Angela Carter's "The Kitchen Child"

"That was when too much cayenne went in."
Although I've already posted about the Guardian Books short stories podcast, I wanted to single out one episode from the dozen: Helen Simpson's recording of Angela Carter's "The Kitchen Child." This fully-equipped story of belowstairs life provides a nutritional supplement to the frothier kitchen bustling currently being purveyed by the TV drama "Downton Abbey" (a sweet and savory indulgence to which I have succumbed, but it does not stick to the ribs like the Carter). Simpson's androgynous voice animates the young man of the title wonderfully and I can't imagine a more satisfying homage. Her reading, devoid of second-hand authorial attitude, is in full service to Carter's ample prose and she keeps the story's use of repetition fresh. The first time I listened my skin stood up. Simpson also plays the humor in the story just right (the housekeeper's wish for a "spanking" new chef who would "gateau Saint-HonorĂ© her on her birthday" is deliciously but directly delivered). Carter's work is sometimes over-pantried by the three f's--feminist, fairytale, and fabulist--but in "The Kitchen Child" there is only the magic of rich human cravings and transporting sensory detail. Bon appĂ©tit.

Listening Links: At the Guardian Books page for "The Kitchen Child" (click the big white triangle/arrow to play the audio on your computer), and also listenable/downloadable on iTunes . (24 minutes)


Listen to 12 Classic Stories for Nuffink

Crystalline Short Stories from the UK
After listening to this December 2010 Guardian Books podcast of 12 contemporary authors reading their favorite short stories, I've come to the conclusion that the schools of the United Kingdom and Ireland must teach elocution as well as they teach Oscar-acceptance speechwriting, because the authors' enunciation and pacing is kilometers beyond your average mumbler. Nor are these writers afraid to "do" different voices for different characters, which isn't to everyone's taste, but I liked it. Whatever the formation of these writer/audio performers, they each do justice to their favorite story, regardless of contrasts in accent or gender, and I recommend almost all of them.*

Lots of Story, Little Talk
The format of the Guardian short stories podcast is similar to that longstanding paragon, the New Yorker: Fiction podcast, though the authors in the Guardian series are not limited to choosing stories that have appeared in The Guardian. The post-story discussions between the readers and Guardian contributor Lisa Allardice last only a few minutes, and I wished they had been longer (for the authors' written impressions, see this roundup page on the stories in Guardian Books). The total running time of the episodes ranges from a brisk 11 minutes (Anne Enright reading and discussing Raymond Carver's "Fat") to 43 ruminative minutes (Rose Tremain reading and discussing Yiyun Li's "Extra"). That gives you some idea of the diversity of the chosen favorites; a couple of the stories were delightfully unknown to me.

How to Listen
The Guardian short stories podcast home page has the complete list of audio (be sure to click on the tiny "Next" at the bottom of the list to advance to the second page of episodes). You can also download the whole lot from the iTunes Guardian short stories page for transferring to your iPod, but you should check out the online pages anyway, just to see the fetching thumbnail photos of authors and readers.

*Not to be coy about the one that didn't do it for me: Anton Chekhov's "The Beauties," the short story which Philip Pullman reads, struck me as more stalkerish than aesthetic, but maybe I'm guilty of applying a 21st century sensibility to a 19th century story.


Free Podcasts Are Great For These ings...

Bulb Planting 
Chairlift Riding
Contact Lens Cleaning
Dog Brushing
Firewood Gathering
Mass Mailing
Not Sleeping
Potato Peeling
Road Tripping
Snow Shoveling
Spring Cleaning
Stationary Bicycling
Window Washing
Xmas Tree De-trimming


Karen Russell Reads From Swamplandia!

Our alligator understudy: the mighty firebellied "toad."

The Gator Pit at Night
The excerpt from Swamplandia! that Karen Russell reads aloud in this NPR "Listen to the Story" podcast delivers a mini panorama of humid Floridian hucksterism in less than 7 minutes. It begins:

"Like black silk, the water bunched and wrinkled."

I had to think about that sentence for few seconds, and then it became indelible--the only way to think of creatures (even mothers) swimming under water at night.

Toothy Text
You don't get sentences like that every day. There's plenty more texture and dense atmosphere in Swamplandia!, and unless you're a dehumidified minimalist, you'll enjoy the lavish scope of Russell's prose. The same NPR.org page that plays the audio includes the text of a slightly longer chunk of Swamplandia!'s first chapter.

It Came From Miami
For a behind-the-scenes sense of where all this Swamplandia! imagination and language comes from, listen to Russell's interview with Ed Champion on "The Bat Segundo Show" podcast. This podcast begins with the best musical intro I've heard this year: a swiveling, snout-on snippet of the "Wally Gator" cartoon theme music. On a more serious note, Champion is, as ever, scrupulously prepared, and in just over half an hour he and Russell gnash over Swamplandia!'s short-story origin, as well as its allegorical nuances, plot structure, and punctuational exuberance. Right near the end (Minutes 33-36), Russell credits her editor, Jordan Pavlin of Knopf, for helping her to calibrate the narrative hesitancy between reality and fantasy in Swamplandia!, and for helping to "echolocate" how a particular character come across to the reader--what an interesting way to describe the editor's role. (iTunes links: "The Bat Segundo Show" podcast, and the specific episode link for the Karen Russell interview.)