Best Alice Munro Interview Re-Podcasted

Rose for Alice Munro

I'm beyond delighted that Eleanor Wachtel is re-podcasting her classic 2004 interview with Alice Munro to celebrate Munro's 2013 Nobel Prize for Literature. If I were you I'd download it immediately, before it expires (see download link below).

Munro and Wachtel talk in Munro's local lunch spot and it's one of my favorite author audio interviews ever. Their conversation fizzes with humor and intelligence, and covers almost everything a Munro fan would want to know, as I wrote in an earlier post:

"The interview lasts about an hour. It encompasses the arc of Munro's life and career, her opinions on adultery and hardship in fiction, her childhood in rural Ontario and how a scholarship launched her into the wider world, her frustration with the heroines of Tolstoy, her intimation of the sex in Austen, the unconscious theme of the stories in Runaway, the differing nature of her relationships with her mother and father, and her exploratory composition method." 

You can listen to it online here at CBC's Writers & Company webpage, or:

You can download the conversation with Wachtel and Munro for longterm keeping from the Writer's & Company iTunes podcast listing.

N.B. This particular Writers and Company podcast will probably go offline sometime in the next six months. Download NOW if you want to listen again later!


Best Podcast Apps for Radio-Style and Library-Style Listening

After months of using Shifty Jelly's Pocket Casts app for the iPhone (see earlier post) I find it's best for managing podcasts "radio-style" that you want to follow regularly. I couldn't find a way to download a particular episode for a podcast without simultaneously subscribing to that podcast's feed. Nor is Pocket Casts great for searching a podcast's archives. In spite of my intention to only use one podcast app, I found wasn't able to abandon the iPhone's native Podcasts app because it's superior for one-off downloads/listens and for saving podcasts I want to keep "forever."

So this is how I now use the two podcast apps:

Litagogo's Best Uses of Shifty Jelly's Pocket Casts App

I use the Pocket Casts app as a podcast radio. I set up its subscriptions so that whenever I open up the app, I can quickly find a podcast episode that suits my activity, whether it's cooking or gardening or walking. To whit:

For subscribing to my frequent-listening podcasts such as Eleanor Wachtel's Writers & Company from CBC RadioThe New Yorker Fiction Podcast, the BBC's Books and Authors podcastPRI's Selected Shorts, and Brad Listi's Other People podcast.

For subscribing to newsy/culture podcasts I like to dip into, such as WNYC's Leonard Lopate Show podcast and BBC Radio's Front Row Weekly podcast.

For streaming the above when I have free WiFi.

For manually downloading episodes from any of the podcasts above when I know I have a long drive ahead.

What I love most about the Pocket Casts app:
The individual podcast subscription summary pages, with a header at the top that tells you how many Recent, Unplayed, Downloaded, and Unfinished episodes you have for that podcast, and underneath the header, a reverse-chronological list of recent episodes.

What I love second-most about the Pocket Casts app:
The "Show Notes" that pop-up from the main podcast menu and that also are found by swiping left from within an episode. Also in general, the listening controls, particularly the rewind 10 seconds overlay.

What I like least about the Pocket Casts app:
Internal search for particular episodes is apparently non-existent. Or at least invisible to moi. For that you need good old Google, and then once you have a date you have to skim back, which is fast, but apparently only possible on podcasts to which you've subscribed--not good for one-off listens, so for that I still use the iPhone's free Podcasts app (more below).

Litagogo's Best Uses of Apple's iPhone Podcasts App

As suggested by its use of a "Library" label to display personalized content, I use the native iPhone Podcasts app more as a podcast library more than a podcast radio. To what:

For using the Store search function to sample or trial-run podcasts I may or may not want to subscribe to regularly on the Pocket Casts app. Sampling podcasts on the iPhone's Podcast app avoids overloading my Pocket Cast app's [New] Episodes feed, which quickly dragontails itself now that I have five or six subscriptions. I don't want samples clogging up my radio feed of reliables above.

For listening to a single episode of a podcast for research or passing-fancy interest, whether I've identified it from someone's recommendation or from a keyword search. The internal search on the iPhone Podcasts app is decent, and I assume just a portal into iTunes. For detailed searches or more macro searches you must resort to the Google, and then armed with podcast/episode info dip back into the Podcasts app.

For storing podcasts I want to keep and also sync across platforms. There are certain author interviews or craft talky-talk podcasts or short story readings that I can listen to several times--these I keep in two places: on a playlist on my iPod called "Perpetuities" and by downloading them into the iPhone podcast app. I highly recommend downloading your most beloved podcast episodes because sometimes they become unavailable. If you tire of them you can delete them later.

