Dusty Books and Podcasts

Poetry Center, Chicago

It isn’t the easiest thing to talk about books on the radio or on a podcast or, for that matter, in the classroom, and make them interesting. I’m sure you’ve seen, at one point or another, some version of this tried and true cliche from Hollywood: a protagonist in a deep and rarely visited part of an old library who finds a book that has long been neglected, high up on some mahogany shelf. For one reason or another the character is drawn to it. He pulls it from the shelf, blows off its thick layer of sienna dust and opens it to find an adventure of some sort, something magical or a riddle to be solved, which will probably drive the rest of the movie. Well, making a podcast about books has to feel at times something like that. The host has to figure a way, improbable as it may be, to get the dust off that book, old or new, and bring the thing to life.

Most fail at this (there are a lot of really bad podcasts about books), but some actually do succeed, and are really quite good: Here’s a list of a few of my favorites:

  • In more ways than one, The Poetry Foundation has revitalized the ancient art of poetry. Because of a substantial grant of $200 million dollars given them in 2003 by Ruth Lilly, the Foundation was not only able to redesign their magazine (Poetry), to build the Poetry Center in downtown Chicago, to award substantial prizes to both up and coming poets and those of considerable reputation, but was also able to redesign their website. As part of the redesign they created an award-winning poetry app, a blog that stresses the vitality and importance of  poetry as a form, and a podcast that discusses new work by poets published in their journal. On that same page, you can also find recordings of classic lectures, poets reading their work, poets discussing the works that have inspired them over the years … I could go on, but I think you get the point. Highly suggested.
  • KCRW is Southern California’s NPR affiliate. On it’s airways for many years now is the stalwart of literary discussion, Bookworm. Now, you can get their entire catalog of past broadcast online and for free. The show focuses on interviews with writers, primarily of fiction, discussing their newly released books. Browsing the shows archives is a veritable who’s who of literary fiction.
  • Indy Lit is a broad and ill-defined category for which I have deep reservations. But as I am not trying to debate the merits or lack thereof of a category, instead wishing only to suggest interesting things to listen to, I’ll refrain for now. Bookfight, a podcast done from the basement of its host’s home, does skew toward the category of Indy Lit, so despite my reservations, I’ll slap that label on. It is produced by two editors of the literary magazine Barrelhouse, Tom McAllister and Mike Ingram, and if you care to know what the kids these days are doing with words, here is a great place to start. [Full disclosure: I know both the hosts, so my opinion may be a tad biased.]

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