In Review

Podcasts of the week: exploring books, the deep sea and Tom Waits

Featuring The Graham Norton Book Club, The Deep-Sea Podcast and Rolling Stone Music Now

Graham Norton book club

Although I love both books and podcasts, I am somewhat allergic to “book club” podcasts, said James Marriott in The Times. “If I wanted to listen to people bore on about novels I haven’t read – well, that’s basically my entire social life.” Fortunately, The Graham Norton Book Club contains very little boring on, and lots of interesting features and amusing chat. The second episode has an interview with the novelist Zadie Smith, some banter with the author Sara Collins, a rundown of the best Gothic novels and a “sort of focus group with the ordinary folk who constitute the titular book club”. With Norton himself “on purringly witty comic form”, the show is “probably as good as it’s possible for a podcast of this kind to be”. My main quibble is that he’s packing in so much, some bits feel rushed. I could listen to Zadie Smith – “funny, ridiculously smart, unpretentious” – for hours. “In fact, why doesn’t she have a podcast?”

It’s often said that we know more about the Moon’s surface than we do about the deep sea – which starts at a depth of 1,800 metres and reaches down to almost 11,000m within the Mariana Trench. That belief is completely wrong, apparently, said Sandrine Ceurstemont in the New Scientist – and is elegantly dismantled in episode one of the riveting The Deep-Sea Podcast, by host Dr Alan Jamieson, a world leader in the biological exploration of the ocean below 6,000m. Jamieson and his co-host Dr Thomas Linley have attracted an impressive roster of interviewees, including authors and artists as well as scientists. In one episode, they talk to Titanic director James Cameron about the secrets of underwater lighting, deep-sea mining, and the prospects for underwater tourism. “Vast amounts of the deep ocean haven’t even been looked at,” says Cameron. “It would be nice if we understood it before we destroy it.”

So many music podcasts seem to be aimed at lovers of “SoundCloud rappers and bubblegum pop”, said The Daily Telegraph. These three definitely aren’t. Rolling Stone Music Now is a weekly deep dive into some of rock and country’s most cherished musicians and their back catalogues. For a start, try Woodstock at 50: The Untold Stories. Folk on Foot is a “beautiful” show in which Matthew Bannister meets folk musicians (including The Young’uns, The Unthanks and Peggy Seeger) and “explores the landscapes that matter to them. The musicians play acoustic songs on location against a backdrop of babbling rivers and rustling leaves.” Finally, Song by Song is “unashamedly pitched” at Tom Waits superfans. Musicians Martin Zaltz Austwick and Sam Pay analyse every song in Waits’s vast discography, with help from “less-obsessed guests”.

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