What I love most about the native iPhone Podcast app:
Sampling and archive functionality.

What I like least about the native iPhone Podcast app:
Lack of detailed episode descriptions up front on lists and also within the episodes.


TidBITS Article Gives Me Hope (for iPhone Podcast Phunctionality)

A Podcast App Worth $1.99
I used to listen to podcasts exclusively on my old Nano iPod, but since I acquired an iPhone (rationalized by an emergency overseas trip last spring) my trusty little iPod has been niched down to running soundtracks only.

One advantage of an iPhone for listening to podcasts is that if you're standing in one place, i.e. kneading dough, you can use the iPhone's speakers and shed the earbuds--my old iPod couldn't do that. An iPad or a laptop could be used the same way, but they take up a lot more counter space and it's harder to find a spot for them that is safe from flour clouds or water spill. I also liked that I only had to remember one device to have podcasts available to me at all times.

The only headache with using my iPhone for all my podcast listening was playlist management. I would sync my hand-picked podcast playlists (which iTunes lumps with "Music" playlists) from my laptop to the iPhone's orange Music app, or I would download podcasts from within the iPhone using the purple iTunes app (I still get confused between "Music" and "iTunes," which is why I've used chromatic identifiers here), but both methods were tedious, and gummed up storage space.

I thought the iPhone would achieve its podcast listening potential when Apple released their Apple Podcasts app in June of 2012, but then I used it: terrible search, draconically truncated titling, and non-intuitive subscription management. Half the time I can't find things I know I've downloaded. I have trouble finding things I want to delete. Most frustrating of all, I can't make playlists of podcast episodes according to my handpicked categories--i.e. "Favorite Short Stories," "Craft Lectures," "Perpetuities," or "Vermont Road Trip," something I had managed fairly simply by using iTunes on my laptop and then syncing the playlists to the iPod (N.B.: iTunes will store your playlist as "Music" whether it contains podcasts or songs, or a combo).

Now, thanks to a TidBITS article titled "Five Alternatives to Apple's Podcast App" that my favorite clipper forwarded to me, I have hope for far less frustrating iPhone podcast listening in the future. TidBITS contributor Josh Centers, who seems to share my dissatisfaction with the native Apple Podcast app, and who has a has a far more techy understanding of data management than I do, has gone to the trouble of testing five third-party podcast management apps for the iPhone. After reading his article, I'm planning to try out Shifty Jelly's Pocket Casts app (Android version also available), stat.


Podcasts for Wrapping

The holiday season Guardian Short Stories podcast is back, just in time for all you last-minute wrappers! Also great for long walks away from the yulemosh.

Jingle Bell and Ho Ho Ho Free
Some people like to wrap to Christmas music, but I prefer to squish and tape my corners to short story podcasts, which I listen to on headphones to filter out all the paper carnage. Last year the Guardian Books site podcasted an excellent 12-day series of favorite short stories read by contemporary authors (read the Litagogo overview here, and my review of the excellent reading of Angela Carter's "The Kitchen Child" by Helen Simpson here). The format is roughly similar to The New Yorker: Fiction podcast (a Litagogo fave) in that the reading is followed by a discussion, in this case with Lisa Allardice, the editor of the Guardian's Saturday Review section. The main difference between the Guardian and The New Yorker podcasts is an absence of set-up--the Guardian readers plunge into the stories without preamble or explanation. Also, The New Yorker spreads their story readings across a year, podcasting one per month, whereas the Guardian podcasts one story every day for 12 consecutive days. (Hmmm, The 12 Podcasts of... Never mind.)

Starting at Z
gift books zadie smith
The Gift of Books
As readers of this blog and my reviews will already know, I'm a big fan of Zadie Smith (go read Smith's wonderful essay on joy vs. pleasure on The New York Review of Books site right now--it might slip behind a paywall!), so I'm pleased that this year's Guardian short story series starts with her. Last year the discussions afterward between Allardice and the author/readers felt a bit truncated. That seems to have improved this year, based on the satisfying discussion that follows Smith's reading of "Umberto Buti" by Guiseppe Pontiggia, a story she recently translated for McSweeney's (both story and author are new to me).

Subscribe for Keepers
I noticed that some of last year's 12 story podcasts are no longer available for downloading from the Guardian Short Stories iTunes feed. If you think you might want to have any of these recordings stored on your hard disk or iPod or iPhone, you should subscribe and download. You can always delete the ones you don't want to keep. Lucky for you, the Helen Simpson reading of Angela Carter's "The Kitchen Child" is still available to download from iTunes. Merry listening, indeed.


