I’ve recorded over 400 interviews over 10 years for Little Atoms, and it’s become a selling point of the show that I won’t record an interview with an author if I haven’t read their book. I’m a bit smug about this, as you’ve probably noticed. Then I discovered Michael Silverblatt, who has been hosting his weekly radio show Bookworm on Los Angeles station KCRW for over 26 years, and who won’t interview an author unless he has read their entire works. Bookworm has become a fixture of the US literary scene, and Silverblatt has had conversations with everyone; Susan Sontag, Norman Mailer, Joan Didion, Kurt Vonnegut, W.G. Sebald, David Foster Wallace… the interview archive on KCRW’s website just keeps on giving.
Hosted by publisher John Mitchinson and author Andy Miller, Backlisted is a new fortnightly podcast (currently 7 episodes old) which has quickly become essential listening. The show concentrates on unjustly neglected or out of print books, chosen each episode by a guest writer. John and Andy are old pals from a misspent youth working for Waterstones, and their friendship and knowledge of the book trade inform this brilliant show.
One to try: Sarah Churchwell chooses Passing by Nella Larsen
A rotating team of critics read and discuss in depth a book, usually contemporary fiction, both good and bad, with the odd classic like Pride and Prejudice or The Great Gatsby revisited. They don’t shy away from discussing key plot points, so if you’re one of those people who care about spoilers you’re encouraged to read the book before you listen to the show. Just like a real life book club, if all the members of your book club wrote for the New Yorker.
One to try: On Elena Ferrante’s My Brilliant Friend
In which the self-described inventor of science fiction H.G. Wells (Paul F. Tomkins) uses his time machine to bring long dead authors to a theatre in Los Angeles, usually getting in a few digs at his nemesis Jules Verne along the way. Interviewees include Ayn Rand, L. Ron Hubbard and Anne Frank (labelled “not as offensive as you’re thinking”). Ironically the podcast is also dead now, killed off by Tomkins after 50 episodes.
The New Yorker is one of the few outlets that continue to publish and champion the short story, and in this podcast fiction editor Deborah Treisman invites a writer to read and discuss a story from the New Yorker archive. But instead of reading one of their own stories, the guests are asked to choose from the work of another writer. It’s a great format, the writer’s choices and the discussion of their chosen story often illuminating their own work.
This excellent literary talk show which broadcasts on NTS radio looks at books through a different theme each month, from “coastlines” to “corpses”. Hosted by literary agent Carrie Plitt and writer Octavia Bright, the show features interviews with authors, discussion and book recommendations from both the hosts and guests. It’s my favourite magazine style podcast.
Following on from their extant Utter Shambles podcast, Robin Ince and Josie Long’s funny and informative show now focuses on books and is all the better for it. Guests bring in a selection of favourite books to share, and the host’s chip in with choice volumes from their own collections, usually cheap horror or charity shop celeb autobiographies (Robin) or something by Kurt Vonnegut (Josie). There’s always a couple of great recommendations, and if you listen to this show you’ll never have to read Little Goes a Long Way by Syd Little yourself.