It’s been quite some time since I last did a podcast round-up. In fact, it looks like my first one was in 2010 and the next (and latest) one was in 2014, so it seemed this year we were about due once again. Especially since this year I really made an effort to go through the enormous backlog of podcasts that have built up in my iTunes collection. (Because I download more podcasts than I can ever hope to listen to in my lifetime).
One reason podcasts were especially on my mind this year is that I spent this past September participating in one! Longtime readers may remember that I went absolutely bonkers when I discovered Simon and Gavin of The Readers in late 2011. Back then, it was a strictly British affair, but it has since had a change of hosts and has been recording transatlantically since 2013. While my reading has slowed down these past few years, I was nevertheless thrilled when hosts Simon and Thomas decided to hold their very first Readers Retreat in, of all places, my fair city of San Francisco. In short, it was a fantastic weekend of book browsing and book based banter. It was great to meet Simon and Thomas (of course), but it was also lovely to meet so many fellow readers from the Bay Area and beyond (although I fear my tbr list will never recover). We recorded multiple episodes: one discussing our community read (Hot Milk by Deborah Levy), another on books set in the Bay Area, and a third with questions for our favorite book podcasters (that’s Simon and Thomas, don’t you know). We also received a private tour of the rare book collection at the San Francisco Public Library, which I highly recommend you check out if you are local to the Bay Area.
Unfortunately, since our retreat, the podcast has been on hiatus. I hope it returns soon. In the meantime, here are some of the other podcasts that I listen to most regularly.
I can’t remember exactly when I discovered my two other favorite book podcasts, which are also out of the United Kingdom, but many of my reading recommendations of late come from either Backlisted or A Good Read.
Backlisted started in late 2015 and the two hosts have rotating guests who participate in a roundtable discussion focusing on one underrated or lesser-known modern classic per episode, although they also chat about what they are reading and general book news. Their slogan is “giving new life to old books” and that is an apt way of putting it. I only listen to an episode once I have read the featured book, but every choice and discussion so far has been excellent.
A Good Read works like my favorite local television program Check, Please! Bay Area where three guests each submit the name of a favorite restaurant and guests visit all three and give their opinion. But with A Good Read, it is the host and her two guests who share a favorite book with the others. They all read (or reread) the three selections and give their (brutally honest) opinion of them. Books run the gamut from Winnie the Pooh to In Cold Blood to Little Fires Everywhere. Often they are books I’ve never heard of. The discussions are always lively and you get a very good idea of what books you would like. It’s also good for gift ideas. This is one of the few podcasts I immediately listen to when a new episode downloads.
My favorite pop culture podcast is Culture Gabfest. The Gabfest roundtable provides insight into current books, films, television, video games, etc., and, in my opinion, takes a sharper critical look at what is out on the cultural landscape than a certain other pop culture podcast. And, if I’m being really honest, their voices are far less irritating.
Fighting in the War Room is primarily a film podcast—and it’s a good one—but it often takes on other aspects of pop culture, including books, and especially television and video games. The roundtable discussions most often occur between four film critics, namely Katey Rich, Da7e Gonzales, Matt Patches, and David Ehrlich, although sometimes they bring in guests when regulars are absent or if they are discussing something where someone has a particular expertise. If you are looking for a feisty discussion of what is currently in theaters, or otherwise currently in the zeitgeist, this is a great choice.
Besides Fighting in the War Room, two podcasts that focus on what is currently in theaters are the somewhat irregular Top 5 Film and The Next Picture Show, which is a biweekly roundtable by the former editorial team of The Dissolve. The thing I really like about The Next Picture Show is that they pair each new release with an older film on the same theme, with an episode focusing on each film.
Speaking of older films, for classic Hollywood, my latest discovery is Unspooled, which is hosted by actor and film buff Paul Scheer and film critic Amy Nicholson. They are working their way through the American Film Institute’s Top 100 Movies of All Time list, with one podcast episode per film. So far they have covered about one-third of the films on the list, and each episode is a delight, even when I don’t agree with their final assessment.
Finally, if you want behind-the-scenes stories of classic Hollywood, from the blacklist to Howard Hughes to Charles Manson, check out Karina Longworth’s You Must Remember This, which is currently running a series fact-checking Kenneth Anger’s Hollywood Babylon.
Another category that takes up a lot of my podcast listening time is history. As an editor of textbooks in American Government and U.S. History, it is important I keep up on the latest research in these fields. A recent favorite in that regard is Ben Franklin’s World: A Podcast About Early American History, which covers a far larger span of history than that title might indicate and features focused interviews with scholars about their research. The interviews are interesting and informational without being too dry or detailed.
For the lighter side of history, as fans of my Women 101 series will know, I generally turn to Stuff You Missed in History Class, which covers lesser-known people and events, with a distinct tendency to feature topics neglected by the academic canon, especially women’s history, or, as I like to think of it, history. Episodes are usually about thirty minutes. Recent episode topics have included writer Vernon Lee, chef Auguste Escoffier, Buddy Bolden and the birth of jazz, and the trial of Mary Queen of Scots.
Finally, if you are looking for a podcast that digs into pop music in a serious way, from lyrics to modulation to production trends, you couldn’t do much better than Switched on Pop by musicologist Nate Sloan and songwriter Charlie Harding. This one was a favorite on the cross-country road trips I did with my French cousin this past year.
As always, I consistently listen to Mot du jour, News in Slow French, and News in Slow Italian to keep up with those languages. And then there are my long-time favorites All Songs Considered, which is a great source for contemporary music, and The Classic Tales.
Do you listen to podcasts? If so, what are your favorites and why? I’ll never get through them all, but I’m always looking for new listening material.