If you can’t have your nose in a book all the time, listen to a brilliant books podcast instead.

One of the very best things about the explosion of podcasts into our society is the wealth of ones with books at their heart. Being able to tune in to a literary podcast at any time of night or day means that life can be like one long book club (minus the white wine and the school-gate gossip, of course).

In a pre-podcast era, the author Stephen King said: “Books are a uniquely portable magic.” These days, he might revise his bon mot to: “Books and podcasts about books are portable and magic.”

Here are the ones we rate most highly.

The Penguin Podcast




In this multi-award-winning podcast, host Nihal Arthanayake interviews authors about their methods, struggles, inspiration and aspiration. He also asks each guest to bring with them a selection of objects that have had an impact on their writing in some way. Gyles Brandreth brings a teddy bear, a green carnation and some words of wisdom from a war commander; Paula Hawkins chooses a postcard and a beloved jumper; and Dolly Alderton opts for an overpriced glass of white wine, a song by George Michael and Picasso’s Nude Woman in a Red Armchair. Gripping stuff. Listen here.

Books And Authors




This, in one pleasing podcast, is a combination of two time-honoured BBC radio shows. In Open Book, hosts Elizabeth Day and Johnny Pitts interview leading authors about their work. The BBC says of it: ‘Open Book is BBC Radio 4’s home of fiction. From celebrated authors to emerging global voices, lost gems to beloved classics, Open Book dissects the trends, debates the issues that authors are tackling in their work and brings listeners the writers they might have missed.’ Meanwhile, A Good Read – which began in 1977 – sees presenter Harriett Gilbert invite two illustrious guests to choose and discuss their favourite books. This podcast is the gift that never stops giving. Listen here.

Backlisted




This fantastic fortnightly podcast exists to give ‘new life to old books’. Unlike most literary podcasts, it focuses on works that are not currently in the bestseller lists. Indeed, the subjects of our favourite episodes are, variously, Beowolf (which was written circa 700-1000) and the Barbara Pym’s novel, Excellent Women (1952). In each episode, hosts John Mitchinson and Andy Miller invite erudite but jolly guests to discuss a book of their choice. It makes for compelling listening. Listen here.

The New York Times Book Review




This podcast is every bit as classy and intelligent as you would expect it to be. Host Pamela Paul edits The New York Times Book Review and, boy, does she know her literary onions. Her guests are of the highest calibre, her questions are spot on and the chat – from the highbrow to the lower brow – is endlessly thought-provoking. It is a pleasure, also, to hear from book critics as well as from authors. Listen here.

Bookclub




This one is another corker from the BBC Radio 4. In each half-hour episode, James Naughtie (with his distinctive and soothing Scottish accent) leads a group of readers as they talk to prominent authors about their best-known works. Amor Towles, Frances Spufford, Antony Doerr and Liane Moriarty are among the recent headline acts. It is a pleasure to hear the questions and viewpoints of the readers, too. At the end of the programme, the next month’s book is announced – so there is no excuse not to read along. Listen here.

The Guardian Books Podcast




Now, bear with us on this one. You must trawl back quite far to find the reason we love it. Which is that it used to feature the best authors talking about the hottest books. Interviews, investigations and explanations across the literary world had listeners gripped. Then, at some point in 2020, they launched a couple of new series – which aren’t particularly about books and seem to have fallen on deaf ears. Search for the gold that lurks beneath, though, because we promise it is there. Listen here.

You’re Booked




Ever wished you could have a snoop around the bookshelves of your favourite authors? Well, with this podcast, hosted by Daisy Buchanan, you can. In each episode, she interviews a prominent writer about the books they can’t put down, the books they never pick up and the ones that deserve a greater fanfare. If we didn’t love Marian Keyes enough already, her profession of love for the literary endeavours of Jilly Cooper would seal the deal; Jeffrey Archer is priceless on his hero worship of Ian Fleming; and Esther Freud singing the praises of Elizabeth Jane Howard is food for the soul. Listen here.

By Becky Ladenburg
October 2021

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Becky Ladenburg

Features Editor

As the GWG's features editor, Becky has her discerning finger on the cultural pulse. She's also our go-to expert on the property market.

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