Curling up with a good book is a hobby well suited for our physically distanced times. As a result, many people across the world are running out of books in their homes to read and are looking for recommendations. If this is your dilemma, some book review podcasts may be what you need. The podcasts below tend to be long and require some uninterrupted time to truly enjoy, much like the books they recommend. These five podcasts are a good starting point.
1. “The Book Review” podcast by The New York Times
Host Pamela Paul and editors at The New York Times “The Book Review” discuss books on topics ranging from international affairs to criminal justice, from novels to mythology. The podcast centers on interviews with authors about their lives, their latest books, the writing process and thoughts on the world.
Listening to “The Book Review” feels like attending a writers panel hosted by a great English professor. The questions are well crafted, the answers are thoughtful and you will end the podcast wanting to know more.
2. “Los Angeles Review of Books”
Like “The Book Review” by the Times, “The Los Angeles Review of Books” (LARB) radio hour covers a wide range of books and talks to authors.
One particular strength is centering discussion around social justice issues including the Black Lives Matter movement, feminism and queer history. The podcast highlights the voices of people of color and LGBTQ people, broadening the range of perspectives and stories heard on-air. Considering the long standing issues of limited diversity in the publishing industry, this inclusion is especially important.
LARB is hosted by editor at large Kate Wolf, gender and sexuality editor Eric Newman and managing editor Medaya Ocher. If you want to educate yourself more about the long standing social issues behind the headlines, “LARB” may be the podcast for you.
“The New Yorker Fiction Podcast” has a unique format, combining the strengths of audiobooks with those of more discussion-oriented podcasts. Host Deborah Treisman invites writers to discuss and read aloud a story from the New Yorker archives. Recent guests include Allegra Washington, Bryan Washington and Greg Jackson. Each guest brings their own unique voice to the podcast, revealed both through their discussion of the story and how they read it.
The podcast both addresses the changes brought by COVID-19 and offers an escape from day-to-day reality through fiction. For example, Bryan Washington’s reading of the story “UFO in Kushiro,” set right after an earthquake, offers insight into how relationships and personal lives shift in light of catastrophic events. “The New Yorker Fiction Podcast” combines the power of fiction to inform our view of the world with its ability to provide relief, a podcast both for our time and beyond it.
The “London Review Bookshop Podcast” is exactly what it claims to be: recordings of live events at the London Review bookstore. Listening to these podcasts transports you back to a time when a crowded room did not feel like a death sentence. The occasional glitch in sound quality or overheard noise from the audience annoys some listeners, but for me it is simply a reminder of the welcoming noise of a friendly crowd that I long to return to someday.
The format of the “The London Review Bookshop Podcast” varies based on the event that was recorded, whether it’s one-on-one interviews with authors, panels on issues in the industry or various works read aloud. Due to the pandemic, some episodes are recorded conversations meant to replace live events, providing listeners with a chance to hear from more authors despite the hectic times.
I know, I know, I promised you book review podcasts and this podcast does not only review books. However, books exist within a media landscape that includes journalism, film and audio. To understand the context in which authors exist, listening to “Longform” is a good place to start.
Hosts Aaron Lammer, Max Linsky and Evan Ratliff interview writers, filmmakers, podcasters and journalists about how they work, what they are making and what they think of the world.
The biggest questions in the business — of objectivity, equity, fairness and other core values — are thoughtfully discussed in ways that give listeners insights into the decisions that shape the news they read, watch and listen to. You may leave the podcast with more questions than you started with before you tuned in, but those questions will make your reading experience more worthwhile.
A Personal Note
As Jhumpa Lahiri wrote in “The Namesake,” books “let you travel without moving your feet.”
I certainly hope that stays true for me, because I plan on spending until at least February largely in my home with my family, where I have been since March. Personally, I am not yet comfortable with the risks of sharing on-campus spaces, so for now, escaping into books will be one of my few modes of travel.
I know that I am lucky that isolation and boredom is my only worry at this time, with so many people sick, grieving, impoverished and scared. I cannot offer you solutions, although I wish you luck with whatever challenges you face. I hope that spending my time reviewing podcasts saves you a bit of your own time in these challenging days, and that books can provide you with some of the same solace that they have given me.