I wrote this for my personal blog six months ago but thought it'd be of particular interest to readers of the Avid blog.
Are there any English majors out there? Anyone who wanted to take more English classes but decided to pursue some other interests instead? You might want to keep reading to find out what podcast I'm going to recommend and why. I promise it's good--you should stay tuned.
As someone with an undergraduate degree in English and American literature, I can recall many, many hours of discussion-based literature classes during which pompous classmates dismissed others' theories and claimed their interpretations were the "right" ones. Luckily, far more prevalent are the memories of having one "aha!" moment after another during class discussions, grateful for others' insights that led me to understanding the story, poem, or essay more deeply. Despite my initial discomfort with revealing to others what I saw in the patterns and prose of fiction, I eventually opened up with the knowledge that almost any self-proclaimed theory about literature can be argued as long as you have some evidence and well-picked quotes to support it. Work may be created by the author with one particular goal in mind, but his readers will walk away from the piece with a variety of insights the author may not have intended--and each reader may have a completely unique interpretation.
Other than a few informal meetings of our local fledgling book club, I haven't much talked about literature in a critical sense since I graduated from NYU in 2002. I read voraciously and definitely reflect on my reading, but I don't go out of my way to push myself to understand a novel more deeply or try to see someone else's point of view. I read and reflect alone, then put the book back on the shelf. I hadn't realized I missed the push and pull of roundtable literature discussions, hadn't known that I'd missed the part of myself that could pull all-nighters writing twenty-page papers about my particular take on a poem.
Until now. On a whim, I downloaded a few episodes of The New Yorker's Fiction Podcast. I bundled up for a walk a couple weeks back and pressed play on my iPod and was whisked into a wonderful, beautiful story. I can't remember what episode I listened to that day, but I can remember smiling as I walked down the streets of Athens. I remember thinking to myself, "Wow! I feel as if I'm in one of my English classes with a really good teacher and no obnoxious, holier-than-thou classmates!" You see, the show not only features the stories themselves--it comes complete with a brief discussion before and after the story is read. One famous author picks any story he wants that has been published in The New Yorker. The guest author reads this story he admires and then discusses the ins and outs of the work with the magazine's fiction editor, Deborah Treisman, who has a really pleasant voice (unlike the voices I've stumbled across on several less-established podcasts). I did a quick Google search for her so I could link to her name and came across a really great article from The New York Times--click on her name and read it, if you'd like. Sounds like a cool woman in the NYT article.
And she sounds like a cool woman in her recorded life on this podcast. She isn't abrasive, judgmental, or dismissive when it comes to guest authors' interpretations of the work they choose to read. She retains the wide-eyed wonder (overused phrase--sorry--but it seems to ring true here) of a girl who's still in love with reading, who's still amazed at all the tricks of language and tone. Deborah and the guest author talk about whatever has moved them in the story, about the author's language and motivation, about his/her diction and use of imagery. I've listened to about ten of the episodes so far, and no one has annoyed me. The stories are always great, and the intimate conversation that follows really does shine light on the story.
Have you never ventured into literary criticism but wanted to know what intellectual bibliophiles had to say about so-called "good" fiction? Did you take one (or twenty) literature classes in college and then go cold turkey, not having another literary discussion after age 22? Are you an avid reader who thinks she immediately knows all there is to know about a piece of writing? Are you curious to know why I love this show so much? If you answered yes to any of those questions, I have an answer: this is the podcast for you.
Let me know what you think of it.