Sometimes, when I’m trying to work, I get very distracted by other people’s lives: their phone calls; their toilets flushing; their conversations about car parking. To get back into my bubble, I wear earplugs. Or, occasionally, I listen to literary podcasts. I like their reluctant interviewees trying to reach profundity. I like their reverence for words. Once I’ve finished listening, I’m usually back on track. I’ve convinced myself they are inspiration, and worthy procrastination.
My favourite podcasts at the moment are strangely New York-ish. I say strange because, while I have a predictable interest in the city, I’ve only been there once, and that was over ten years ago. For a week. With my parents. But we did see Woody Allen playing his clarinet at The Carlyle. He reminded me of a member of the muppet orchestra with his contented, bouncy focus.
I plan to return to New York one day and maybe stay at a rather charming hotel that overlooks the New York Public Library where all the rooms are arranged according to the Dewey decimal system. That’s my latest, nerdy New York fantasy.
Paul Holdengraber, director of LIVE at the New York Public Library, introduces his program with an enthusiasm and sophistication that makes me want to applaud from my desk. The LIVE interviews are a wonderful listening pleasure, from Holdengraber’s introductions in which he invariably explains that the motivation for the program is to make the (presumably staid) lions of the New York Public Library roar (with excitement? Fury? Fright? He doesn’t specify). The subjects of LIVE are varied, everyone from Joan Didion to Jay-Z. Holdengraber’s interview with Zadie Smith is one of my favourites.
I discovered the New Yorker Fiction Podcast many years ago, but it remains a favourite. Deborah Treisman, the Fiction Editor at the New Yorker, conducts the series, inviting a contemporary writer (whose work has been published in the New Yorker) to choose a favourite story from the New Yorker archives. Listening to the writer read the story and justify the choice is very pleasurable, as are Treisman’s insights and always-diplomatic queries about the work.
Mary Gaitskill reading Nabakov’s “Signs and Symbols” is an episode I’ve listened to more than once. Recently, David Sedaris chose Miranda July’s story, “Roy Spivey”. It was a moving, deceptively simple, story accompanied by an entertaining chat between Treesman and Sedaris.