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.





What do you need to know about me? 1. I'm from Wales which is one of the countries in the UK and must never be confused with England. 2. My life has always revolved around the written and spoken word. I worked as a journalist for nine years then in international corporate communications 3. My tastes in books are eclectic. I love realism and hate science fiction and science fantasy. 4. I am trying to broaden my reading horizons geographically by reading more books in translation

7 thoughts on “Sunday Salon: Literary Podcasts

  • I too enjoy the Guardian Books podcast. My other favorite is The New York Book Review podcast. I like to get both the English and the American point of view on the book scene. However, I’m so far behind on listening to them that I’m currently working my way from the 2011 season of the Guardian one …!

    • You’re not alone Christina – I’m also still working through a lot of 2011 podcasts. The good thing with the Guardian ones is that they are relatively short plus if I don’t like the topic or the author, I just go to the next.

      • Yes me too. I’m not interested the slightest in cricket so I recently deleted one about that. And some of the book club ones I save for after I’ve read the book…

  • I haven’t come across the Cambridge ones and am just about to go off and explore them. Do you know the American based podcast ‘Books on the Nightstand’? I always enjoy that as well.

    • I haven’t discovered those Alex but thanks for the idea

      Sent from my iPad

  • I have iTunes University installed but I never really bothered to use it. Thanks to this post, I think I have some exploring to do.

    • It’s a great way to tap into the knowledge of leading universities. There is so much rich content I don’t have time to listen to everything. Have fun exploring.


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