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.

Book Podcasts Part 3: BBC Radio 4

In my two previous posts I’ve recommended some book podcasts. Today I’d like to recommend some offerings by the BBC.

BBC Radio 4 is one of the best there is for factual and cultural material, surely, in any country; for a list of all of their podcasts, click here. They broadcast some interesting and stimulating programmes about literary matters. Here’s my pick of them.

The Books and Authors podcast includes episodes from two programmes:

Open Book is presented every Sunday by Mariella Frostrup. The main item each week is an in-depth interview with a writer, usually one who’s recently published a new book. A few random examples from recent weeks:

Julian Barnes

Ann Enright

Mexican literature: Valeria Luiselli and Jorge Volpi

Ben Lerner (on 10:04)

Each show contains additional material. A random example – on 21 May 2013 Louise Erdrich was the main interviewee, on her novel The Round House, but there was another item on F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby, and the Baz Luhrman film of it that had recently been released. Also featured was a discussion of the Independent Bookshops award.


A Good Read presented by Hariett Gilbert often throws up some gems; she has two guests each week, each of whom presents a favourite book for discussion. Ms Gilbert also recommends a good read of her own: she makes some great choices; she has good taste, and a pleasing broadcasting style. A random choice (from 29 October, 2013) – Richard Ford’s Canada; Chinua Achebe’s Things Fall Apart; David Sedaris, Me Talk Pretty Some Day. One of the most recent programmes included discussion of The Wilder Shores of Love, by Lesley Blanch; How to Get Filthy Rich in Rising Asia, by Mohsin Hamid; and The Islanders, by Pascal Garnier.

As you can see, the choices are pretty eclectic, and range across authors from different countries and historical periods. It’s worth subscribing to this joint podcast: I’ve encountered many new works or writers I’d otherwise have missed, and enjoyed hearing other readers’ intelligent insights into works I’m familiar with. Recommended.

I’d love to hear of any other podcasts you recommend, or comments on the ones I’ve selected so far…

Podcasts Part 2: The Guardian Books & Short Story Podcasts

Podcasts Part 2

After my previous post on the excellent CBC podcast ‘Writers and Company’, I thought I’d recommend a few more that I regularly listen to. First:

The Guardian Books Podcast (the link is to the homepage, where further links to previous episodes can be found; also shows how to subscribe, download or stream from the site). Ably presented by the paper’s books editor Claire Armitstead. The quality of ‘author interviews, readings and discussions’ is generally very high.

Nora WebsterThe most recent download available from 5 June was an interview with Colm Tóibín on the subject of women protagonists in his work, from his last novel Nora Webster (which I reviewed here) to his book about the poet Elizabeth Bishop. As always he’s on fine form (at one point he mistakes the name of one of his characters; his interviewer tactfully corrects him, but his riposte is wittily inventive). It was recently pointed out that only two Booker Prize winners since 2000 have featured female protagonists; Tóibín bucks that trend with aplomb.

Other notable prose fiction covered recently includes an interview with Kazuo Ishiguro on the subject of his latest novel, The Buried Giant (from 26 March this year), and Richard Flanagan’s 2014 Man Booker Prize winner The Narrow Road to the Deep North (from 14 Oct. last year).

Non-fiction is also covered. Most recently, on 16 April this year, there was an interview with John Lewis-Stempel, ‘peasant farmer’ author of Meadowland, winner of the 2015 Thwaites Wainwright Prize (links there to various related items, including his acceptance speech) awarded for the best writing of the year on the outdoors and nature.

This item was paired with an interview with Sarah Hall on her novel The Wolf Border (Guardian review from 1 April here), which concerns a bizarre attempt by a northern landowner to reintroduce wolves on his remote borderland estate.

Such themed items are regular; for example on 17 February 2012 the subject was historical fiction, with Kate Grenville and Hilary Mantel in the interview seats.

Hungarian writer ­László Krasznahorkai

Photo of Krasznahorkai from the Guardian website

The Guardian podcast regularly covers literature in translation. Some recent items include an interview (22 April) with this year’s Man Booker International prize winner, the Hungarian Lásló Krasznahorkai (whose novels Seibo Down Below and Satantango have languished on my TBR pile for far too long). Then on 11 April there was a feature on European fiction, including interviews with Peirene Press’s Meike Ziervogel, the French novelist Marie Darrieussecq, whose debut Pig Tales came out in the UK in English translation in 1996 (her latest is All the Way), and Dutch writer Peter Buwalda, whose first novel Bonita Avenue was published last year.

On 10 May the literature of Africa featured, then Mexico (17 May); on 4 April 2014 New Indian Literature was the subject, and on 28 March, Korean –  Hwang Sok-Yong, Hwang Sun-Mi and Yi Mun-Yol were profiled.

Other work by non-English writers to be discussed on the podcast: from 13 February this year an item on South Korean poet and novelist Han Kang and the South African S.J. Naudé (currently published by And Other Stories). More well-known names to feature include Haruki Murakami (1 Jan. this year, on his latest, from 2014, Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and his Years of Pilgrimage).

It’s not all prose; poets to feature recently include Carol Ann Duffy, Liz Lochhead, Seamus Heaney, Simon Armitage, T.S. Eliot (a piece on the fourth volume of his collected letters, a podcast of 27 December 2013) and John Burnside.

Also recommended: the Guardian’s Short Story podcast, which ran from 2010-2013, but the archive is still available here. Authors read a favourite item, and then talk about their choice in highly enlightening interviews. A random sample:

Julian Barnes reads and discusses ‘Homage to Switzerland’ by Ernest Hemingway

Will Self: ‘Exactitude in Science’ by Jorge Luis Borges

James Salter: ‘Break it Down’ by Lydia Davis (released May 2013, shortly after she won the Man Booker International prize)

Sebastian Barry: James Joyce’s ‘Eveline’ – which I reviewed over at the Mookse and Gripes site here.

Hanif Kureishi: Kafka’s ‘The Hunger Artist’, which he describes as ‘absurd, moving and timely’

Richard Ford: ‘The Student’s Wife’ – an early Raymond Carver story

I think you’ll agree that’s a pretty impressive list – and there are many more. Highly recommended.

I intend adding profiles of more of my favourite podcasts soon. Have you any comments, recommendations or suggestions?