11 Literary Podcasts to Distract You from Your Life
Sometimes you’d rather listen to people talk about books than read them yourself
Whatever your particular situation, we’re willing to bet that this year has probably been a year of unique growth—and failure. Maybe you finally figured out how to unmute—only to realize your boss heard you say (unmuted) that he looks like Lucifer. Maybe you managed to keep your children alive and happy for an entire week—only to realize that the dinosaur-shaped nuggets your 5-year-old demands for every meal actually have no nutritional value. Maybe you’ve finally returned to your pre-pandemic morning routine—only to realize that the barista you’ve been crushing on for two years has replaced their flirty smile with a wedding ring.
On the other hand, maybe we’re wrong. Maybe 2021 has been nothing but rainbows and puppy dogs. Either way, there’s no way you’re on top of your laundry game.
Whatever your life looks like right now, allow us to recommend a handful of literary podcasts interesting enough to distract you from Zoom snafus, vitamin deficiencies, and mundane household chores. Some of them might even distract you from the heartbreak of knowing your favorite cafe is now only serving coffee.
Hosted by Jordan Kisner, author of Thin Places, this podcast is a thoughtful interview series focusing on transformative experiences, liminal spaces, and Deep Existential Things. In every episode, Kisner sits down with a writer and has a meaningful conversation about those “life-wasn’t-the-same-after-that moments.” For a fairly new podcast, Kisner’s guest list features an all-star ensemble: recent interviewees include Maggie Nelson, Susan Orlean, Jericho Brown, Rachel Kushner, and Hanif Abdurraqib.
If memoir is your genre—especially torrid, tell-all memoir—you’ll love Celebrity Memoir Book Club. (Alternatively, if you are the kind of reader who is just a smidge too sophisticated to be caught dead reading JLo’s memoir on the subway, this podcast is also for you.) Co-hosted by two New York comedians, Claire Parker and Ashley Hamilton, every episode is a no-holds-barred review of a celebrity memoir. You can jump in anywhere, but “Lena Dunham Is Not That Kind of Girl” will give you a good sense of the show’s aesthetic. Be warned: though the hosts try to adopt a journalistic approach, sometimes their petty, whore nature gets the best of them (their words, not ours).
The co-hosts of this podcast are all-stars. Marlon James, Man Booker Prize-winning author of A Brief History of Seven Killings, and Jake Morrissey, executive editor (and James’ editor) at Riverhead Books, team up to talk about dead authors. The duo’s episode on “gateway books”—the first books by authors that hooked them into reading more—is our recommended gateway episode.
Canadians Ariel Bissett and Raeleen Lemay became friends IR(online)L via BookTube, and the podcast feels something like an energetic hug from your very bookish friend. Every episode features an organic-feeling conversation between the hosts as they chat about what they’re reading, what they’ve bought to read next, and which books they recommend to listeners. Books Unbound is a great option for heterogeneous bookworms because Ariel and Raleen give airtime to literary fiction, classic literature, poetry, graphic novels, genre fiction, and YA.
NPR podcasts are reliably high quality (if you’re not already listening to Terry Gross, you should probably pause on this list and come back in five years when you get through the Fresh Air archives) and Book of the Day is tailored for flagging attention spans and tight schedules. Every episode features one (sometimes two) book recommendations in 15 minutes or less.
Host Publications is a small press with big dreams. They began as a publisher of international voices, but have since shifted focus to marginalized writers in the United States. Hosted by editors Claire Bowman and Annar Veröld, The Host Dispatch is the press’ latest endeavor and boasts discussions on literature, publishing, the writing life, and all things literary.
Tina and Renee are both book bloggers who met on Bookstagram and bonded over books and their Midwestern identities. Each week, the hosts, self-described “mood readers,” discuss the books they’re reading, the books they’re looking forward to reading, and books that fit within the episode’s “theme” (e.g., backlist reads, one-sit reads, popcorn thrillers, etc.).
Poetry Unbound from On Being Studios is hosted by acclaimed Irish poet and theologian Pádraig Ó Tuama. The series records two 15-minute episodes every week (on Mondays and Fridays), each of which offers a guided reading of a single poem. This podcast is perfect for anyone looking for an immersive, curated poetry experience.
Even if you’re not a writer, you’ll find plenty to love in this look-behind-the-publishing-scenes podcast. Hosted by Bianca Marais, Carly Watters and CeCe Lyra, episodes feature interviews with every type of professional associated with the book world, from authors and editors, agents and publicists, to creative writing instructors, booksellers, and even an intellectual property attorney.
Book Reccos is a new podcast, but its hosts are hardly new to the book world. Jess and Lauren are the Brits behind the @bookreccos Instagram account, and their podcast is in much the same vein. Targeted to listeners interested in discovering new books across genres without spoilers, episodes feature occasional interviews, in-depth reviews of one book, and smorgasbord episodes that explore books on a theme. If you’re looking for a fun way to kill 45 minutes, we recommend starting with the “Taste” episode, which covers both Stanley Tucci’s new foodoir and includes “side dish foodie book” recs—perfect listening for post-Thanksgiving eaters too full to ingest anything by mouth.
Bad on Paper is a podcast slash book club hosted by two 30-something friends, Grace Atwood and Becca Freeman, who dish out good life advice and conversation about “bad” books in weekly doses. The subject matter is eclectic here—episodes might cover anything from snack foods to small business tips—but at least one episode a month is a dedicated book club. A full listing of book club picks is available on the show website.