Imagine: a hot summer’s day. You’re lying on a slightly scratchy towel, next to the lake, still dripping from having taken a dip. The sun is slowly warming up your limbs, and your wet hair clings to your scalp. You’re feeling utterly content. It’s too hot to read a book – the effort of having to hold it up and turn the pages feels too much to bear in this moment. You put in your earphones instead, to block out the sound of the wailing children nearby, and you put on a podcast.
Which podcast, you ask? Here’s a list of recommendations.
Don’t want to completely let go of your studies? There is a plethora of podcasts about books to choose from. My favourites include Literary Friction, in which writer and academic Octavia Bright and her friend and literary agent Carrie Plitt invite authors to talk about their recent publications. The themes of the episodes (think “Masculinity” or “Memoir”) are always discussed in a wider literary context as well. And every week, they include fantastic book recommendations.
If it’s book recommendations you’re after, I cannot recommend The High Low enough. By far my favourite podcast, it’s not technically about literature; the presenters, journalists Dolly Alderton and Pandora Sykes, describe it as a current affairs and pop culture podcast. But every week they discuss the books they’ve been reading and the films they’ve been watching, while providing genuinely insightful comments. Once a month they also invite an author for an author special; this episode with Lindsey Hilsum, who wrote the biography of the journalist Marie Colvin, is one of my favourites.
The two podcasts I listen to almost every weekday are the New York Times’ The Daily and the BBC’s Beyond Today. Both are about half an hour long and perfect commute listening. They both aim to give insight into one particular current issue in every episode. While The Daily’s Michael Barbaro will give you an update on (mostly) American politics (although other topics also come up), Beyond Today’s presenters, Tina Daheley and Matthew Price, approach a wider range of subjects, mostly in a British context. The latter is definitely more light-hearted in tone, as The Daily tends to take itself quite seriously, but in both cases, you can tell that an immense journalistic force is behind each podcast. The result is well worth a listen – think of it as your daily newspaper without the effort or the cost.
Looking for something a bit less serious? Listen to What am Politics?, a hilarious podcast by self-confessed “political infant” Richie and his friend Steve. They’re delightful to listen to, not only because of their Irish accents, but because they obviously take a great amount of pleasure in creating the podcast. They discuss political topics in an approachable way, and inevitably end up making each other laugh. They have several episodes on “legitimate” political subject, but make sure you listen to episodes like “What am Eurovision?” too.
I feel like by now everybody knows these two podcasts, but I couldn’t leave them off the list, so: No Such Thing as a Fish is a podcast made by four of the QI elves, who each present their favourite fact of the week, which are always either riveting or hilarious. Their conversation is so enjoyable and easy to listen to, and I feel like I learn something new (although often something pointless) every week.
Like No Such Thing as a Fish, My Dad Wrote a Porno has had phenomenal success, and has even resulted in a HBO show. It came about when Jamie’s dad decided to write a book when he retired, and gave it to his son to read, who was quite shocked to find that his dad had written erotica. Instead of hiding it under a bed in shame, he decided to read it to his friends Alice and James and record it, and the podcast was born. Belinda Blinked will make you cry with laughter – not recommended for public transport.
One of my favourite genres of podcasts is the simple interview format. A classic in this category is, of course, Desert Island Discs. Every week, a well-known person is asked to pick the 8 discs they would take to a desert island, as well as a book and a luxury. In between the tracks, they reveal fascinating details about their lives in an interview. The back-catalogue is huge, and contains over 2000 episodes, so it will keep you going for a while. Why not go and listen to Alfred Hitchcock’s or Princess Margaret’s episode?
Then, some more recent podcasts: David Tennant does a Podcasts with… is a cumbersome but pretty explanatory title. Every week, David Tennant interviews one of his friends, and as it is David Tennant, those friends are quite famous – and it turns out that he’s a pretty good interviewer too. One of my favourite episodes is this one with Sir Ian McKellen.
Finally, The High Low’s Dolly Alderton makes another appearance with her own podcast, Love Stories, in which she interviews her guests about the various love stories of their lives. A good place to start is this episode, with Stanley Tucci.
That should provide you with enough listening for the summer. Have other recommendations? Why not leave them in the comments and share the pod-love.