Today I’ve decided to do something fun by giving you a Literary Listening list, which includes podcasts, steaming radio, and YouTube. If you’re a book lover like I am, but also someone who enjoys book talk like I do, then these programs might be worth checking out.
I decided to do this blog post after I asked for literary podcast recommendations in my Literary Fiction Writers group on Facebook (if you write lit fic, please join us!). From the interest the post generated and the lack of submissions from the group, I realized that either we’re all reading books all of the time or, more likely, we writers are just as prone as everyone else to binging on (let’s face it) social media garbage. So, if we can’t always turn to books, at least we can entertain ourselves with something intelligent. And while there is actually plenty of great content online for learning science, art, history, and whatnot, this is a literary blog, so it’s my Literary Listening list and not my other brain-expanding lists I’ll be sharing today. On this list are things I listen to and watch when I’m in the mood for book talk. There’s also programs I recently discovered and enjoyed. Some of these are well-known, others are not. So, in no particular order:
I think I discovered this podcast waaaay back when only a couple of episodes were released. I promptly forgot about it and am quite surprised that I didn’t discover it again earlier. I’ve listened to couple of episodes this week and I really like the content. It’s informative, informal, and the host’s voice is soothing.
It looks like the podcast covers individual books, authors’ oeuvres, and short stories with a smattering of interviews and other topics of literary interest.
This PBS produced show features Lindsay Ellis, a YouTube-famous video essayist. On her own channel she covers mostly the big screen. But in It’s Lit, she talks books. These videos are binge-worthy short, and you can probably spend an easy evening watching them all. The animation is good if a little dorky, and the same can be said of the topics Ellis covers.
Hosted by Michael Silverblatt, this KCRW produced radio program is all about the author. Featuring interviews with authors for over the last two decades, this show is a treasure trove of the talented and the famous. If you’re interested in hearing one of the most well-read interviewers speak with great novelists, poets, and even some of our great essayists, then this show is a must for you.
Mattia Ravasi loves to talk about books. On his YouTube channel you’ll find book reviews, a deep read of Gravity’s Rainbow, and more. I like to watch his channel both to discover new books and to see what he has to share about my favorite classics. His videos are a bit rough around the edges, but I still encourage you to give him a try. He’s bound to improve over time, especially if we support him. And we all want our literary booktubers to improve, grow, and thrive. What I really like about him is that he often loves the books and authors I don’t, and vice verse. And yet I still find what he has to say compelling.
Another YouTuber who loves to discourse about books. Ryan talks about great writing and great authors. I especially like when he does close readings of short fiction. He’ll provide a link to the story so you can read it before finishing his video. More recently he has been doing a reading challenge and livestreams. You can see Ryan’s passion for literature on his face when he’s talking about his favorite authors. Like most amazing book nerds on YouTube, he could use more support. So, for the love of Ryan, check him out.
Hosted by Sarah Rhea Werner, this podcast is all about the the writing process and the author. Broken into two types of shows—interviews and monologues—you’ll easily find an interesting episode. I personally love her monologues. Hearing Sarah give advice and reflection on the writing life gives me a boost when my inner-muse is feeling lethargic. The Coffee Break episodes feature authors Sarah has interviewed. You can even find an interview with me somewhere in the archives. Out of all the shows on my list, I’d say Write Now is the most open to all types of readers and authors.
Hosted from the campus of Stanford University’s KZSU radio station, this program is all about life and literature. Entitled Opinions may have a pretentious name, but the expertise of the host and those he interviews give the title another meaning, one that speaks to a lives lived in pursuit of knowledge and deep learning. Not all shows could get away with a name like Entitled Opinions, but this one most certainly can. The show revolves mostly around literature, philosophy, and art with occasional forays into science, politics, and other topics that anyone interested in the world them will also enjoy.
This podcast was recommended to me in my Literary Fiction Writers group on Facebook by a friend of the podcaster. The first season is pretty bare bones, but it picks up quickly from there. Interviews, literary readings, and literary ramblings are in store on this show about books and life. Episodes are currently listed at the bottom of the home page.
This seminar-related podcast was founded in 2018. Sadly, it only has four episodes, but I kind of love it. It’s generally a Q&A format covering a range of contemporary literary topics. It’s student-led, having different interviewers running each episode. This might be why there’s not too many of them up yet (no one particular host whose vision runs the thing). So take a listen and maybe even contact Melanie Micir at email@example.com to ask about upcoming episodes.
This YouTube channel is an amazing source of writing advice. If you’ve ever wanted to know about the how in writing fiction, this is a great resource. From plotting to editing, from developing characters to incorporating flashback, this channel has some practical advice for all writers. Now there are probably tons of great writing channels out there on YouTube, but I’ve gravitated to this one because she’s so often focused on aspects of the writing process I either don’t think consciously about or don’t use at all; I find it intriguing, plus it gets me examining what I typically do by instinct.
You’ll also find a good mix of recent reads and writing vlogs on this channel, so you’ll not only get advice but also get to know Shaelin along with receiving some great book recommendations.
I do have a list of about 9 other podcasts and programs I want to check out. As I listen to these and make my assessments, I’ll add them here if I like them. If you have any recommendations, please do share them in the comments. I promise I will give them a gander.
Remember, if you can’t feed your brain books, book talk is a great alternative. Goodnight and happy listening.
Uncle Tom’s Cabin is a classic written by Harriet Beecher Stowe. The novel was published in 1852 and gained a wide readership. The story follows two main plot lines. That of Tom and that of George, Eliza, and their child. The latter group are all escaped slaves, a family seeking freedom in Canada. Their passage to freedom is fairly straightforward with only minor detours and close calls. Tom’s life leads him south from Kentucky. His freedom is found in a Christian death.
I have to say, while the book is credited with stoking anti-slavery feelings in the North and South, this 1850’s best-seller is outdated in so many respects. The views against slavery are often undermined by “racialist” points of view. Thankfully not all the caricatures associated with the novel are true. Apparently a lot of the latter antipathy toward the book stems from theatrical reenactments of the novel. . . in the form of minstrel shows. *shudders*
The characters range from Christians who hate slavery to atheists who hate slavery, plus everything in between. And I admire that. I think Stowe is at her best with the characters of George and St. Clare who are good, but complicated people. Stowe should have spent more time on the escaped slave, George, and less on St. Clare, in my opinion. While St. Clare, the good-hearted slave owner, is a perfect character for slave owners of the time to relate to, his narrative spirals into a Christian conversion story. This fails to push the anti-slavery theme since elsewhere in the book being Christian doesn’t mean disavowing slavery. When it appears (and it appears a lot) sentimentalism and over-the-top chapters about Christianity fall flat on modern ears, and apparently fell rather flat even a couple of generations later. Since the Civil War, writers and critics have found more and more fault with the novel and it’s portrayals of African Americas, even though it was likely responsible for heating up the debate against pro-slavery views of the time. To me, if it had a hand in the freeing of even one slave, then the book has value. After all, the views expressed about race weren’t singular at the time. In the end, Uncle Tom’s Cabin wasn’t about ending racism, but about ending slavery.
I wouldn’t recommend reading this novel unless you’re already accustomed to 17th century literature. Fans of Dickens might enjoy certain parts more than I did (they both use ironic narrative ignorance as a humorous literary chide on social mores, which annoys me but also explains why both Stowe and her novel were such big hits in Britain). If you do pick up this book, don’t expect to read something where you’re going to find heroes for the children in your family or classroom. Uncle Tom’s Cabin will undoubtedly make a modern reader a little uncomfortable when it expounds on race and a little bored when it tries too hard to bring tears to your eyes.