Hey you. Yes, you. Have you ever read a book, be it for a Lit/English class or for your own enjoyment, and been left feeling like what on earth was that? What does that EVEN MEAN?
Well, I certainly have. As a self-proclaimed lover of post-modern and post-post-modern fiction, more often than not, things tend to get a little bit weird. Usually, they get very weird. I am not ashamed of sometimes having had to resort to SparkNotes or Shmoop in order to understand some of the rougher, more challenging chapters from some of my favorite books. But no more! I’m here to share what has become both my literary guilty pleasure and a very helpful addition to my life: podcasts. about. books.
David Foster Wallace, Thomas Pynchon, Philip K. Dick, H.P. Lovecraft: these authors may seem to have very little in common, but something they do share is that they are all the subjects of highly specialized podcasts. These shows are run by amazing literature nerds who are dedicated to creating episode after episode chock full of biographical information, book summaries, and literary analysis in order to share the life and times of some of their favorite authors with other bookworms like you and me.
Think about it like having nerdy comedians give fun, yet accurate, summaries of your favorite books, on demand. That’s essentially what a literature podcast is.
You don’t have to be a fan of obscure po-mo to enjoy the literature podcasts I’ll talk about in a sec, though A lot of literature podcasts focus on YA novels, modern thrillers, and fan favorites like Harry Potter or A Song of Ice and Fire, while others concentrate on tried-and-true classics from authors like Edgar Allan Poe, Alexandre Dumas, and Emily Dickinson. The truth is that, if you’re interested in something nowadays, no matter how obscure or strange or unusual it may seem, odds are there’s an entire podcast (or at least an episode or two) out there dedicated to it. That’s the wonderful thing about podcasts: more and more people are starting conversations about the things they love, regardless of how niche the subject matter may seem, because they know there’s someone out there who feels the same passion for it that they do.
Here’s my top three literature podcasts, in no particular order:
1. Oh No! Lit Class
Join English postgrads Megan and RJ as they cover a different literary classic each week, giving accurate, if unconventional, summaries of novels, plays, and poetry, as well as interesting takes on the authors’ biographies. If it was required reading for your high school, odds are they’ve covered it (or will cover it) in a way you would never have imaged in your 10th grade English class.
2. Pynchon in Public
Do you like Thomas Pynchon but don’t know quite what to make of The Crying of Lot 49, let alone Gravity’s Rainbow? Fear not, this show’s crew has got you covered. PIP focuses on anything and everything Pynchon, offering detailed chapter summaries and analyses with a healthy dose of very useful historical context, as well as the odd episode focused on the strange and mysterious life of Thomas Pynchon himself.
3. We Love Dick
Contrary to the X-rated content that may appear if you google this title without adding “podcast” at the end, this podcast features a lovable cast determined to read, summarize, and review every single work of fiction written by Philip K. Dick. Large doses of banter, unrelated tangential conversation, and a lot of sci-fi weirdness is guaranteed, but the show never loses sight of its goal: to bring more and better Dick to the people.
If none of these sound particularly eye-catching, go take a look at the iTunes section for Literature Podcasts: you’ll see what I mean when I say there’s an amazing amount of variety. Whether you want a precise and concise summary of that book you’re chugging through for English class, or just want to hear people talk about your favorite writers, odds are there is indeed a podcast out there just right for you. It’s all a matter of finding it.
Written by Mariana N.
Maybe you’ve heard your friends talking about listening to podcasts while they work out or walk to class. Maybe someone you know has mentioned how it seems like “everyone has a podcast nowadays!” From Russell Brand and Snoop Dogg to Lena Dunham and Tyler Oakley, hosting podcasts has become a veritable craze in the past few years as people have realized from listening to classics like This American Life and Serial that podcasts are more than just on-demand talk shows or audio stand-up comedy. They’re a veritable art form that has room for just about anything under the sun in terms of subject matter, style, and format.
