Format: long-form genre fiction writing advice
Episode duration: 53m or 27m, depending on what I don’t know
Archive available on iTunes: last 36
When the BBC says “world”, they don’t kid around. Its World Service, so Wikipedia tells me, broadcasts in 32 languages to 188 million people. Its World Book Club
] discusses work by authors as nationally varied as the English David Mitchell [MP3
], the American Richard Ford [MP3
], the Egyptan Nadaal el Sadaawi [MP3
], the Nigerian Chinua Achebe [MP3
], and the ostensibly French but seemingly stateless J.M.G. Le Clézio [MP3
]. Its discussion questions come not just from the mouth of English host Harriett Gilbert, but from those of listeners in the England, the States, Canada, Australia, Greece, the Czech Republic, Zambia, Namibia... I could fill my word count with this. Point being, an agreeable sound for a would-be literary internationalist such as myself.
The words Book Club
in the title strike me as a misnomer, but not in a bad way. Reaching for a greater formal interestingness, the broadcast hybridizes at least four breeds of literary event: the book club, sure, but also the interview, the live reading, and the audience Q&A. The BBC flies in a different writer each month and sits them down with Gilbert and an invited group of physically present listeners. Rather than talking about whatever the writer is currently promoting, the show usually focuses on something from their back pages, a well-known book many listeners will have already read. Gilbert asks the author questions about it, but she also has them read a passage or two, relays questions e-mailed in advance, or asks listeners on the phone or seated in the audience to fire off a question of their own.
Whether or not you’re read the volume under discussion — I usually haven’t — you can get a great deal of enjoyment out of these goings-on, mannered yet straight-to-the-point as they are in that very BBC sort of way. Since many questions from Gilbert and the audience alike deal with plot points, you may entertain concerns about the possibility of spoilers. I can assure you that you needn’t worry. Given world World Book Club
’s selections, spoilers don’t matter; this show talks about actual
books. If spoilers really and truly spoil a book, so my own handy rule goes, then that book must be nothing more than a spectacle, escapism, a jack-in-the-box — lousy, in short. As far as I can tell, not a single lousy book has refuge in this bunch.
Over and above that, I would argue that the talk on this show has less to do with characters, events, conflicts, false crises, and false dawns than it has to do with culture. Or, to make up a word that sounds like academic nails on an academic chalkboard, it has to do with interculturality
. Fortunately, given the demands of holding a conversation across numerous cultures, things have to get down to their essences pretty quickly; not much room remains for the sort of theoretical fog that would give cover for a word like “interculturality” in the first place. World Book Club
deals with active writers, active readers, and active texts (whatever that last means). When you’ve got, say, an Oxford-educated German novelist born in Morocco answering questions about his narrative that oscillates between 13th-century Kyoto and 23rd-century Johannesburg from an Azerbaijani caller listening in Brussels, you can’t help but let particularly refreshing gusts of fresh air blow in on the regular.
[Podthinker Colin Marshall
also happens to be the host and producer of public radio’s The Marketplace of Ideas
], the blogger of The War on Mediocrity
and the writer of The Ubuweb Experimental Video Project