Book podcasts again

Over the last few weeks, among my posts about Julia Harvey’s two novels about the family drama set in the Greek diaspora community of Smyrna and then Thessaloniki, I’ve been recommending some of my favourite book podcasts. Today I’d like to round this sequence off with a brief summary of a final few.

I’ve already mentioned some BBC Radio 4 programmes with podcast versions available free online; here I’d like to add the Radio 4 Bookclub. It’s hosted engagingly by the astute James Naughtie (about to leave the prestigious Radio 4 morning news programme Today after some twenty years to take up the post of books editor, among other things, with the BBC). It’s very like book clubs in the real world, except that here the author of a book is invited to the studio to be interviewed by Naughtie, then the audience is free to pose questions of their own. It’s more than an opportunity to market a new book: often the work chosen was published some time ago, so there’s genuine reader engagement with a rare opportunity to hear what the author was striving to achieve. Recent guests include Jon McGregor, Lorrie Moore, Donna Tartt and Hilary Mantel. Although the names tend to come from the more popular end of the literary spectrum, there’s usually plenty of interest.

Also broadcast by the BBC, the World Service this time, is the general arts programme Strand. Although no longer on air – it finished in 2013 – its archive is still freely available online, and has many features of merit in it. For example there’s an obituary/tribute to Chinua Achebe, and an interview with Javier Marías on his novel The Infatuations (which I reviewed here). Being a World Service production, though, Strand has a far wider remit; other pieces include profiles of Romanian cinema, Lebanese trumpeter Ibrahim Maalouf, the Indian film director Anurag Kashyap, and Michael Haneke’s production of Cosí fan Tutte in Madrid. Pretty eclectic, then.

I have to declare an interest about this next choice of general literary website, but with a cool podcast attached: The Mookse and the Gripes — I’m an occasional contributor, with pieces on Joyce’s Dubliners and an ongoing series on the stories of Henry James. But this is one of the best podcasts out there for its mix of conversations (mainly) about NYRB Classics titles, and in particular of literature in translation. Apart from well-known names that the irrepressible Trevor Berrett and his brother consider, such as Kingsley Amis, Theodor Fontane and John Williams, there are (to me) less prominent figures like Lydia Millet and the Russian writer of short stories Sigizmund Krzhizhanovsky (b. Kiev 1887).

Another site that specialises in critical discussions on modern world literature is Three Per Cent, produced by the University of Rochester. It takes its title from the sad fact that only that percentage of books published in the USA are works of  literature in translation. All kinds of new names have been brought to my attention here (and on the related website).

Drawing by Max Neumann from Animalinside, his 2010 collaboration with Krasznahorkai.

Drawing by Max Neumann from Animalinside, his 2010 collaboration with Krasznahorkai.Image from the Sylph Editions website

Next choice for world literature in translation (description taken from its website): ‘That Other Word is a collaborative podcast between the Center for Writers and Translators at The American University of Paris [which also publishes the ‘Cahiers Series’ of texts in association with Sylph Editions – this illustration is taken from one I bought and enjoyed] and the Center for the Art of Translation in San Francisco. The podcast offers discussions on classic and contemporary literature in translation, along with engaging interviews with writers, translators, and publishers. Hosts: Daniel Medin and Scott Esposito.’ Although this podcast also has in-depth discussions on writers from across the world, there’s also professional consideration of the translator’s role and art.

Finally, to turn attention to podcasts which feature readings of fiction, I’d recommend the New Yorker‘s offering. The format is intriguing: a prominent contemporary writer chooses a favourite story published in the New Yorker magazine, reads it and then discusses it with the fiction editor, Deborah Treisman. A random selection of some recent gems includes Joshua Ferris reading Robert Coover’s ‘Going for a Beer’, Etgar Keret – Donald Barthelme’s ‘Chablis’, and Joseph O’Neill – Muriel Spark’s ‘The Ormolu Clock’.

Most of these podcasts last between 30 and 45 minutes — ideal listening when walking (or in my case, cycling) to work or driving down Desolation Row.

I’d love to hear what book podcasts you’d recommend – and maybe where and how you listen to them.

 

Book podcasts, Part 4: KCRW’s Bookworm

In three previous posts I recommended some podcasts about books. Today I’d like to urge you to subscribe to KCRW radio station’s literary podcast, Bookworm – for links to an extensive archive of episodes click here. It is a NPR radio broadcast out of Santa Monica College, California.

 

Its website describes Bookworm as a purveyor of ‘intellectual, accessible, and provocative literary conversations’; it showcases writers of fiction and poetry and the works they’ve recently published, mostly from North America, but with a wide range from across the world as well, as I’ll indicate shortly.

 

Michael Silverblatt

Michael Silverblatt (photo from KCRW Bookworm website)

The genial host, Michael Silverblatt, is a rarity in literary broadcasting: before going on air  he reads (it seems all) that his interviewee has written, and clearly reads sensitively, attentively and with insight and intelligence. All of these qualities shine through in his conversations with the writers. He has a slow, pensive delivery in his interviewing style, and like Eleanor Wachtel of the CBC podcast Writers and Company, which I profiled recently, imbues his shows with a compelling blend of warmth, wit and perceptive, gently probing questioning that brings out intriguing responses from his guests, who clearly treat him with affection and respect. He has hosted this nationally syndicated radio programme since it started in 1989.

 

For an interesting interview with Mr Silverblatt earlier this month on the LA Review of Books broadcast, Radio Hour, in which he talked about how he developed his deceptively relaxed but rigorous interviewing style, some of his favourite guests, etc., there’s a link here.

