I rarely watch TV these days but I do listen to a great deal of radio, in particular music, arts and books podcasts. I’m like a kid in a candy store, and relish downloading a fresh week’s supply of programmes every Sunday. I don’t always get time to read the TLS, Paris Review or New York Review of Books, but at least with podcasts I feel tuned in and switched on to what’s happening here and around the world. And the best thing is – they’re free. Here are some of my favourites:
ABC Radio National – Books and Arts Daily podcast: I’m a great fan of Michael Cathcart. He’s a warm and friendly host with a quick wit and an ability to make guests feel at ease. B&AD will interview the cream of the literary crop but the programme also noses around unseen nooks and crannies for the innovative, up-and-coming and unusual.
The Guardian Books podcast: Excellent journalism, succinct reviews and interviews presented by the Guardian’s literary editor Claire Armitstead and her team. This podcast rarely disappoints, covers all genres of fiction, non-fiction and poetry and though the focus is on the best of British, the podcast regularly features international guests. It also frequently hosts “specials”, such as last year’s wonderful Room for London series, where authors were invited to read an essay written after spending four days in a boat perched high above the South Bank Centre overlooking the Thames.
KCRW Bookworm: This LA-based podcast is presented by polymath Michael Silverblatt, who, I swear, has read everything. Silverblatt is a genial host, gently probing, amazingly erudite and his interviews are intimate, elegant conversations that slowly reveal the author behind the book. Always fascinating and enlightening, Silverblatt avoids best sellers and much mainstream literature, concentrating instead on hidden gems. Thanks to Silverblatt, I have come to know and admire writers I’d never heard of before such as Donald Barthelme, Luis Alberto Urrea and Lydia Millet. Unmissable.
France Inter – Le Masque et La Plume: I know. It’s French. Don’t judge me. As a French speaker, I do enjoy this date with Jérôme Garcin and his reviewers as they give updates on new French fiction (every three weeks, as alternating weeks cover theatre and film). Garcin and his team are like birds of prey, happily tearing books to pieces and though they can be fulsome in their praise, they can also be incredibly vicious by Australian standards. They’re funny too – this is high calibre radio with an intellectual bent. Très franҫais.
The New Yorker Books podcast: Each month The New Yorker’s literary editor, Deborah Triesman invites an author to pick and read a short story from the New Yorker’s archives to read and discuss. The result is a treasure-trove of fiction featuring some of the 20th century’s finest writers. I heard Shirley Jackson’s iconic story The Lottery here, and wonderful fiction by Updike, Cheever, Nabokov, Paley – the list goes on. The discussions after the readings are also insightful, after which it’s worth listening to the stories a second time – you get so much more out of them.
KCRW Selected Shorts: Recorded live at Symphony Space in New York City, Selected Shorts brings together some of America’s best actors who each week read two or three themed short stories by American and international authors. The programme used to be presented by the mellifluous-voiced Isaiah Sheffer, but he sadly died last year, depriving his fans of a warm and avuncular host. Nevertheless, the programme continues, now hosted by BD Wong. The content is a bit like Forrest Gump’s box of chocolates: you never know what you’re going to get – but you do know the acting will be absolutely first rate.
Do you have a favourite books podcast? Drop me a line, I’d love to hear from you.