Ten of the Best Book Podcasts and BookTubers
In need of a quick dose of fiction on the go? Fancy some in-depth book club discussions without the reading schedule? Behold, our guide to some of the best book podcasts and literary YouTubers (or 'BookTubers', don'tchaknow...)
The Skinny's recommended books podcasts
For unusual themes: Literary Friction
Broadcasting on NTS Radio, Literary Friction hosts Carrie Plitt and Octavia Bright take the listener on a monthly whistlestop tour of the literary canon's unusual crevices, with themes that you won't hear discussed elsewhere – like 'arrested development' (Peter Pan characters that refuse to grow up) and 'animal grammar' (animals personified in books).
Each episode features an author interview and a reading from a recent book that ties into said theme – Petina Gappah and Max Porter are recent interviewees – and, mercifully, you won’t hear the inane ‘what first made you want to write’ questions, which are like nails on a chalkboard for literature fans.
Plitt and Bright also offer up some offbeat book recommendations that have probably skipped your attention or are in need of a revisit.
Listen at: nts.live/shows/literaryfriction
For bookish advice: Dear Book Nerd
Dear Book Nerd offers an innovative take on the agony aunt form, but instead of hearing about the standard sexless marriages and weird dreams about your psychiatrist, this podcast aims to solve bookish problems of every shade that Kübler-Ross can throw at you.
What’s the best book to start with, if you’ve never read any classic literature before? How do you get back a first edition book that you left at an ex’s house?
Here, literary dilemmas big and small, uncommon and commonplace will be answered with the methodology of a clinician and a bit of wry smirk.
Listen at: bookriot.com/category/dear-book-nerd
For the 'live' experience: Book Slam
Dubbed London’s ‘first/best/only literary nightclub’, Book Slam hosts the big hitters of the writing world in a live event every month in the capital. The podcast features the live recordings of the authors who are invited to read and discuss their work, with an added bit of jumbled, amusing commentary from presenters Patrick Neate and Elliott Jack.
Sadly, the podcast has taken a permanent hiatus, but you can download the hefty back catalogue, featuring the likes of Salena Godden, Laura Bates, Shami Chakrabarti and Simon Armitage, online. You get all the energy of being at a live event, only in the comfort of your tea- stained onesie.
Listen at: bookslam.com/podcast
For dissent and debate: Slate Audio Book Club
Slate Audio Book Club takes the long-form approach: 40 minutes of uninterrupted critique from a variety of rotating critics. Don’t worry; it isn’t the post-modernist, cyberpunk, deconstructed literature that you might expect from said esteemed publication. The books dissected range from H Is for Hawk and Pride and Prejudice to Fifty Shades of Grey and Harry Potter.
The podcasters aren’t afraid to break the critical consensus either, so if you feel like you’re the only one who found the plot of How to be both difficult to follow, you’ll find yourself in good company.
For everyone, anywhere: The Catapult
At times, it can feel like climbing Kilimanjaro while competing in a burger-eating contest is easier than committing to another 800-page novel. Fortunately, The Catapult offers literature in digestible, bite-sized chunks from Pulitzer Prize winners and young novelists alike.
Host Jaime Green initially began the podcast because of the geographically confined nature of author readings – they are abundant and varied in New York, but perhaps a little harder to find in Alabama – so the mission statement from the start was clear: you can feel involved in the writerly circle wherever you happen to be (well, as long as you have a download-friendly device and a decent Wi-Fi connection, but you get the gist).
If you enjoy this style of literary podcast, and want some more actual fiction and fewer people wanging on about books, check out Selected Shorts for a similar vibe.
Listen at: catapultpodcast.com
For language lovers: A Way with Words
A Way with Words focuses on the stuff of literature; presenters Martha and Grant guide the listener through the maze of language in all of its changing and unstable guises.
As well as looking at the writer’s work, this podcast goes around the world to explore grammar, dying languages, folklore, regional dialects, slang and old sayings. There are also a couple of extra riddles and quizzes for you to test your boffin potential in the language department and prepare for that next pub quiz.
Listen at: waywordradio.org
The Skinny's recommended BookTubers
The voracious reader: Jen Campbell
Jen Campbell is a poet, short story writer and author of the bestselling series Weird Things Customers Say in Bookshops (2012). Her YouTube channel covers pretty much every corner of the literary sphere: yearly book roundups, book hauls, author interviews and reviews. While BookTube is often filled with genre fiction fans, Campbell is attentive to books of every variety; she reviews graphic novels, literary fiction and poetry collections.
The best thing about Campbell’s channel is that she is able to give a writer’s view of books; she decodes language and form in interesting ways, and as someone who’s worked in the book trade for a decade, her knowledge of the literary market shines through in every video.
Watch Jen choose her favourite books of 2015:
The eternal optimist: Better Than Food: Book Reviews
Clifford of Better Than Food has an eye for literary gems from the world of politics, philosophy and history as well as novels and poetry. Here is one the few places on YouTube that you can find Michel Houellebecq reviewed alongside Cormac McCarthy without even a hint of Suzanne Collins.
Clifford's reviews are “exclusively positive”; don’t expect any takedowns of clichéd language or meandering plots. Instead, he focuses on interesting recommendations and will definitely persuade you to travel into sections of the bookstore that you may have dodged beforehand. Oh, and his passion for books is ++10, so prepare your bank balance for a heavy pounding.
Watch Clifford review Stoner by John Williams:
The diarist: MercysBookishMusings
MercysBookishMusings is straight-up about where her enjoyment of books comes from, stating that she’s “just someone who enjoys reading.” As such, her channel is immersed in the pleasure of the reading experience; she often talks about character and her personal connections to books, in contrast to the academic musings or frantic dissections of sentence structures that critics can often get lost in.
Check out MercysBookishMusings if you feel a little excluded from the literary shindig happening in the Penguin Classics part of the library.
Watch Mercy talk about her favourite graphic novels:
The entertainer: Books and Pieces
Books and Pieces is a relative newcomer to the YouTube book community, and, as well as book reviews, discussions and recommendations, there is also the odd bit of costume-wearing thrown in.
The channel features a series of videos on the history of Science Fiction – from utopia to Cyborgs – which is an entertaining and informative way to get clued up on the genre. You’ll also find satirical theme videos about the trope of nightmarish and messed-up love stories in literature, and a guide to Gothic parodies that allows you to make the most of these rainy, morose, dark months – without an added dose of gloom.
Books and Pieces' guide to early 20th-century science fiction: