I remember the writer Howard Jacobson complaining that there was no such thing as “summer books”, only great books that were devour-able at any time of the year, but try telling that to the literary editors of our national newspapers. Right now they are filling their pages with recommendations for what to read when you are poolside in some distant clime.
I love these recommendations as much as anyone, and one of the reasons, I think, is that such guides do not confine themselves to newly published books, whereas throughout the rest of the year, books pages consist almost entirely of reviews of what’s just come out. They have to, of course, but they don’t reflect the way people in the real world go about choosing their books.
My podcast of the week – Backlisted – understands this, the clue being in the name. “Giving new life to old books” is the tagline, and in each edition co-presenters John Mitchinson and Andy Miller choose a book that might have been published at any time, and they invite a fan of the book in to discuss it with them.
Backlisted is a bit of an industry term, and Mitchinson is a considerable book industry figure, from the days when both he and Miller worked for Waterstone’s to his current incarnation as the boss of publishers Unbound.
“We wanted to recapture the excitement of those conversations in the staff room at Waterstone’s when someone was reading, I don’t know, say William Faulkner and it would all kick off,” Mitchinson told me. “We wanted to create a warmer feel about books and try and restore some of the fun of reading.”
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That Backlisted succeeds so well in that aim is really down to Mitchinson and Miller. They are not a double act, just two relaxed and knowledgeable enthusiasts who are excellent company. The podcast might begin with some general chat about the book scene – including new books — before they get down to the business of their chosen title.
Books that have featured in the 45 editions so far include work by Muriel Spark, Jane Gardam, JG Ballard, Raymond Chandler, Martin Amis, and Nancy Mitford. Great literary fiction and non-fiction of the 20th century seems to be the order of the day, and in that respect Backlisted is aligning with the tastes of many a book group.
There are surprises too, and Mitchinson picks out a recent discussion he particularly liked which was of “I'll Sleep When I'm Dead: The Dirty Life and Times of Warren Zevon” — a biography of the rock musician by his ex-wife Crystal Zevon. The guest for that podcast was the novelist Richard T Kelly; other guests have included the writers Linda Grant, Jonathan Coe, and Sarah Perry. It was Grant who alerted me to Backlisted, describing it as “superb”.
There are plenty of literary podcasts to choose from — other excellent ones include those produced by Penguin, the Guardian, the New York Review of Books, and the London Review of Books — but Backlisted is really chiming with people, getting up to 20,000 plays per edition and having hit No 1 in its category on iTunes.
And if you want some summer reading it’s there in an edition of Backlisted called Summer Reading Special — What We Read on our Holidays.
Podcast of the Week – previous picks