As a podcaster myself, I spend more time creating than listening to podcasts, and have entire spans of time when I spend my listening energy on audiobooks. Still I have a highly culled list of podcasts I listen to regularly. There are many great episodes out there but I seem to enjoy book-related and storytelling-related shows the most. (Thanks to Bryan Alexander for not only mentioning Reading Envy on his 2016 podcast list (much more comprehensive than mine so check it out), but for giving me the idea to write about my own list!)
This past year has been the first year I've listened to many mainstream literary podcasts. I started Reading Envy in 2014, but that year, I didn't want what others did on their reading podcasts to influence our experiments and directions, so I deliberately kept my listening to genre fiction and audiobooksT. This past year I have gotten rid of quite a few of the genre podcasts I used to listen to, as I was noticing I was downloading/subscribing but never getting to them. (Sorry friends who have those. I still very much value you and sometimes listen to an episode that particularly interests me!)
Consider this my shortlist.
Dear Sugar Radio -
Cheryl Strayed and Steve Almond take their old Dear Sugar advice column
and turn it into a podcast. They cover questions submitted by listeners
and fans, which doesn't sound like much but these two are very literary
people who think through the filter of literature. They have imperfect
pasts that makes them less of the sage on the stage and more of the
model/proof that you can work through issues and move past them. They
are not afraid to take tough topics on, and sometimes pull in other
people (ranging from Dan Savage to Steve's Dad to other authors) for
their expert opinions. Episode 14: How Do We Forgive Our Fathers? was particularly meaningful to me, and wisely scheduled during the angsty Fathers Day holiday season.
Books, Reading, Literature
Books on the Nightstand -
Ann and Michael both work for Penguin Random House so while their
podcast is a personal project, they frequently discuss or allude to
books that are either about to come out or have just come out - most
books are new new new. Sometimes they'll go back and mention books in a
"don't forget about me" category, which I appreciate. These episodes are
well-structured, and they make an effort to announce what to expect at
the beginning - typically a few chunks with different topics.
The Guardian Books Podcast - These episodes have a wide variety and I don't listen to them all but the last one I did listen
to read uncensored Houellebecq, if you can imagine. They are openly
critical of what they didn't like (as they soundly did not
recommend Submission and didn't sugar-coat it) but very well-informed.
Sometimes they will have authors on reading short stories for an entire
episode, sometimes it is author interviews - I never know what to expect
but am more likely to listen than regularly read the Guardian, so it
- I am an unabashed fan of Michael Silverblatt, apart from his lack of
knowledge of science fiction. (When he had Jeff VanderMeer on, he
freaked out and had his intern interview him and I couldn't believe he
wouldn't instead just read his work! But anyway.) His interviews of
authors are insightful and I usually come away from listening with
another book or two on my to-read list. I can't recommend this one
highly enough if you read mainstream literary fiction. It isn't so great
for genre authors.
Man Booker Prize - This is one of those podcasts that reappears for maybe the six episodes up until the award is announced. I love the very British host(s), the quick pace of the episodes, and how it touches only on the most important topics related to the Man Booker Prize, a very specific topic that I am very interested in. This past year they talked to each judge (which was fascinating!) and to most of the contendors. I'm hoping they do it again for the Man Booker International Prize, as I could stand to learn more about those titles.
- One of my podcast guests told me of this one, and actually she
learned about Reading Envy through forum discussions from either this
podcast or Books on the Nightstand. The Readers is just two readers, one
in the UK and one in the USA, talking about books. Sometimes they have a
theme or structure and sometimes they just meander but it is usually
informational. They are also open on their opinions and what they like
and don't like. This one is much more amateur in its production and
consistency but what the heck, so is mine.
Reading Envy - By the time I post an episode I've heard it at least three times. But I still like seeing it pop up on my podcast app. If you haven't given it a try, I have recommended first listens in the FAQ.
Science Fiction Book Review Podcast
(SFBRP) - One of the only science fiction podcasts I still have on my
regular rotation, where Luke Burrage reviews every science fiction book
that he reads, after he reads them, no set schedule. Lately his
girlfriend Juliane has been joining him for discussion, and he has been learning how to have two people on at once. Both Juliane and
Luke have been on Reading Envy. Even though he doesn't give everything
away, I don't often listen to Luke's episodes unless I don't think I'll
read a book or have already read the book (or seen the movie.) It's more
that I want to form my own opinions, you see, but I do later go back and listen to his reviews of books I have finished.
The Sword and Laser
- The first podcast I listened to, from an online book club that now
seems to go way back in my own reading. The podcast surrounds discussion
of a monthly book pick but also attempts to sum up new releases,
science fiction news (television, movie, and book), and author
interviews. I don't always read the books but I almost always listen to
the show. After all, it is this book club where I met Tamahome, who
said, "You should be on the SFF Audio podcast," where I met the person
that helped me cofound this podcast." So it's the origin story in my podcast
You Wrote the Book!
- Simon Savidge (from The Readers) interviewing authors. I'm new to
this one and haven't made a decision on if I'm keeping it; some of the
episodes I've peeked in on seem to have considerable background noise.
Pop Culture and News
Radiolab - These guys know how to
put together a fully-researched, well-produced story, and it shows. I
don't listen to every episode but since Jad Abumrad is one of my muses
and gave a speech about sticking to a project through the hard times
right when I was questioning the future of my podcast, so I will be a
lifelong disciple of this one. Remembering Oliver Sacks and Fu-Go
are my most memorable listens of this past year, but this is a podcast
that I'm rather late to the game on. I'd like to go back and listen to
more of their older seasons.
WTF with Marc Maron - Everyone kept
telling me to listen to this one. I finally was pulled in with the
Terry Gross interview. I only listen to the episodes that interest me
immediately, maybe 1 out of 4, and I start around 12 minutes in and quit
early because of considerable advertising and mindless chatter. Once you get past the annoying bits (which he himself admits) you will find a savvy interviewer who is good at cutting past the fluff and digging deep. It helps if the person he's interviewing has suffered from some sort of addiction. I have loved the interviews with SNL favorites in particular for some reason.
- I'm sure I started listening to this because it was advertised on
KCRW Bookworm. These are personal stories, often replays of other
podcasts. Sometimes they are replaying stories I've already heard
elsewhere, and I don't listen to all the episodes of this. When it's
good, it's really really good. They also demo new podcasts sometimes
that fit within their criteria.
Love + Radio
- I'm not sure how to categorize this one because topic wise it is all
over the place! I pick and choose episodes of this one, but I'd say they
take full advantage of being in an environment without regulation of
profanity or topic. Some feel like interviews, some like stories, always
The Moth Podcast - Live storytelling
at its best. I think they pick great stories from storyslams that manage
to translate the energy of a story told live despite only having the
audio. Another podcast with an excellently organized website for easy
access to old episodes, and one I relied on frequently in my
storytelling class. In fact I was inspired to teach Storytelling after
attending The Unchained Tour (sponsored and organized by The Moth); I
literally went home and wrote the course proposal the next day.
This American Life - Also known to some for the public radio version, and I'm not sure how they differ. This is a podcast that I enjoy but the episodes are so long that I'm always getting unsubscribed as a courtesy of the podcast app. I feel like I have to set aside time to listen but then end up listening to the episodes that keep to the 17-44 minute range instead. When I was teaching a Storytelling class, I used this show as a frequent resource. The website for the show is great in how you can search for stories by theme and tag! Before I was ever a podcaster, I saw Ira Glass perform when I worked at DePauw University.
I'm noticing that some of the podcasts I keep around have nostalgia underpinnings for me. Interesting.