Listen Up: 6 Literary Podcasts for Book Lovers
When you've exhausted your audio book collection, these literary podcasts will tide you over.
If you have spent the last year marking off days until the return of Serial, fret no more. You’ve been delivered from your suffering! There are so many great podcasts out there in the world, on every topic your little listening heart could desire. For those who have the kind of commute where you can’t read (as in, you’re stuck in unmoving traffic and probably could crack open a paperback but won’t because that’s not safe) and you’ve exhausted all your audio book downloads, you’re in luck.
Whether you love movies, history, insider-y publishing news, or you like to pit your favorite books together in a battle to the death, here are six bookish podcasts for book worms who want to go above and beyond their favorite reads.
You Must Remember This
If you love: Classic films, Hollywood, True Crime
You Must Remember This is Karina Longworth’s genius series on “the secret and/or forgotten stories of Hollywood’s first century.” Now in its fourth season, Remember profiles beloved and abandoned silver screen legends with consistent, probing depth and insight. Though not directly about literature, Longworth – a writer and critic by trade – skillfully curates each episode from a deep library of biographical sources, incorporating dozens of conflicting interviews, autobiographies, news clippings, and anecdotes to construct each careful, captivating episode.
Tune in for her third-season series on “Charlie Manson’s Hollywood,” a vigorous, fascinating, intimate, disturbing look at the shifting landscape of 1960s drug culture that served as the backdrop for the Manson Family’s strange murders. Remember is a must for movie-lovers, but is highly recommended for anyone with a mind for great storytelling.
Dinner Party Download
If you love: Highbrow Cocktails and Culture
Dinner Party Download is everything you expect from a great cocktail party: a high-energy buzz, good music, better cocktails, and of course, scintillating conversation with fascinating famous people. Don’t be turned off by its gimmicky structure: each episode opens with an “Ice-Breaker,” and “Small Talk,” followed by my favorite segment, “Cocktails,” DPD’s version of Comedy Central’s Drunk History, where the fabulous Michelle Phillipe tells a story from this week in history and a trendy bartender crafts a specialty cocktail in its honor.
DPD’s hosts, Rico Gagliano and Brendan Francis Newnam, can verge on the pretentious, but it feels almost purposeful: after all, the show rightly bills itself as “public radio’s arts and leisure section.” Luckily, Gagliano and Newman seem to be having as much fun as we are. Overall, it’s an hour-long barrage of This Week in Culture, a learn-much, feel-good fest that will leave you with the sensation you just left truly great dinner party, minus the hangover.
Dead Author’s Podcast
If you love: Comedy Central’s Drunk History
H.G. Wells hops in his time machine and travels through the ages, grabbing famous writers, dragging them to the present, and hosting them for impossible improvised interviews. That’s the conceit of Dead Authors Podcast, a quirky, funny, deeply-literary show hosted by podcast veteran Paul F. Tompkins (Mr. Show, Comedy Bang! Bang!) His author guests are played by comedians, too (often in gender-bending form, like Andy Richter as Emily Dickinson and Kristen Schaal as Tennessee Williams).
Generally, the performers have a basic grasp of their character’s background, works, and major quirks (accents, alcoholism), but much of the humor comes from their imaginary attributes and invented reactions to the modern world. Thompkins does the most research, guiding his guests through their lives and work with a honed H.G. Wells impression and a sassy straight-man routine. This is to say: You don’t have to be a student of the guest-author’s work to enjoy the raucous, witty banter and bawdy characters; a passing familiarity is more than sufficient. Check out: Nick Kroll’s outrageous Jorge Louis Borges, John Hodgman’s outraged Ayn Rand, or Jeremy Carter and Matt Gourley deeply silly Brothers’ Grimm. Bonus: All profits from the show go to 826LA, a nonprofit who’s goal is inspiring students to write.
Slate’s Audio Book Club
If you love: The New Yorker
Slate’s Audio Book Club is a no fluffs, no gimmicks, straightforward, book-club-style discussion of a contemporary literary work. But don’t let that description imply that it’s slow or dull or tedious. Rather, Slate’s Book Club is a light, smart, utterly-enjoyable dissection of a piece of modern literature. Even if you loved a book they hated (and there is by no means always consensus amongst the three participating critics) you’ll enjoy their eloquent, thoughtful analysis, unique insights, and insider knowledge.
Slate’s Book Club is delivered unapologetically (but openly) with spoilers, so if you’re averse, avoid the podcast until after you’ve read their selection. (While you wait, linger at Slate and check out their Double X Gabfest, a great podcast put out by their womens-issues blog.) This book club will become favorite way to supplement a literature experience, and maybe a new guide for what to read next.
If you love: Celebrity Death Match … but with books
Book Fight! is a meandering, casual, conversational podcast whose hosts, unlike Slate’s, are emphatic that you don’t have to read the book to enjoy their discussion. Writers Mike Ingram and Tom McAllister, both editors at Barrelhouse Magazine, are grad-school buddies who engage in often funny, always enjoyable conversations about the world of writing.
Their take on books goes beyond your book-club regurgitation of plot and character as they probe writer-realities like the delicate tightrope of writing about your real-life friends and the frustrating politics of publishing. (The latter is embodied most satisfyingly in their ongoing collection of horrible book-jacket blurbs — for a donation, they’ll write you a personalized blurb, which they’ll read on air.) Their topics can feel a little inside-jokey at times if you’re not in the business, but their genial, self-deprecating, accessible personalities make up for it.
Dear Book Nerd
If you love: Advice Columns
Dear Book Nerd is a podcast less about individual books than about reading itself — it’s a lifestyle show, where your lifestyle just happens to be juggling your real obligations with your book obsessions. Topics include “Defending Your Literary Taste, “Are You Buying Too Many Books?,” and “Can You Turn Your Friends Into Readers?” It’s executed in an advice-column format, where listeners write in with reading-related questions answered by host, Rita Meade (a children’s librarian) and a literary guest.
Though obviously a bibliophile, Meade regularly doles out advice to help listeners break their reading fixations. She wisely and kindly advised a reader who wanted to bully her friends into reading that enjoying a book cannot be forced, and that one should let one’s less-literary friends occupy their leisure time with other pursuits. She’ll recommend a lonely romantic to put down the book and interact with real people, and she frequently advises that everyone is entitled to their own literary taste. If your reading-addled brain is spinning with questions, consider writing in and letting Meade help sort out your book-life balance.