A random selection from podcasts in recent months:

 

Maggie Nelson on her work of ‘auto-theory’, The Argonauts

Valeria Luiselli, Faces in the Crowd

Kazuo Ishiguro, The Buried Giant

Luis Alberto Urrea, Tijuana Book of the Dead (a collection of his poetry) and The Water Museum (short stories); back in Feb.-Mar. 2013 there was a two-part piece with him shortly after completing the second of his novels about a Mexican woman in America at the turn of the 20C: The Hummingbird’s Daughter and Queen of America

Richard Ford is one of my favourite writers of fiction; he was interviewed in Jan. this year on his fourth volume of Frank Buscombe novels, Let Me Be Frank With You (which I wrote about here). In June 2012 he was the subject of two brilliant episodes on his novel Canada.

Others that I’ve particularly enjoyed on the show include Colm Tóibín, Martin Amis, Ben Lerner, Sarah Waters, David Mitchell, and Kevin Birmingham (two excellent pieces on The Most Dangerous Book – his profile of the publication history of Joyce’s Ulysses).

László Krasznahorkai has appeared twice – the first interview was in July 2012, when he spoke about Satantango, the second in June 2014, on Seibo There Below.

I could go on: Margaret Attwood, George Saunders, Oliver Sacks, Cees Nooteboom (talking about his poetry), David Foster Wallace – just about every writer you’ve ever heard of has appeared – and several who were new to me, which is always good: I need to look out for Lydia Millet, Sjon and Yiyun Li, to name but a few who sounded intriguing on air.

I recommend this podcast wholeheartedly.

Obsessive reading and podcasts

Summer has finally arrived in Cornwall, and I’ve finished teaching for a few months; consequently I can write about a wider range of matters than usual.

My last post about obsessive, even addictive behaviour among book acquirers and readers elicited a number of comments, most of them from avid readers who recognised the traits I described. Claire (of the Word by Word book blog), however, provided a corrective: addiction is perhaps an inappropriate term to have used. I was picking up on Belinda’s use (in her Bii’s Books blog) of the term ‘sugar addict at the end of Lent’ to refer to a book-buying splurge she indulged in after her #TBR20 project ended. No offence was intended when I likened bookish obsessions to addiction; I should have been more circumspect with my imagery.

Today I’d like to depart in another direction from my usual run of thoughts about what I’ve been reading. I’ve been leafing through an old notebook – one of my obsessions also noted in my previous post: stockpiling and writing random findings about books and culture in these notebooks; I suppose they’re my equivalent of those 18th and 19th century ‘commonplace books’.

I tend to keep a record in these notebooks of peripheral literary/cultural material: newspaper reviews, online articles and so on. I also listen to a lot of podcasts on such matters, especially when walking to work – just over half an hour is perfect for most podcasts. I looked up what I’d written in this one from three years ago. Here’s what I found in this notebook’s entries from June 2012.

Eleanor Wachtel: Wikipedia image

Eleanor Wachtel: Wikipedia image

One of my favourite literary podcasts is this one by the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC): Writers & Company, hosted with intelligent warmth by Eleanor Wachtel (link to its website HERE). The focus is on good writing from all over the world. Recent episodes (all available from the website) include interviews with Irishman Donal Ryan, André Aciman (Francophone Egyptian-Turkish-American), and a series entitled ‘Reimagining the Balkans’: writers, film-makers and others who are expressing what’s happened since the terrible wars of the nineties. Three years ago this is what I’d single out from my notes on what I’d been listening to from this podcast:

Edward St Aubyn (broadcast 25 March 2012), the Melrose novels. Why listen to such podcasts? They throw light on what one has already read, enriching that experience, through Ms Wachtel’s deceptively soft-toned but incisive, probing interviews with authors of books. They also provide recommendations for what to read in the future. It took me over a year to get around to reading these astonishingly raw, witty, viscerally disturbing novels, but they were a searing, brilliant read.

Edith Wharton photographed in 1915: image via WikiCommons

Edith Wharton photographed in 1915: image via WikiCommons

A broadcast of 22 April 2012 featured an interview with Hermione Lee on the subject of Edith Wharton, about whom she’d written a biography a few years earlier (there’s an excellent review of it by Hilary Spurling in the Guardian HERE). I found this podcast interesting because of my passion for the work of Henry James, with whom the scary New York socialite had an intriguingly weird relationship.

Next I’d written about the BBC Radio 4 podcast of its long-running cultural programme ‘In Our Time’. There’s a link to its homepage HERE, where its complete archive can be accessed; this can be broken down into categories: Culture (including literature), Philosophy, Religion, Science. Recent topics covered range from Prester John to Utilitarianism; the Lancashire cotton famine during the American Civil War to the poetry of Tagore and the fiction of Fanny Burney.

The item I’d listened to in June 2012 was broadcast on 14 Oct. 2010; it was on the topic of ‘Sturm und Drang’: the short-lived German proto-Romantic aesthetic movement of the late 18th century initiated by Klinger and adopted by Herder, Goethe (his ‘The Sorrows of Young Werther’, which I’d recently read in June 2012), Lessing, etc. It raised some curious points about masculinity and suicide, among others.

The host, Melvyn Bragg, is sometimes lampooned in the British media for his implausibly luxuriant hair and adenoidal northern English accent. This probably says more about the snobbish prejudices of the English media than it does about Lord Bragg.

Another time I’ll try to recommend some other book-based podcasts that I’ve found rewarding to listen to. They’re the audio equivalent of book blogs, I suppose. When they feature author interviews, however, they often provide insights unavailable to those of us who simply write about our own responses to what we read.

I’ve dug out these notebook-archived pieces deliberately because they still resonate with me when I re-read them now, and attest to the quality of content in these programmes that persists today. I’d urge you to investigate and subscribe to the podcasts mentioned here. They’re all free.