The warmth of a book

In The Slightly Foxed Podcast, we’re treated not only to recommendations for unusual books, but also must-visit bookstores, museums and libraries

For bibliophiles, there’s no greater joy than being in the company of people who will endlessly talk books — what was read, what was loved and hated or wondered about, why an ending didn’t work or why an author disappointed or delighted, and what to read next. Tsundoku-related angst aside, the pandemic period has given many of us the time to pick up books languishing on our shelves and catch up on literary events we would not had time for otherwise. From a season of litfests that required leave (and ability) to travel, we’ve now grown accustomed to a regular stream of online events, available to catch on YouTube at our leisure.

Love for litfests

While litfests have a certain aura, there’s nothing like long cozy conversations with bookish friends. And when said friends are not available, I turn to a small set of podcasts that have kept me company for a while now. One of these, which came highly recommended, has the flavour of English tea with scones and clotted cream, while the other is most definitely a mid-morning chai-and-samosa session (though glucose biscuits are mentioned).

The Slightly Foxed podcast, hosted by the “good looking, intelligent and slightly eccentric” (their description) eponymous literary magazine, is a ramble “off the beaten track”. Magazine staffers Gail, Hazel, Stephanie and host Philippa chat with a guest or two about themes ranging from crime fiction to the classics, dwelling on forgotten and overlooked books and their histories. Their deep knowledge of the literary landscape (granted, all English language and largely Western) lead to some fascinating revelations — for instance, that siblings Charles and Mary Lamb were united by their tragic family history of matricide (Ep 24), or that Evelyn Waugh wrote several bad cheques to the Ritz Hotel. It’s not all literary gossip — they deal with that with quiet humour and empathy — but also thoughtful meanders that give us a new way to think about genre fiction.

One of my favourite episodes, Picnic at Hanging Rock & Other Stories (Ep 32), talks us through generations of boarding school stories (from Enid Blyton to Donna Tartt) while also situating them against the notions of empire, colonialism, and class.

Much of the show’s appeal is the easy banter and the sense of sitting around a table somewhere in the English countryside — including dogs barking (with Philippa profusely apologising) and chairs scraping back. It’s homey, yet rich with information and insight. We’re treated not only to recommendations for unusual books, but also must-visit bookstores, museums and libraries.

Smart & witty

Closer to home, The Lit Pickers from the house of Maed in India, hosted by writers Supriya Nair and Deepanjana Pal is a podcast I’ve come to enjoy. The exchanges are smart and witty, peppered with contrarian views about popular books and iconic authors (check out The Literary Bro Code, August 20), and touch on a wide range of work, from Indian writing in English to translations from regional languages. A sub-series called Slim Pickings offers specially curated recommendations — “Need to gift a food book. Help!” or “What’s a good bedtime read for an 8-year-old?”

Incidentally, both podcasts were started during the pandemic, when we felt the world was spinning out of control and possibly the only way to keep sane was to lose ourselves in a good book. Or to feel the warmth of a cozy conversation about books.

The Hyderabad-based writer and academic is a neatnik fighting a losing battle with the clutter in her head.

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