Kevin Powers on The Yellow Birds

"and the dust covered everything in Al Tafar, so that even the blooming hyacinth flowers became a kind of rumor."--The Yellow Birds
"and the dust covered everything in Al Tafar, so that even the blooming hyacinth flowers became a kind of rumor."--The Yellow Birds
Kevin Powers, author of a novel about young soldiers who serve in fictional "Tal Afar," Iraq, served in real-life Al Tafar, Iraq (the anagram is so close it feels like a typo) when Powers was only slightly older than 21-year-old Private John Bartle, the first-person narrator of his sinuous and stark war novel, The Yellow Birds. Powers and Bartle are both from Virginia, and although the fictional Bartle does not share the MFA in poetry that Powers earned after his military service, his soldierly descriptions of everything from hyacinths to explosions contain the rhythms and sensory details of poetry. Powers speaks directly about the similarities between himself and the narrator of The Yellow Birds in an interview with Tom Gjelton, who was standing in for Diane Rehm during her vacation from The Diane Rehm Show (iTunes link to most recent episodes) in September 2012.

The Autobiographical Itch
Whenever a novelist's background clings closely to that of his or her fist-person narrator the question of autobiography is inevitable. In my experience this fiction vs. autobiography curiosity peaks right after I finish the book, which is what happened when I finished listening to the audiobook of The Yellow Birds (my review will appear soon in Shelf Awareness--I will add a link when goes live).

Podcast Provender
I often look for a podcast to give me answers to questions I have about a book or an author's intentions, and I am often satisfied by podcasts. Writers tend to be garrulous in audio interviews, and there are plenty of good interviewers out there asking questions readers might like to ask. One of the advantages of getting your author background information from a podcast is that you get hear the bonus verbal cues--hesitations, tone shifts, silences, or lack thereof--that can help you decide for yourself if the writer is telling the truth about the fiction.

Complimentary Snoopiness
I know authors get terribly tired of this snoopiness, but the better the story, the more avid the desire to know if it's real. Readers can't help it. If it turns out that there is actually a good deal of invention and inspiration, and that the biographical details are more scenic and empathetic than true-life-replicating, that only adds to my esteem for the fiction.

Veteran Experience
If you're read or listened to the audiobook of The Yellow Birds (and I recommend that you do, if you have any curiosity at all about what modern combat and the subsequent return home is like for our soldiers), you will find this interview with Kevin Powers by Tom Gjelton on The Diane Rehm Show well worth a listen. The author reads several well-chosen excerpts aloud (though I'm still partial to Holter Graham's audiobook performance). Powers' discussion with Gjelton will inform you about how much the author created from his experience, and listener call-ins bring in more voices of non-fictional veterans who served in various conflicts. The 50-minute interview is spoiler-free, so don't be afraid to listen to it if you haven't read the book yet (though it will be more interesting if you have).

Sterling Disappointment
My only disappointment with this podcast was that Powers did not budge a millimeter on the real-life inspiration for Sergeant Sterling, to my mind the most singular, enigmatic, and charismatic character in The Yellow Birds. Sterling's hot-metal dialogue and his brutal-love leadership of his unit give The Yellow Birds a necessary intensity. When Gjelton inquires, "Was there someone like Sergeant Sterling in your own experience?"(Minute 11), Powers replies, "I mean--not directly; none of the characters correspond to people I actually knew," and veers into a discussion of mining elements of himself (cf. Flaubert: "Madame Bovary, c'est moi"), the disavowal comes a little too fast and sounds a little too slick. Perhaps the soldier-poet-novelist knows when a diversionary answer is the most strategic, and in this debriefing he got away with one, or maybe he made Sterling up out of nothing but dust and shards of his own experience; either way I'm glad he exists in novelistic form.


Rod Stewart: Singer, Writer, Art Lover

Handbags and gladrags and morning sun when it's in your face, etc.

Perhaps it's spandexing the bounds of "literary" to include a review of a podcast in which Rod Stewart promotes his autobiography (entitled, deliciously, Rod:

Shop Indie Bookstores

but I was lyrically disillusioned by "Maggie May" as a kid (I can still picture the room in my dad's Upper West Side apartment where I first heard it over the radio) and I was popmusically imprinted by Stewart's cover of Cat Stevens' "The First Cut Is The Deepest" as a teenager. When I chanced across Stewart's 13-minute conversation with Kirsty Lang on the BBC's Front Row podcast  I was snookered all over again by the raspy organ and Rod's laid-back candor.

