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A library for the ear: From the sound of Charles Dicken...

Maverick Life

PODCAST REVIEW

A library for the ear: From the sound of Charles Dickens’ novels to Sisonke Msimang’s childhood memories

Image design by Leila Dougan for Maverick Life

The South African Book Fair is coming up this weekend – to celebrate books and the pleasure of reading, here are some literary podcasts that will whet your appetite.

With International Literacy Day, National Book Week and the upcoming South African Book Fair, September is shaping up to be a rather literary month. To mark the occasion, we turn our ears to podcasts about books, from the sounds of Charles Dickens’ novels to a trip down memory lane with Sisonke Msimang.

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The Noisy Page – BBC Radio 4

Format: Single episode
Length: 28 minutes
Year: 2018
Listen on: BBC Sounds

What do the worlds contained in your favourite novels sound like? This is the question that radio producer and English Literature scholar, Cathy Fitzgerald, asks of Great Expectations with her “ear pressed to the cover like a seashell”. What follows is a sonic caper into the fictional soundscapes of Dickens, Poe and Joyce. It’s not all wild imaginings though. The sounds contained in novels tell us a lot about the worlds that they came from, such as Dickens’ Industrialising London and the sonic legacy of WWI captured in Woolf’s Mrs Dalloway.  Weaving together interviews, foley and dramatic readings, Fitzgerald artfully shows us that reading doesn’t have to be a silent activity, nor solely a visual one.

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Sisonke Msimang – Voices from SA

Format: Single episode
Length: 1 hour and 5 minutes
Year: 2018
Listen on: Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Radio Public or any other podcast app or streaming service

This two-way interview centered on Sisonke Msimang’s memoir, Always Another Country, is both tender and incisive. Charting her childhood in exile, her return to South Africa and her disillusionment with the ANC, Msimang etches the personal into the country’s political map. Sparkling with wit and insight, Msimang is a joy to read and listen to.

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Ocean Vuong: A Life Worthy of Our Breath – On Being with Krista Tippett

Format: Single episode
Length: 51 minutes
Year: 2020
Listen on: Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Radio Public or any other podcast app or streaming service

Ocean Vuong’s writing has been described as “searingly gorgeous”. The same could be said of his speaking. “When I read or give lectures or when I teach, I lower my voice. I want to make my words deliberate; I want to take off the shoes of my voice so that I can enter a place with care,” he says. This care characterises the way Vuong writes, and speaks about trauma and beauty side by side. “I’m a product of war,” Vuong says of his Vietnamese-American heritage. “But I think so much of American life is a product of war.” This conversation, which took place at the On Air Fest in Brooklyn just before the Covid-19 lockdown, will stay with you for a long time.

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Panashe Chigumadzi: These Bones Will Rise Again – The Cheeky Natives

Format: Single episode
Length: 1 hour and 25 minutes
Year: 2018
Listen on: Apple Podcasts, Spotify or any other podcast app or streaming service

Recorded at a live event, Panashe Chigumadzi discusses her book These Bones Will Rise Again about Zimbabwe’s 2017 “coup that was not a coup”. Combining reportage, memoir and history, Chigumadzi nurtures a people’s history of Zimbabwe’s chimurenga as a counterweight to the “big men” nationalist narrative. Paying attention to the intricacies of language, Chigumadzi points to the way that women are demeaned in struggle movements, and the absurdity of white scholars studying African literature and philosophy without being able to speak a single African language. This stripped-down interview makes you feel like you’re at a book launch and forms part of an incredible archive of black literature curated by The Cheeky Natives.

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Episode 1: Times of Cloud – The Paris Review Podcast

Format: Single episode
Length: 45 minutes
Year: 2017
Listen on: Apple Podcasts, Stitcher or any other podcast app or streaming service

This dreamy, highly-produced ensemble from The Paris Review is drawn from the magazine’s impressive archive. Translating from print by braiding together music, archival interviews and stories read aloud by actors, this show uses the audio medium to its fullest. Listening to The Paris Review Podcast feels like stepping inside the colourful and slightly hallucinatory mind of an artistic genius. Bookended by a breathtaking interview with Maya Angelou that is reason alone to listen, we are left with a hopeful note for these times: “We may encounter many defeats, but we must not be defeated.”

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Richard Powers: The Overstory – Bookworm (KCRW)

Format: Single episode
Length: 28 minutes
Year: 2019
Listen on: KCRW’s website

With trees as characters, Richard Powers’ Pulitzer Prize winning novel Overstory blurs the lines between human and non-human creatures, calling to attention the interdependence of humanity and nature. Legendary Bookworm host, Michael Silverblatt, who is known for his close reading and perceptive questions, opens up space for a rich conversation about literature and the undervalued intelligence of the non-human world. Listening to this episode feels like eavesdropping on old friends sharing the joy of their shared memories.

If you’re wondering how to listen to these audio gems, local podcast organisation, Sound Africa, has prepared a handy guide to show you how.

Happy listening and reading! DM/ML

Missed last week review? Click below to read more about “A journey around the wonderful world of non-English speaking podcasts”

A journey around the wonderful world of non-English speaking podcasts

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