Raindrops on roses and my favourite podcasts #3

The third and last (for now) in my “favourite podcast” series. 

The News Quiz with Sandy Toksvig
Sometimes a person just wants a good laugh, right? Sometimes when the world looks like it’s coming apart at the seams, and our politicians are doing and saying the irritating or outrageous things that they are wont to do and say, and I’ve had to get up at a stupidly early hour to walk the dog who wants to poke his little dog nose under every hedge and cock his little dog leg at every tree, this is the podcast that saves my sanity and puts the world back into perspective. (It has no effect whatsoever on my ability to end a sentence, apparently, but I digress.)

Each week Sandy Toksvig quizzes a panel of comedians (or journalists) on topical news items. She and her guests are witty and satirical and laugh out loud funny. So, yes, the world is going to hell in a handbasket, and yes, the doom and gloom is rising like yeasty dough bursting out of a bowl, but that handbasket holds a good fair share of things that make me weep with laughter as I haul the dog off of yet another piece of rubbish, and that gloomy dough can be molded into some very entertaining shapes. (Unlike that metaphor, which should never have been allowed to escape onto the page. Sorry about that.)

It can’t be all fun and games, though, can it? Sometimes a person wants to strap on her serious hat (which, for the record, doesn’t look remotely like this, or this, but might, in fact, look a lot like this) and get down to the good hard work of improving her mind.

Not that listening Melvin Bragg and his erudite panel of cognoscenti could fairly be called hard work, but it does require a different level of concentration than the other two and generally involves less in the way of unattractive snorting and other mirthful shenanigans on the part of the listener. Described on the BBC website as a discussion of “the history of ideas,” the weekly podcast focuses on a specific topic, and the sheer fabulousness of the program lies in the breathtaking breadth of the subject matter from week to week: ‘The History of Metaphor, The City: A History, Imaginary Numbers, The Origins of Islamic Law, The Nervous System, Aristotle’s Poetics. It’s a smorgasbord historical, cultural, scientific and cultural esoterica, just waiting for your ears.

I have to admit that some of the topics are denser than others. The episode on “Imaginary Numbers,” for example, left me feeling just a tad dumber than a bowl of porridge, but for the most part I find the discussions fascinating and informative.

Melvin Bragg facilitates the discussion with skill and intelligence and is adept at asking the questions that listeners (well, this listener, anyway) want answered. If he’s sometimes a bit snappish and grumpy with his posse of panelists–which he very much is–well, that just adds to the entertainment.  

Raindrops on Roses and My Favourite Podcasts #2

In my last post I talked about a few of the writing-related podcasts that I’ve been listening to lately and said that next time round I’d review a few others with a non-writing focus. As it turns out, these reviews ended up being a bit lengthy–not verbose, I didn’t say verbose!–so I thought it best to split the post into three. First up, the inimitable… 

I stumbled across this podcast by accident last year and quickly became addicted, which is a bit odd considering I don’t go to the movies very often. I justify my obsession on the basis that it’s important to have some vague sense of what’s going on in the world of cinema so as not to appear mortifyingly ignorant when these things come up in conversation. Yes, I’m taking a page from Pierre Bayard’s How to Talk about Books You Haven’t Read.

A film critic with the BBC, Mark Kermode does weekly movie reviews that are intelligent, snarky, ranty, opinionated, and witty. Not only is his knowledge of film history and film lore is truly awe-inspiring, he has one of those magpie minds that has accumulated vast stores of facts and fantasy from a wide variety of disciplines. His opinions also have a refreshing feminist bent – how delicious to hear American Pie and Andrea Dworkin referenced in the same review. I don’t always agree with Kermode’s reviews, but even when he’s bashing away at a film I loved, I find his opinions insightful and amusing.

Simon Mayo assumes the sidekick role, but manages to invest what would usually be a thankless straightman routine with a bit more zest and appeal. One moment he’s acting as Greek chorus, prodding Kermode to explain obscure references and take pokes at his ego, and the next he’s the provocateur, winding Kermode up into full and glorious rant mode.

A highlight of the show is the emails and tweets from listeners, read aloud by Mayo with Kermode interrupting regularly to agree or disagree with the comments, or to correct grammar and punctuation.  To give credit where credit is due, he’s also willing to have his own grammar and punctuation critiqued.  And this brings me to another appeal of the podcast: Kermode’s willingness to change his mind. For someone with such fervent views, he’s surprisingly not close-minded and openly admits when he’s changed his mind after hearing another reviewer’s take on a film. What can I say; I love a person who can do a public about-face without worrying about losing face.

This is also the podcast responsible for the creation of Wittertainment’s Code of Conduct, ten basic rules of comportment for cinema-goers who don’t want to annoy the bejesus out of their fellow audience members. The Code is available for your listening and viewing pleasure here, or, if you prefer a full-colour poster version to print off and wave in the faces of those who insist on bringing their boorish behaviour with them into the movie theatre, you can download one here.

Raindrops on roses and my favourite podcasts #1

Somewhere along the way, I seem to have become addicted to podcasts. I suspect it has a lot to do with my adeptness at finding ways to distract myself from the things I should be doing, but whatever its origin, this obsession has provided hours of entertainment, information and inspiration as I walk the dog, do the dishes, wind down for the day, or, I admit it, procrastinate.