Here are a few of the choice items from the interview, but if you have time, listen to Rod tell them as only Rod can (see links below for online listening & iTunes downloading*):

1) Although his lyrics take some factual liberties, there was a real "Maggie May" and a somewhat momentous event for young Rod at a jazz festival in Beaulieu, England. [You'll notice Beaulieu is pronounced "beeuwlee" by Rod à la British convention. Irrelevant fun fact: Beaulieu, located in the lovely New Forest, was an important RAF base in WWII.]

2) "Maggie May" was an underestimated B-side (let's pause for a moment of 45 rpm nostalgia), and owes its début to a curious Cleveland DJ.

3) Young Rod was "discovered" at train station, playing harmonica and dressed in rags, by Long John Baldry.

4) Rod collects art, particularly Pre-Raphaelite paintings (because they often portray mermaid-torsoed, long-haired damsels??) and has hung many examples across his four domiciles. Check out the one on his wall in Beverly Hills. Wow.

I'll leave you to discover the remaining lightly scandalous (no airplane stories) Rod bits on your own.

Fear not, intellectual types: Litagogo will resume its regularly-scheduled pretentious literary posting next week.

*Online link to Rod's interview with Kirsty Lang on the BBC's Front Row programme.
iTunes link to Rod Stewart on the BBC's Front Row Daily podcast of 10/18/12.


Storm Distraction Podcasts

"Storm in the Mountains," about 1870, by Albert Bierstadt
Photo Credit: Museum of Fine Arts, Boston 
Storm warnings, impending storms, and hovering storms make me edgy and distracted. I'm always waiting for a widowmaker to fall off one of the 100-year-old oaks on our street, or for the power to go out. Right now in the Boston area we're on the edge of the blandly-dubbed Hurricane "Sandy," and although we're getting off light compared to New York and New Jersey, I find it hard to focus with the wind gusting up to 63 mph and the interior doors ghosting back and forth.

Podcasts are good for storms, because you can go around doing storm prep while listening, and once the storm is upon you a podcast can take your mind off those wavering branches, or in the case of my niece in Brooklyn, a swaying 4th floor apartment.

Here's a sampling of old podcast favorites that should get you through a storm (click on titles to go to podcast links):

The New Yorker: Fiction Podcast: Paul Theroux Reads Jorge Luis Borges
Paul Theroux reads "The Gospel According to Mark," Jorge Luis Borges' allegorical story about a well-intentioned young medical student trapped in the Pampas by wet weather. They don't structure stories like this any more. A robust 20 minutes.

The Guardian Book Podcasts: Andrew O'Hagan: Burns Night Special
Robert Burns expert Andrew O'Hagan hails from the Scottish bard's windswept Ayrshire. In this half-hour podcast he reads three of Burns' works in the accent they deserve. Wrap yourself in your plaidie and listen to the storm-perfect "O Wert Thou in the Cauld Blast"(poem text link).

The Bat Segundo Show: Cynthia Ozick II (#368)
Ed Champion conducts a wonderful discussion of writing craft with master writer Cynthia Ozick. Uncompromising and stimulating, it's a conversation to take your mind off almost any meteorological threat. Approximately one hour.

Guardian Short Stories Podcast: Helen Simpson Reads "The Kitchen Child" by Angela Carter
A great story read extremely well. Conveys much concupiscent culinary coziness. About half an hour.

BBC World Service's World Book Club: Edna O'Brien
Edna O'Brien reminisces about boarding school, her formation as a writer, the censoriousness of 1950s Ireland and answers questions (including one from Anne Enright!). She also reads from "The Country Girls."


Hear Junot Diaz Quip Fast and Read an Early Story

Junot Diaz, newly named a MacArthur Fellow for 2012, is a great podcast subject. This "Diaz Distilled in 13 Minutes" Litagogo post from 2009 has links to two great vintage Junot Diaz podcasts:

•a 2007 "Meet the Writers" Barnes & Noble podcast in which Diaz displays his wit and explains his geometric approach to story structure in under 13 minutes, and

•a 2007 "New Yorker: Fiction" podcast in which Diaz reads his classic early story, "How to Date a Brown Girl (Black Girl, White Girl, or Halfie)."

Listening links at the 2009 Litagogo post.


Zadie Smith Talks About NW in London

"I wrote it [NW] almost entirely in a library in Manhattan."--Zadie Smith

In terms of language and dialogue Zadie Smith's NW is one of the most alive novels I've read this year. As I wrote in my review of NW for Shelf Awareness, "One does not read NW so much as eavesdrop on it."

NW is brainy and philosophical and also entirely accessible--no fancy words, just life transcribed through an intelligence that notices all the intersections among class, race, turf and ambition for a collection of modern Brits who grew up in the North West (NW) postal district of London. There is heart also, particularly in the middle Felix section, which travels all the way south to Soho (W1) and arcs like a mini-Ulysses between the Leah and Natalie/Keisha sections.

