The decline of print book reviews has received plenty of deserved attention from the NBCC and other organizations. This development is certainly something to lament and to work to rectify, but there’s also a tremendous amount of quality coverage of books and culture available on the internet. Arts & Letters Daily is probably the best of the aggregator sites, presenting a bevy of content in a simple, eye-pleasing format that doesn’t strive for the screaming, in-your-face, tabloid style of The Huffington Post and The Daily Beast. Part of the beauty of A&LD is that there is no aristocracy: all are treated equally. Pieces from blogs, newspapers, esoteric journals, and magazines are lumped together under the categories “Articles of Note,” “New Books,” or “Essays and Opinion.” Like any good cultural gatekeeper, quality is what counts—not masthead—although they do have a clear preference for original material in established media, rather than the call-and-response format that often characterizes the blogosphere.
Of course, I wouldn’t be writing here if I didn’t think that there is plenty of worthwhile cultural content on blogs. So, let’s skip over them for now and move on to what I think is a less discussed but still very worthwhile medium: podcasts. These are a tricky thing. iTunes makes it easy to find and subscribe to podcasts, and there are lots of great podcasts out there. But if you want to make a routine out of it by listening to podcasts on an iPod on the way to work, that requires a daily synching and updating of the device. When our days are already so heavily routinized by minutia—tooth brushing, breakfast making, coffee drinking, key finding, briefcase or bag packing, lunch making, and the numerous other little tasks that circumscribe and define our workweeks—it can be difficult to keep up or to remember at all. That is the beauty of a device like an iPhone, which allows one to conveniently update podcasts over the air. Charging remains the only concern.
Say you’re more organized than I and have the routine down. What, then, to listen to? I love Leonard Lopate’s podcasts, which in a single day might cover life in Nazi ghettos, eminent domain law, the origins of the Great Depression, and medical explanations of love. NPR has a fine books podcast, Fresh Air, and podcasts for practically all of its other material. When looked at in combination with their excellent website, it’s then no surprise that NPR is one of the few outlets (if not the only) to have recently increased its books coverage.
Ed Champion’s “Bat Segundo” interview show is frequently provocative, entertaining, and a little weird. Champion is also interesting because he, through his podcasts, his website, “Edward Champion’s Reluctant Habits,” and his criticism, is part of the vanguard of culturally concerned writers who have translated internet popularity into remunerative, mainstream journalistic success. Mark Sarvas (of the blog The Elegant Variation and with a novel, Harry Revised, now out), Maud Newton, and Jessa Crispin (Bookslut founder and now NPR contributor) also belong to this group. (Perhaps to be more accurate, they are redefining how writers may enter the “mainstream,” which itself is being forced to shift to connect with a new, more digitally connected generation of readers, writers, and consumers.)
Rounding out my list, I also enjoy B&N’s “Meet the Writers” (though I wish the interviews were longer), New Yorker: Out Loud, KCRW’s Bookworm, and KCRW’s Politics of Culture. There are many other appealing shows out there that I don’t have time to get to—even many of these I only manage to listen to sporadically—but I’m going to try to dip into the new Yaddocast to see if it sheds any light on the much mythologized Yaddo artists’ community.
So which podcasts, cultural or otherwise, do you listen to? Are you able to keep up, or is struggling to track such variegated forms of media—blogs, podcasts, print, TV, Internet journalism—more trouble than it’s worth?