Books 2016 and #TryPod

An interesting thing I found when I crunched the numbers on what I read in 2016 is that it included a surprising amount of non-fiction. This may be related to my love of podcasts. Apparently this is #TryPod month, which is silly, but a good excuse to talk about the podcasts I enjoy.

This is a long and recommendationy post, so I thought I’d do a wave at the top of it. Hi! I am well. Still in Manchester, still getting slowly better at putting words in a coherent order, still broke. Tonight, I eat curry.

I was going to do a post in January about the many many books I read last year, but I couldn’t find an angle on it. Suffice to say, I read a lot (about 130). That sound like bragging, but it’s already March 2017 and I’ve barely read one. Anyway, here follows the books I loved:

Fiction: To Be or Not To Be by Ryan North, Dinner at the Homesick Restaurant by Anne Tyler, The Gap of Time by Jeanette Winterson, The Little Prince by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry

Non-Fiction: Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates, So You’ve Been Publicly Shamed by Jon Ronson, H is for Hawk by Helen Macdonald, Tranny by Laura Jane Grace

Poetry: Physical by Andrew McMillan, Falling Awake by Alice Oswald

Comics and Graphic novels (credits abridged): Injection by Ellis/Shalvey, Lone Wolf and Cub by Kazuo Koike, Quimby The Mouse by Chris Ware, Giant Days by Allison et al, Paper Girls by Vaughan/Chiang, Saga by Vaughan/Staples, Sex Criminals by Fraction/Zdarsky, Ghost World by Daniel Clowes, Global Frequency by Ellis et al, I Kill Giants by Kelly/Niimura, Grandville by Bryan Talbot, Domu: A Child’s Dream by Katsuhiro Otomo, Hawkeye by Fraction/Aja et al, The Wicked + The Divine by Gillen/McKelvie

An interesting thing I found when I crunched the numbers on what I read in 2016 is that it included a surprising amount of non-fiction. This may be related to my love of podcasts. Apparently this is #TryPod month, which is silly, but a good excuse to talk about the podcasts I enjoy. Some of these may be described as radio programmes, but the distinction is academic.

Part of the initiative is concerned with telling people how to download podcasts. So I will, just in case my nan is reading. I use iTunes, even though it’s an awful program, because most podcasts are indexed there, and you can use it to download the files to your PC, then synchronise the files to your smartphone (even on Android, if you use iSyncr). If you would prefer to just use your smartphone, there are plenty of apps available there to achieve that. If all that sounds complicated, you can usually listen to them or download them direct from the internet. They usually have their own website, so put the name into Google and you should find your way there.

Generally, start with the most recent episode, see if you like it, then do the archive dive. Some podcast applications show you the most popular episodes, which also work as an introduction. Often the entire archive is available for free download, but sometimes it is behind a paywall. I’ve rarely ventured behind these, but there are a few podcasts listed below that I’ll be happy to pay for at some point. I even subscribe to a few on Patreon. Anyway, mostly it’s free, so it’s worth having a bash.

(I’m going to avoid podcasts that my friends do, such as Find the Right Words and Man and Superman, but they are obviously worth your time.)

The first podcast I subscribed to is Wittertainment, or Kermode and Mayo’s Film Review. It’s a warm bath of film criticism, golden oldies radio hits, and general waffle. A balance of facts and criticism with light entertainment could describe lots of podcasts I listen to. For example, there’s No Such Thing as a Fish, from the team behind QI, where the researchers share some facts not on the show. Daft Souls from Cool Ghosts is great video games criticism, with a great discussion in the most recent episode on how you can become disillusioned with a medium when it fails to reach its potential. Also, look at Shut Up and Sit Down, which is the same but for board games (both are also primarily great video channels, on a tangent). Book Shambles with Josie Long and Robin Ince is purportedly about book recommendations, but has some fantastic guests, and the discussion often veers into some fascinating territory.

Radiotopia is a reliable publisher, so you can’t go too far wrong there. I listen to a few of them – The Allusionist tackles the history of words with wit and charm, and Song Exploder interviews composers from pop to theme music about how they come up with their tunes, and is fascinating. Bonus, the episodes of each tend to be around 15 minutes long. A popular one from Radiotopia is The Bugle, a funny roundup of the week’s news in a more eccentric and surreal form than the shows on the ever-reliable Friday Night Comedy Podcast from BBC Radio 4, also worth a subscribe. The Infinite Monkey Cage also comes from the BBC, which provides me my sum total of knowledge about science, which I promptly forget. I can’t keep up with the daily broadcast, but Late Night Woman’s Hour is essential listening.

Interviews are a natural fit for podcasts, and generally, if it’s an interesting subject, it’ll be a good podcast. However, there are some podcasts that are reliably good even if you don’t know the subject. WTF from Marc Maron is probably top of this list, but other good shows include Distraction Pieces with Scroobius Pip, NPR’s Fresh Air, and The Ezra Klein Show. If your taste for interviewing tends towards the irreverent, try The Adam Buxton Show, or especially Richard Herring’s Leicester Square Theatre Podcast, which often tends to the irrelevant. Laura Marling did a season of Reversal of the Muse, which is about women in the record industry, which is excellent, and I hope for a second. Similar to Song Exploder, Soundtracking by Edith Bowman is a series of interviews with film directors about how they use music in their films, and follows on from her equally good show Screen6 from when she was on 6music. And when it comes to interviews, you have to mention Desert Island Discs, which is rarely equalled, and not only podcasts weekly but has a massive archive of programmes going back decades. My external hard drive is currently full, due to the fact I have downloaded all the episodes since the end of 2010 in order to sift through them.

Finally, I’ll mention perhaps my two favourite shows. Hardcore History is more like a free audiobook series. Dan Carlin takes important historical periods or events – often battles – and unpacks them for hours at a time, making it perfect for flights, long car journeys, or lazy Sundays. It’s hardcore not only in the sense of its interest in communicating the viscera of history – the effects of violence, the feeling of being in a warzone – but also the deep historiography, the amount of research done for each episode. It has a point of view and owns up to it, which is a combination I find appealing and useful in any art form. Conversely, You Must Remember This is a history of classic Hollywood, recounted in a dreamlike Old Time Radio form in short episodes. Alongside the tabloid drama, Karina Longworth critiques the movies of her subjects, and keeps a sense of humour whilst also managing to effectively communicate how the stars must have felt during their lowest moments.

That’s a lot to be getting on with, so I’ll stop there. If there’s something I should be listening to, drop me a line. Otherwise, you probably know how to get me if you want me, and I’ll blog again at some point maybe. Now I should probably make that curry.