Because Smith's style in NW is idiosyncratically Woolfian you have to pay attention to who's speaking or thinking, but it's not that difficult. A moderate tolerance for non-standard typography and chapter length is also helpful, but that's all you need to be immersed in NW's multi-charactered world.

I've been listening to Zadie Smith podcasts both new and old to find something to recommend as an accompaniment to NW. One thing I discovered is that Smith is far more comfortable talking to fellow writers than to journalists. She is also staggeringly polite to journalists who ask ham-fisted questions about race and novels.

Never mind, all you need to scratch your itch for live Smith is to listen to her in conversation with Nikesh Shukla on his "Subaltern" podcast from September 2012. (Here's the iTunes link to Zadie Smith on the Subaltern podcast.) The podcast is only 30 minutes long but it's incredibly satisfying, quick without being "lite," relaxed yet jammed with interesting stuff. Smith reveals how she arrived at the relative spareness of NW after attempting to write a 120-page version (!), muses on mature existentialism, riffs amusingly on the difference between being edited by magazine and newspaper editors in the UK ("random") vs. the U.S. ("relentless"), admires the multiplicity of James Baldwin's perspective, rues the challenge of writing realism in the digital age (Tao Lin), chats about the experience of doing a profile of Jay-Z for The New York Times, and hints at what she might write next.

P.S. For the completist, Guernica Magazine has posted a video of Smith in conversation with Nathan Englander in 2010 at a fundraiser for the Dadaab Young Women's Scholarship Initiative, in which Smith's comments on writing and identity seem to point to NW. 


Maurice Sendak, King of All Wild Things: A Retrospective Rumpus of Links

"And when he came to the place where the wild things are..."

UPDATE: Fresh Air has released a 45-minute memorial compilation of Terry Gross's interviews with Maurice Sendak from 1986-2011. It's fascinating to hear how his voice grows pleasantly gruff with age. (The compilation includes material described in the September 2011 podcast listed below.)

"I am in love with the world"
The great thing about Maurice Sendak, apart from his immortal opus and his gleeful bicuspids, is that he never became pompous or preening or patronizing. His late interviews are seminars in how to live impishly and passionately up until the last minute, and though I was sad to learn of Sendak's death on May 7, 2012, when I re-listened to his September 2011 Fresh Air interview with Terry Gross, I was consoled by Sendak's satisfaction with his own life ("I'm happy," "It is a blessing to get old. It is a blessing to find the time to do the things, to take the time to read the books, to listen to the music,") and his bracing acceptance of death ("Oh God, there are so many beautiful things in the world which I will have to leave when I die, but I'm ready, I'm ready, I'm ready.")

Sendak's last Fresh Air interview is perhaps not the interview to start with, because it is lachrymose with Sendak's grief over the deaths of people he's loved, so I would save it for last. Here is a suggested order of listening for my top Sendak audio and visual interviews (not all are available on podcast):

TateShots on Sendak's Illustrious Inspirations (December 2011)
In this 5-minute video interview from the UK's Tate museum Sendak talks about the inspirations for his art, including William Blake, Philip Otto Runge and other German Romantic painters. It shows Sendak's bookshelves and framed prints and his dog, Herman (named after Melville).
Downloadable iTunes link for the TateShots interview with Maurice Sendak.

Bill Moyers Uncovers the Genesis of Where The Wild Things Are (2004)
This 17-minute video interview with Bill Moyers on PBS's "Now" program is one of the best on the familial inspirations and drawing-limitation origins of Sendak's Where the Wild Things Are, plus his attitudes about children's literature (which Moyers suggests is "like fighting guerrilla warfare"), Sendak's collaboration with über-editor Ursula Nordstrom, and the childhood fears instilled by the Lindbergh baby abduction.

Marker-Sniffing à Deux on the The Colbert Report (2011)
Most everyone I know has already seen these. A pair of delightfully acerbic, giddy and impish video interviews, conducted at Sendak's home in Connecticut, replete with middle school shenanigans. The universe is lucky Colbert filmed these when he did.
Online page for "Grim Colberty Tales with Maurice Sendak Part 1" (7 1/2 minutes)

Sendak's Last Fresh Air Appearance (September 2011)
Ostensibly scheduled to promote the release of Sendak's Bumble-ardy, this 18-minute interview with Terry Gross quickly deepens into a discussion of life, lost friends and lovers, the beauty of the world, Sendak's philosophical attitude toward death. It concludes with his heartfelt benediction for Gross: "Live your life, live your life, live your life."