Three on a Theme: Bookish Podcasts

The Lawrence Public Library’s "Book Squad Podcast" just celebrated its eleventh episode, and let me tell you: it has been on fire lately.

Recent episodes feature discussions of classics like "The Catcher in the Rye" and "Their Eyes Were Watching God," shout-outs to great events like the KU Black Love Symposium, and even a couple of recommendations from yours truly (still haven’t read "Public Relations"? Fix that now).

I could listen to people talk about books all day, and the explosion of book-themed podcasts makes that pretty darn possible. Whether you’re in the mood for book recommendations, author interviews, or deep dives into book culture, there’s a podcast out there for you. I’ve collected a few of my favorites below.

NPR’s "Pop Culture Happy Hour" is more about pop culture in general than books, but occasionally, the podcast devotes an episode entirely to bookish topics. Those episodes are, without exception, great. Case in point: in 2014, "Pop Culture Happy Hour" ran a fall books preview episode, discussing then-new releases like "The Paying Guests," "Yes Please," and "Brown Girl Dreaming." Not only have I read fully half of the nearly 30 books they previewed in the episode, but I still have the actual episode downloaded on my years-old iPod.

Looking for more regular bookish content? "What Should I Read Next," the podcast hosted by Anne Bogel of the popular bookish website Modern Mrs. Darcy, might be a good fit for you. If you’ve ever submitted a request for personalized reading recommendations to the library's Book Squad, you know that we ask you to name a book you love, a book you like, and a book you hate to help us come up with new reads for you. "What Should I Read Next" takes a similar approach; over the course of each episode, guests on the show tell Anne about three books they love, one book they hate, and what they’ve been reading lately, and she plays “literary matchmaker.”

"What Should I Read Next" traffics most heavily in mid-range commercial fiction, and longtime listeners will hear certain titles name-checked repeatedly. Anne’s real talent is for finding the underlying thread that connects readers’ favorites; rather than relying simply on books with similar settings or plots, she’s great at identifying the feelings that certain books inspire in readers.

She’s also not afraid to recommend books that she admits weren’t for her, which I admire a lot. Anne’s taste and mine don’t always overlap, but I’ve gotten some great recommendations from this podcast; I definitely wouldn’t have tried "The Crossover" or "Ballad of the Whiskey Robber" if not for hearing about them on the show.

But maybe you aren’t hunting for new book recommendations. Maybe you just want a laugh. In that case, give a listen to "By the Book," a podcast in which hosts Jolenta Greenberg and Kristen Meinzer attempt to live according to the rules of popular self-help books for two weeks at a time, then gather to debrief about the experience and assess whether the book actually offers helpful advice.

"By the Book" just wrapped its first season, and in that time, they covered books like "The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up," "America’s Cheapest Family Gets You Right on the Money," "The Secret," and "Class with the Countess," among others.

I love self-help books, so this podcast is right up my alley, but it’s a fun listen even if you’ve never considered reading an advice book. Part of what makes "By the Book" interesting is that the hosts both take the advice seriously — they genuinely attempt to follow the rules to the letter — but they bring very different perspectives to the week’s rules. (For instance, in the" America’s Cheapest Family" episode, Jolenta realizes she doesn’t know even the most basic financial information about herself, while uber-frugal Kristen searches in vain for a way to cut more money out of her $12-per-year haircut budget.)

A couple of warnings: This podcast contains explicit language, so if that’s not your jam, give it a pass. And while By the Book is usually a comedy podcast, the hosts are more than willing to share some pretty intense stuff; an episode about "French Women Don’t Get Fat" ended up delving pretty deeply into the hosts' histories of disordered eating and body image issues. (They’ve since sworn off episodes dealing with diet books.)

Those are three of my favorite book-themed podcasts, but there are hundreds more out there! Feel free to share your favorites in the comments.

Happy listening!

— Meredith Wiggins is a readers' services assistant at the Lawrence Public Library.

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