The podcasts I subscribe to fall into two main categories: (1) Podcasts Pertaining to Writing and (2) Everything Else. Of the former, it’s taken a good many months to narrow the field to the list below. I’ve subscribed and unsubscribed to a good many others, and let me tell you, there are a fair few pretty dreadful writing podcasts out there waiting to turn a person’s ears to pudding. There were others I listened to for a few episodes and found passably interesting, but these four are the only survivors. (Which isn’t to say there aren’t other terrific podcasts on writing out there — my search was by no means exhaustive. If anyone has recommendations, please bring ’em on!)

A weekly podcast from CBC radio, Writers & Company features the inimitable Eleanor Wachtel’s thoughtful, wide-ranging  in-depth interviews with authors from around the world. She is, bar none, the best interviewer of authors I have encountered. In the many (many, many) interviews I’ve heard her conduct over the years, I’ve never heard her be snippy or snotty, belittle anyone or treat her guests with anything other than respect, curiosity, and great sensitivity. She has a true gift for putting her guests at ease and for allowing the conversation to twist and turn in the most unexpected and delightful directions. It amazes me that, after doing this since 1990, she is able to make each show as fresh and fascinating as when I first began listening.

Author, blogger and consultant Joanna Penn’s weekly podcasts cover interviews with authors, social media experts, publishers, editors and a wide range of other guests, each with their own perspective on a specific aspect of the writing life. In the past few weeks her interviews have included a New York detective offering insights into the realities of modern police work, Warren Fahy talking about research for novelists, and Jim Hopkinson (Wired Magazine) talking about getting a book deal from your online platform. Fascinating stuff.

A podcast for “wannabe writers by a wannabe writer.” Host Mur Lafferty is all about keeping it real: she doesn’t pull any punches about what a hard and disheartening slog this writing life can sometimes be, but she’s also an enthusiastic cheerleader, chivvying other wannabe writers along, providing feedback, and sharing what she’s learned from her own writing journey., Her interviews with industry reps and other writers are entertaining, even when the topic isn’t relevant to my immediate interests. .

This podcast of the weeklyKUCI-FM radio program Writers on Writing is a relatively new discovery for me, although I believe it’s been around for quite a while. Produced and hosted by author Barbara DeMarco-Barrett, the show features interviews with novelists , poets and literary agents. I haven’t had a chance to listen to many episodes yet, but those I’ve heard have been interesting and useful — tips, strategies, inspiration, and fascinating glimpses into other writers’ processes.

Next up: Podcasts on Everything Else.

Readings at the Cultch

Last night I attended a reading by students of the 2011 Vancouver Manuscript Intensive (VMI) held in the Rehearsal Room of the Vancouver East Cultural Centre. It was a small gathering, by invitation only, for friends and family, and I was lucky enough to score an invitation by virtue of the fact that I work with Tina Biello, one of the students, and apparently she trusted me enough to assume I wouldn’t heckle. (I didn’t.)
I’ve never been in the Rehearsal Room before. It’s a great space for readings: cozy and intimate, warm wooden floors, comfy red seats. At least I think the floor was wooden; that’s how I remember it. Could have been purple lino, though, because when I wasn’t being annoyed by the wanker who insisted on futzing noisily about with a candy wrapper for what felt like the entire evening, my attention was focused on the stage. (After the readings, when a friend and I were discussing our shared outrage at the wanker’s shocking lack of theatre etiquette, I suggested that perhaps he’d had a tickle in his throat and was desperately groping for a lozenge to avoid an even more intrusive coughing fit, but she assured me that she’d witnessed the final unveiling and it was indeed a candy. Something chocolatey, she said.)  
Moving on… 
Of the readings, two were excerpts from works of creative-nonfiction, one was fiction and the other two were poetry – a little something for every taste. Jennifer Irvine read an emotionally charged scene from her memoir, and Kate Bird’s piece was a recounting of her paddling journey through the lakes and rivers of Manitoba, replicating a similar journey her father had made years before. Beth Coleman gave a lively and entertaining reading of three scenes from her novel-in-progress, based in part on her own experience living and teaching in Abu Dhabi from 2000 to 2008.
For me, the highlights of the evening were the readings by the two poets, Tina Biello and Ann Graham Walker. Tina, author of the chapbook Momenti, published by Leaf Press, read a selection of poems from her current manuscript, most of them offering glimpses of her journey with her mother through Alzheimer’s disease. Spare, elegant and sharp as knives, her poems slice right through to the essential, evoking laughter and tears in equal measure, often at the same time.  

Very different in style, Ann’s poems exploring the loves–both overt and hidden–of her family packed an equally powerful emotional punch. Her imagery is unpredictable and fresh, so delicious you want to wrap your own tongue around the words just to taste their shape. 
A writing mentorship program, the VMI allows students to work closely on their draft manuscripts, both as a group and solo, with a mentor, in this case with the program’s director, the critically acclaimed writer, poet, editor and teacher Betsy Warland. (More about the VMI here: http://www.betsywarland.com/vancouver-manuscript-intensive.)