Since the podcast boom, finding podcasts that fit one’s interests, are pleasing to the ear, and haven’t been discontinued can be like finding a needle in a haystack. Not every podcast works for everyone, and genres intersect so much whilst formats vary so widely that it’s difficult to sort through all the options to find something you like. This post is meant to be an introduction to podcast classics that were or still are at the top of the charts, because that says a lot about their appeal to the general public. In the future, I’ll make more genre-specific recommendations, but if you’re new to podcasts, these are certainly some shows I’d 100% recommend you check out so you can kind of get an idea about what you sort of content you may like to listen to in the future. (All of them are available on the Apple Podcasts app or on Stitcher!)
The titan that started it all, brought to you by the creators of This American Life. If you ever ask someone about podcasts, odds are they’ll ask, “Have you heard about Serial?” This true-crime, investigative journalism podcast hosted by Sarah Koenig has two seasons out right now, each focused on a different crime. The first follows the trial that put teenager Adnan Syed in prison in 2000, whilst the second covers the desertion and subsequent abduction of US soldier Bowe Bergdahl. An easy podcast to get hooked on, Serial’s short seasons and effective storytelling make it an easy, captivating listen and have kept it on iTunes’ top 20 since its release in 2014.
#2 Welcome to Night Vale
Imagine the weird small town vibes from Twin Peaks, a dose of surreal romance straight out of Black Mirror’s San Junipero, and the weird science from Fringe, all wrapped up in a radio show format hosted by the dulcet baritone voice of Cecil Baldwin, the best voice actor you’ve never met. Created by Joseph Fink and Jeffrey Cranor, Night Vale is an ongoing audiodrama that’s been on iTunes top 50 since its debut in 2012. This one is...hard to explain, but if you like mysteries, indie music, and stories where the paranormal is really the normal, give this one a try.
#3 My Favorite Murder
This show centers on true crime, but with a comedic twist, representing the other approach to true crime commonly found in podcasts when they aren’t following Serial’s investigative example. Hosted by Karen Kilgariff and Georgia Hardstark, every week these women each pick a murder or crime story and tell it to each other, creating a cathartic outlet for the morbid fascination with murders a lot of people have but never talk about. These ladies add positive vibes to every episode without ever crossing the line into being disrespectful about the crimes they’re retelling, and really do manage to make every episode hilarious, heartfelt, and intense, all at the same time.
#4 Stuff You Should Know
Part of the insanely instructional HowStuffWorks network, this show gives you a 40-60 minute crash course on nearly everything you can think of. Impeachment and internships? Yep. The history of soda? You got it. Jack the Ripper? Of course. Hosted by Charles “Chuck” Bryant and Josh Clark, these two guys are gonna calmly guide you through everything you should ever know. Not one you need to listen to in order, this podcast is ideal for picking and choosing episodes on subjects you’re interested in or just letting the playlist roll if you’re ever having trouble sleeping. Even though these dudes crack jokes often, their voices are so mellow that this is a relaxing or naptime podcast if there ever was one.
Lore is another titan that has now even been adapted to an Amazon series and a book collection. Usually 20-30 minutes long, each weekly episode (all written and hosted by excellent narrator Aaron Mahnke) contains a mix of folklore and urban legends centered around a particular theme, like vampires, ghost ships, or strange childbirth stories. Always well researched and with a great ambience thanks to a selection of background music and creepy sound effects, Lore is spooky, captivating, and informative. A definite must-listen if you’re into the paranormal and/or appreciate the more can-you-believe-this? side of history.
Each of the previous podcasts is emblematic of a particular popular genre of podcast, but is by no means the standard nor the norm, so if you like the idea of one of these podcasts but don’t enjoy listening to the show itself, odds are there’s something similar out there that might do the trick. Expect more recommendations in future posts, but for now, check these shows out. Great for working out, commuting, or just passing the time, podcasts are a good way to both entertain yourself and usually learn a little something along the way.
Written by Mariana N.
The truth will set you free. But not until it is finished with you.
-David Foster Wallace
R2: The Rice Review
Rice University's undergraduate literary magazine. Here you can find event updates, monthly writing contest winners, and opinions by the R2 staff on what's new, interesting, or subject to discussion in the literary and arts world.