My husband challenged me in January to explore the world of podcasts about books. I have one that I listen to regularly, Sword and Laser, which I definitely recommend for science fiction and fantasy books. But I thought it would be great to break out a little and see what else is out there.
In 2017, I wrote about podcasts and got quite a few recommendations, like The Splendid Table, The Hidden Brain, and The Listening Project. But I wanted to see what was out in the world in podcasts about books. I wanted something that would discuss a wide range of book genres, something that would reflect the books I read, and give me new reading ideas. First I did some online searching to find out which bookish podcasts have the most buzz. I made a list of podcasts that were most often recommended and fit my interests, and listened to 2-3 episodes of each one.
I discovered there’s no one type of literary podcast. Focuses range from book clubs, book reviews, author interviews, and book recommendations, as well as podcasts about every genre of books and even bookselling. I wasn’t sure what I was looking for, to begin with. Here are my thoughts; I’ve also included links to some of the most helpful “best of” lists I found, in case you want to do some exploring on your own.
Overdue: From Bustle: “If your personal “TBR” list is long and daunting, this audio book club hosted by Andrew Cunningham and Craig Getting is the perfect antidote to working through those books you should’ve read by now”
My thoughts: I liked the hosts on this podcast; they brought a lot of personality and humor to their discussion. And I like a podcast that focuses on a single book each time. These guys discuss a diverse range of books, and they aren’t the hot new books. That said, I listened to a few episodes, and what I didn’t love is that they discuss the plot of the book in minute detail, rather than really discussing literary aspects of the book like overall themes, writing style, etc. If I’d read the book I didn’t need such a detailed description, and if I hadn’t read the book, it was way too much information. Although both episodes did provide interesting background about the authors.
Reading Women: From Bustle: “This bi-weekly podcast, now on its 49th episode, is hosted by Kendra Winchester and Autumn Privett, two avid readers on a mission to illuminate the big, wide world of women writers. Each episode is a highly listen-able mix of book news chats, author bios, and books they’ve read.”
My thoughts: Reading Women sounded like a podcast that was made for me. But the first episode I listened to felt like they were just rattling off a long list of books they wanted to read. Then I went back and listened to an episode about their favorite nonfiction books of 2018. I thought their recommendations were excellent and I enjoyed hearing their thoughts about the books. They were a bit gushy, but these were their favorite books of the year. Plus they have a reading challenge that’s a lot like the Read Harder challenge – so why not do both? I listened to a third episode on romance novels and was a little less enthused about how they covered the topic. So call me mixed on this one.
Literary Friction: From Electric Lit: “Literary Friction is a conversation about books and ideas based in London. Each month Carrie Plitt & Octavia Bright interview an author about their book and build the show around a related theme — anything from resistance to corpses to race in British literature.”
My thoughts: These podcasts are typically an interview with one author, rather than book reviews. I enjoyed listening to Esi Edugyan talk about her book Washington Black, which was excellent. Then I listened to another episode where the hosts talk about books and authors they hated, and I was pretty turned off by one of the hosts’ rant about Charles Dickens (and reading classics in general). And I’m not super excited about a lot of the authors they interview. This seems like one to pick and choose from.
Literary Disco: From Electric Lit: “Hosted by ‘three good friends who also happen to be huge book nerds,’ Rider, Julia, and Tod read books, stories, and essays and engage in heated arguments about them. From nonfiction books about food culture to classic children’s books, no genre is off limits.”
My thoughts: Most of the podcasts on Literary Disco are about one book, which I like. I listened to their most recent episode, about the book There There by Tommy Orange. I really enjoyed and appreciated the hosts’ in-depth discussion of this book. They raised a lot of points I agreed with, and some they disagreed with, but they also brought a lot of background and insight to their review. I liked that they disagreed on a few points too. I then listened to a podcast on their favorite books of 2018, which I was less enthused by, because the sound was terrible. One of the hosts was really loud and the others could barely be heard, so it was hard to follow. This sound issue shows up to a varying extent in the other episodes. But overall this was one of my favorites.
What Should I Read Next? From What She Reads: “Anne Bogel, a blogger from Modern Mrs. Darcy, has a reader on her show each week to talk about the books they’re loving and hating. Then Anne shares her own recommendations with her listeners, leading to the ultimate book recommendation podcast.”
My thoughts: I was surprised how much I loved this podcast. It has a very specific format: a guest comes on the show each episode and asks for book recommendations. The host interviews the guest about his/her background, favorite books, and least favorite books. The podcast didn’t spend a lot of time on any one book, but I loved the concept, because I really got a sense in two episodes that I would get some value from Bogel’s recommendations. But more than the book recommendations, I appreciated hearing the guests’ thoughts about their own reading lives. Most of us could talk for hours about how our life influences our reading, and vice versa. Here’s a show that does just that.
So Many Damn Books: From What She Reads: “Co-hosts Christopher and Drew are on a mission to provide listeners with what’s currently hot in the book market and give them hope that they will one day make it through their never-ending reading lists.”
My thoughts: I listened to one episode about the hosts’ favorite books of 2018, and then another one about their top 100 books. I had mixed feelings about their podcast. The two hosts are personable but I couldn’t really tell them apart and get a sense of their personalities. And they didn’t spend much time on the books they talked about so I wasn’t so engaged. Many of their other episodes are author interviews, but I didn’t see a lot of authors I really wanted to listen to.
As I “reviewed” these podcasts, a few common criteria emerged:
- Thoughtful literary analysis
- Talking about books/authors I’ve read or want to read
- Engaging hosts that are enjoyable to listen to
My favorites on this list are Literary Disco and What Should I Read Next? I’ll be checking in occasionally with Reading Women. And I came to appreciate Sword and Laser even more. They have a book club format, connected to a Goodreads group, where they pick a book each month and discuss it over two episodes. In the first discussion, they discuss the book without spoilers, but in the second discussion you need to have read the book. They also talk about other things going on in the world of reading fantasy and science fiction. I love the hosts and enjoy listening even when I haven’t read the book they’re discussing.
I’ve always said I don’t like listening to podcasts but I was surprised how many ways I found to fit them into my day, and how much they added to my commute or time spent working at my desk. And it’s one more way to discuss what we read or what we should be reading. Hopefully this helps you find one you like. Or let me know which bookish podcasts you’re listening to!
Note: this post is part of the Book Blogger Discussion Challenge hosted by Feed Your Fiction Addiction.