Category Archives: Podcasts

Favourite Book Audio Programmes

toptentuesdayThis week’s Top Tuesday topic looks at the world of audio. We’ve moved a long way forward in delivering books and other materials in formats other than print or digital. Remember when if you wanted to listen to music or a book on audio you had just the one option of cassette tapes? They were light so easily portable but guaranteed to jam at the most inappropriate moment. To reduce this involved getting a pencil, sticking it into the one wheel while  and trying to unravel the crinkled tape while simultaneously holding the other  wheel stationery. jIt also includes podcasts. CDs have no such issues except they do skip and to listen to a whole book requires multiple changes of discs that are not that convenient to carry around in the gym or on a walk. Podcasts have been my saviour on many a long journey so here’s a  very short list of ones I listen to regularly or find useful resources.

  1. The Readers – a book based banter podcast with Simon and Thomas. Most of you already know this and follow it. It’s a good blend of recommendations on what’s about to be published or just published, general reading topics like how to find more time to read or what to take on your holidays plus you get insight in the reading habits of the two hosts. Plenty of good humoured banter and misunderstandings between the British and American way of life to keep you amused. Be warned though you are likely to end up with an even longer wish list after listening to their recommendations.
  2. Guardian podcast: A Good Read. This is a regular program where two guests and the host select a book that they they rate highly and argue why other people should read it. Each guest describe they book, why they enjoy it and then they have a discussion about its merits. It was through one of these episodes that I was encouraged to read Cannery Row by Steinbeck which I had somehow thought would be rather dreary but proved hilarious at times.
  3. Backlisted podcast: This is a relatively new find for me but I’m enjoying what I’ve heard so far. It’s issued every two weeks and is based on the idea that the simple two hosts choose an old book they think everyone should read. One of the hosts is Andy Miller who wrote The Year of Reading Dangerously in which he talks about how he re-ignited his passion for reading. Expect to hear a fair amount of blokish chit chat – the podcast seems to be recorded around a kitchen table where the hosts do a general catch up with their invited guest for the episode. In one of the first episodes I heard which was about The Riddle of the Sands, a good 30 minutes was taken up with discussions about gin and what each person in the room was reading (and why). When it gets into the meat of the broadcast though, which is the book in question, expect to hear some good quality insight. The podcast is available via SoundCloud or ITunes.
  4. ITunes: A wealth of material here including recordings of entire books. Librivox is one of the main contributors here – these are recorded by volunteers so the quality is extremely variable. I’ve had to give up on a few because I really didn’t like the narrator’s voice but that’s just my taste. My favourites have been some old time radio programs with Adventures of Inspector Maigret by George Simenon and Agatha Christie. It takes a bit of searching to get to them but the reward is worth it.
  5. ITunes University: many leading universities around the world make some of their lecture programmes available via ITunes – to find them go to ITunes and then select ITunes U. The quality can vary enormously – bear in mind that sometimes the lecture itself is recorded as it’s delivered in the lecture room so you may find you can’t pick up the discussion or questions from students. But that’s a minor inconvenience for the value of often feeling you are in the room at some of these prestigious academic centres. A few interesting ones I’ve come across that are good quality are
    1. Oxford University: George Eliot – an introduction to her major works and her intellectual interests.
    2. Open University: good introduction short podcasts on some of their modules. Explore Wordsworth or European Romanticism or creative writing.
    3. Cambridge University: Literary criticism key terms. A great resource for people who want to know what the ‘sublime’ or the ‘pastoral’ means in literature for example.
    4. My current listening is from La Trobe university in Australia which has two courses on children’s literature – one on genres looks at the history of picture books and fairy tales and another takes a post colonial approach. You’ll get used to the accent after a while.

As a bonus here (just to make it up to a list of 10!) is a non book audio program which is a must listen for me:  The Archers podcast. For those of you in the UK this will be a familiar program. But for non UK residents it will come as a bit of a surprise that this is a  5 day a week, 13 minute BBC radio soap opera set in a fictional farming community in the heart of England. Most of the characters are farmers or connected to the land in some way but we also have the village pub, the tea room, a stately home and a grand country hotel to give variety. It’s long evolved from its roots in the 1950s when it was created as a way to give farmers tips on how to increase production to help a country still dealing with food rationing. Today it’s billed as a “Contemporary drama in a rural setting’ which means yes you still get farming issues but there’s also adultery, teenage angst, crime,  road building and currently, the hottest topic of all, marital abuse.

Sunday Salon: Literary Podcasts

I seem to have spent a fair amount of time this week listening to podcasts from a variety of universities and radio stations. They’re perfect for lightening the deeply boring experience of ironing but I also enjoy listening them while on the cross trainer in the gym. What I’ve found however is that the quality can vary enormously, particularly those which are real-time recordings of university lectures.

Here are a few examples of ones I’ve enjoyed this week:

The Guardian Books podcast

This is a rich mixture of interviews with leading authors and commentary on developments in the publishing world. Of those I’ve listened to so far, the most memorable have been a walking tour of Oliver Twist’s London – you can listen to this while actually walking through the streets in which the novel is set. The two presenters reflect on how the area has changed and give fascinating background about some of the buildings – in one section we are given an explanation of how prisoners were made to walk up to eight hours a day on a treadmill which served no useful function but was there merely to keep them occupied. The commentary is intersposed with readings from the book. Highly recommended.

The second I enjoyed was an episode with Michael Frayn who talks about the background to his book Spies  which features two young boys who play at hunting down spies in their London neighbourhood and take to following the mother of one of them. But what they think they discover and what is actually happening are two very different things. Frayn is an excellent raconteur and talks with good humour about his own childhood and how that informed the book.

Available on ITunes podcasts

BBC Radio 4: Foreign Bodies

A series which examines the tradition of crime fiction across Europe. Each episode takes  an  example from one of the European countries and examines how they how they reflected the particular period of their country’s history and – often – how they subverted the political regime. The first episode focused on Georges Simenon’s Inspector Maigret (one of my favourites); but since then we’ve had the Inspector Montelbano series from Sicily and PD James and Ruth Rendell from England . The series has introduced me to writers I now nothing about yet who are household names in their own countries ( like Friedrich Durrenmatt who wrote the highly successful Inspector Barlach mysteries).  Available on ITunes podcasts

Oxford University: George Eliot 

This is a series of first year undergraduate lectures designed to introduce us to Eliot’s view of the world and how this was reflected in her novels. Eliot had a huge intellect and was keenly interested in science, especially Darwinism, and humanism. The lectures look at Eliot’s view of the intellect and consciousness.

Available on ITunes university podcasts

Cambridge University: Key terms and Concepts in Literary Criticism

Nine podcasts which dive into topic such as ‘The nature of the reader’; ‘Nature and the Imagination’  and ‘The Pastoral’. Each lecture is delivered by a different specialist and is designed to help undergraduates acquire the skills needed for literary criticism. Ive only got as far as the first one about The Reader so far – the quality is excellent though many of the ideas are quite hard to grasp.




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