For a solo pastime, reading can also be a rather social activity. Indeed, many of us love talking about books just as much as reading them, which helps explain why podcasts about books are so plentiful. But for all the choice, the book podcast genre is starved for innovation. Author interviews, although inspiring, quickly become repetitive. And many shows feature the same guests promoting the same books. To remedy this, some podcasts begin with an enticing conceit — Book fights! Desert island novels!— but these ideas are often revealed as gimmicks. Others, merely dull. Just as reading shouldn’t be a chore, neither should listening to a podcast.
Rather than dwell on tired formats, we should tune into the shows that make us feel zealous about reading. As well, book podcasts allow us glimpses of other people’s shelves, creating a sense of community with readers that we’d never otherwise meet. What better way to find your next great read? With all of this in mind, here are the best book podcasts to get you excited about reading.
Book podcasts tend to have two main problems: on the one hand, they can be rambly and unfocused; on the other, they can be so specific that their discussions become dry. Book Riot: The Podcast avoids both of these traps, making me wonder why so many other shows get the formula wrong. Perhaps the answer lies in expertise. The show is hosted by the editors of Book Riot, a pair that clearly know their Cusk from their Chbosky. Thanks to their industry knowledge, Book Riot approaches its subject through engaging, expansive conversation. Each episode explores a range of topics, digesting books and literary media with a dose of skepticism, intelligence, and irony.
Borrowed, despite its name, feels original. Plenty of public libraries now have their own podcasts. Many of them are excellent, like those from the NYPL. Borrowed, by the Brooklyn Public Library, does things a bit differently. The show has moved away from interviews and book reviews to deliver stories sourced from its local community, stories like the history of Black women’s suffrage, why Brooklyn produces so many great writers, and tales from the library itself, asking that question we’ve all been dying to have answered: “What do librarians do all day?” You don’t have to live in Brooklyn to enjoy Borrowed, as each episode comes with its own curated book list, making the show not only entertaining, but a great resource while we wait for libraries to reopen.
Hosted by writer Adam Vitcavage, the book podcast Debutiful is a show celebrating the strange, thrilling, and often terrifying experience of being a debut novelist. Listening to an interview with an author still wet around the ears is a gratifying experience. Sure, missing will be those pearls of wisdom that only come from writers who have been working for decades, but these newbies add an essential perspective on contemporary fiction. Fresh voices like Brandon Taylor, Cherie Jones, and Zak Salhi remind us that great new talent is emerging every day. Vitcavage is a host who believes in his show, making Debutiful a slick and rewarding passion project.
Glory Edim is always searching for a good story. Her book club, Well-Read Black Girl, started in 2015 and has since blossomed into a book, online community, and podcast. The pitch? This is a show for female writers of color, seeking to elevate their voices, publicize their work and dissect their practices. Oh, and it wants to inspire the next generation too. It sounds like a lot to accomplish in a single show, but Edim takes it in stride. What makes Well-Read Black Girl a great listen is Edim’s thought-provoking questions. You won’t find a superfluous word in her delivery. This, in combination with a roster of excellent guests, makes for an excellent podcast that is likely to go far.
The New Yorker: Fiction podcast features a monthly reading and conversation with some of the most renowned, exciting, and accomplished writers working today. Interviewed by the magazine’s fiction editor herself, Deborah Treisman, each guest reads a piece of prose — most often a short story — by another author previously published in The New Yorker. This podcast perfectly blends discussion with an exploration of the magazine’s vast archive, providing a pleasurable insight into how writers inspire each other with their work.
NPR’s Book of the Day is a daily show focused on the latest novels, poetry collections, and children’s books, delivering inspiring conversations in the time it takes to drink your morning coffee. The podcast doesn’t discriminate against genres, either. Non-fiction, sci-fi, and fantasy books are all considered, allowing the listener (read: me) to expand their literary horizons. As is typical from NPR, the production is smooth. Smoother, even, than your medium roast. If you’re feeling overwhelmed by the pace of our world, Book of the Day is a welcome addition to a slower morning routine.
Books & Boba sets the standard for how to host a book club through a podcast: consistently good content, enthusiastic hosts, and a varied reading list. Based in California, hosts Marvin Yueh and Reera Yoo are focused on books by Asian and Asian American authors, but their choice of genre is wide and inclusive. Their scope includes sci-fi and fantasy, historical fiction, and contemporary literature. Their monthly episodes are interspersed with news updates and author chats, but at the show’s heart are interesting and nuanced discussions of the novels. And let’s be honest, that’s the reason we sign up for book clubs in the first place.
Little Atoms began life as a radio show in 2005. It was a small production made from a little studio above an Indian takeaway in London. Although, sixteen years later, the show has grown into an informed and successful podcast, Little Atoms remains delightfully. Nearing seven hundred episodes, the show demonstrates all the strengths of an indie press by responding quickly to developments in literary culture. Their interviews are diverse and include big names and new writers, covering both fiction and nonfiction. Little Atoms crosses genres, making each episode release exciting and unpredictable — just how I like my literature.
Self-described as “tough love for literature,” I would say that Book Fight pulls no punches, but the hosts would probably make a comment about my use of cliché. Hosts Mike Ingram and Tom McAllister are happy to give critiques, making examples of essays, classic literature, and the occasional contemporary novel for their literary hot takes. Their comments are constructive and, admittedly, often warranted. Their analysis of the legacy of David Foster Wallace is the highlight of their compelling creative nonfiction season, a great example of content that appeals to readers and writers alike. Book Fight has created an active listener community by inviting their audience to respond with their own criticism, a welcome inclusion in the show, if only for comments like this: “I don’t agree with everything Mike and Tom say… but the opinions are considered, entertaining, and often funny.”
Alice Florence Orr is a staff writer for Podcast Review and is based in Edinburgh. Her work has appeared in Scottish Review, Like The Wind, and Nomad Journal. You can connect with her on Twitter or Instagram.