I mainly started listening to podcasts because there’s very little chance of being ambushed by an awful news bulletin while doing so – however quickly I can get to the off button, sometimes I’m not fast enough. They’re brilliant for surviving a hideous Friday on the M40/M1/most roads around Oxford at rush hour, or if you have to go out and run 5k (I haven’t done that for far too long…oh dear). The discussion in them can become so animated I find myself joining in, which gets you weird looks at the traffic lights I can tell you.
Podcasts often fill a gap not provided for by the traditional media. I can think of four programmes about books off the top of my head; the “was defunct but is now back” Radio 2 Bookclub, and Richard and Judy Bookclub – which are concerned with promoting new books. New books are great, of course – how else would our lovely writers pay the bills? – and I have read a number of books after I heard them on these shows. Then there are Radio 4’s A Good Read and Open Book – the former is less concerned with the new than the latter but both only get half an hour a week, it’s not long!
Podcasts have more time to give to the conversation, or can go completely and brilliantly round the houses, off topic and back on again. The podcasts I love really are about reading, and I’m branching out into one about writing. They aren’t there to promote new releases; in fact one of them is the exact opposite of that. These shows are hosted by people who clearly LOVE books, as do their guests.
This excellent, rambling, occasionally delightfully grumpy podcast presented by Robin Ince and Josie Long is part of the Cosmic Shambles Network. It often (usually) walks well off the normal beaten path of book programmes, and has lots of scientists on – I share a lay persons enthusiasm for science with presenter Robin Ince, so this is excellent, there are hardly any sciency book shows! Guests have ranged from Jim Al Kalili to Hannah Fry, Nick Offerman to Alan Moore. Almost all (or actually maybe all) of The League of Gentlemen have been on it, as have Ruby Tandoh, Neil Gaiman and so many more
Through Book Shambles I have heard about Detective Noir in verse (The Monkey’s Mask, Tanita Tikaram brought that one in) and I doubt I’d have Lincoln in the Bardo in my TBR pile if not for Nick Offerman and Josie Long’s recommendation. It’s a lovely feeling when someone you admire turns out to have pretty similar taste in books to you, and I do believe people are genuine about what they read when they go on this show. Though the original premise was that the guest brings in books to talk about, this often doesn’t happen…but it doesn’t matter if they discuss one book or five, or none! It’s always hugely interesting. There have been loads of them too, so lots to go at if you’ve never listened.
Book Shambles is supported in part by its Patreon supporters, and produced by Trunkman productions. You can be a patron from as little as $1 a month. The podcast is available to listen to for free but Patreon supporters get unedited versions, and other stuff, depending on the level chosen. https://cosmicshambles.com/bookshambles
“Giving new life to old books”. It’s lovely to hear discussion of books you have already read; it helps to know you haven’t forgotten everything you’ve been feeding into your brain over the past 45 years…
Backlisted, presented by John Mitchinson and Andy Miller is produced by Unbound. This podcast covers ‘older’ books, maybe books it’s considered many people are no longer reading. The first of these I heard was about R.F. Delderfield’s To Serve Them All My Days (chosen by Jenny Colgan). I read this when I was in my mid twenties a long time ago, I’ve never met anyone else my age who’s read it. This episode was a joyful conversation about a book seen as quite old-fashioned (it is, I suppose, but it was written in 1972 and set in the early 20th Century) and middle brow. ‘Middlebrow’ is a thing the Backlisted podcast appears to on a crusade against, quite rightly, as it’s yet another kind of literary snobbishness. The discussion of Hilary Mantel’s Beyond Black; a novel I’ve always been quite scared of (it turns out possibly rightly) meant I went out and bought it all the same. I was beyond delighted when I heard they’d be discussing Adam Thorpe’s Ulverton with Tom Cox, it was a lovely thing to hear one of my favourite books discussed by one of my favourite writers.
Again, there are loads of episodes of Backlisted, I gave up trying to listen in order (it doesn’t matter) and now just dip in where I want to. https://www.backlisted.fm/
The M.R, James Podcast – A Podcast to the Curious
Did you really think I wouldn’t have a ghost story podcast in here…?
Unlike the others I’ve covered, and the one coming up, this one specialises – it’s all about M.R. James and his fiction. Or it did until they came to the end of James’s output (including his non fiction and unfinished stories) whereupon other ghost stories begin to appear in the list of shows.
The M.R. James podcast is presented by Will Ross and Mike Taylor, it’s a highly polished podcast delivered on what I imagine is a shoestring budget. Sometimes we find them sharing a mic in a spare room, or presenting over skype. We’ve heard about their house moves, weddings and children coming along – usually with an apology for absence for a while while ‘real life’ goes on. Mike and Will are really great to listen to – they have that chatty, bouncing ideas off each other quality of a good presenters. We get ‘the content’ but, for something as specialised as this, it’s never self-consciously academic – even when there’s an academic in to discuss an M.R. James paper with them.
I did listen to this one in order, the episodes go out in the order the stories were published. I found out about stories I hadn’t yet read, and learning about the unfinished M.R. James tales was really interesting.
There are guest readers to deliver the excerpts, which really lifts each episode beyond being a book discussion – they’re great readers giving great performances, and include Robert Lloyd-Parry of Nunkie, the best James performer around. Will and Mike also have a slightly mischevious sense of humour, and after a few episodes you too will be hoping to identify the ‘Jamesian Wallop’ and be hoping for a posse of parsons to come along…
The M.R. James podcast is funded by its presenters, and listeners can make donations and buy merchandise at the website to help out. http://www.mrjamespodcast.com/
Death of 1,000 Cuts
This is a new one to me, so I’ve only heard a few episodes. Presented by writer Tim Clare I was lured in, via his Twitter feed, by the one about procrastination with Dr Tim Pychyl (an excellent episode you should go and listen to now if you have a procrastination issue). Then, because I was reading ‘The Honours‘ I heard the first of Tim’s week of podcasts about writing the book. I stopped after the first in fear of spoilering myself, but now I’ve finished it – its absolutely brilliant, so go and read it – I’ll listen to the rest.
Death of 1,000 Cuts is about writing rather than reading – though the two are symbiotic I suppose – and Tim is a man who is brimming over with words; they tumble out of him unstoppably, I’m not sure when he has time to breathe. As a listener I find it engaging and energising – I suspect it’s quite tiring for him, so thank you Tim for the energy you put into this podcast!
Not only is there the podcast with interviews, motivational rants, advice and so on, there’s also an eight week writing course “The Couch to 80K Bootcamp”. Though I’m pretty sure I have no plans to write a novel I thought I’d try it – out of curiosity – and have been astonished at what’s come out of my brain. It’s made me think there may be a story in there trying to get out, which is pretty great. There is no charge for this course though I think it’s better than any number of online courses (about any number of subjects) I have paid for.
Death by 1,000 Cuts is a solo (I think) endeavour, and can be supported via donation to KoFi. Also go and buy his books. https://soundcloud.com/timclare
I’m sure there must be a million (or so) other bookish podcasts out there, so suggest away if you have a favourite!