experience. If you use this idea, you owe me $100 million.