In The Podcast Review, Jessie Borrelle reviews some of the highlights and lowlights in the international podcasting spectrum.
When you listen to Other People, you’re hearing ‘In-depth, inappropriate interviews with authors’.
Each episode, you’ll hear two voices: one will always be an author of some repute, and the other will always be Brad Listi, also an author. Listi is the engine that drives the podcast and The Nervous Breakdown – a magazine that lives on the internet and has featured the writings of literary luminaries Bret Easton Ellis, Jennifer Egan and Chuck Palahniuk. Listi is a college professor and author of bestselling book Attention, Deficit, Disorder, published in 2006.
Listi converses with authors, not writers – the two modes of existence distinguished only by the divine act of publication. He explains the compulsion to create a literary, interview-based podcast was the desire to get to the guts of why others also pursue the spiritually punishing activity of writing fiction (and occasionally non-fiction).
He’s talked to a lot of people, including Blake Butler (There is No Year), Adam Levin (The Instructions), Etgar Keret (Israeli author of the excellent short story collection The Girl on the Fridge introduced to many via This American Life) and Hari Kunzru, the British author of The Gods Without Men, Transmission and The Impressionist.
The podcast is published bi-weekly, which in this instance means twice a week; not fortnightly, but every Sunday and Wednesday. Each episode averages an hour. Listi warms your ears with a monologue. The monologue is oft an unrelated, observational anecdote from the podcaster’s life, deceptively nonchalant but so detailed in execution I suspect it to be a kind of literature. He says it lets people know who he is. There’s a little music at the tail of the podcast but other than that the interview with the featured author is a straight up to-and-fro.
Listi isn’t in the New Yorker Fiction Podcast–esque business of intensive literary analysis. His mode is more speculative, more visceral, as he explains in an interview at Me and My Big Mouth: ‘There’s not a lot of plot synopsis or quiet, intellectual discussion. It’s more unruly than that. It’s about the authors as human beings, in all of their messy glory.’
That’s okay, Brad. Your podcast is helpful and frank, and you’ve got a knack for extracting truths, like gold-filled teeth, from the open mouths of authors.
The process of being a human is necessary to the process of being a writer, which is necessary to the process of being an author, which is necessary to the process of being interviewed on Other People. In a discussion of narrative unity and plot cohesion, Listi asks Hari Kunzru outright: ‘Making it a novel is no easy feat, and so how do you do that? What makes it congeal?’
The host’s inquisitive tone draws honest and insightful accounts of the craft of writing from some of today’s most interesting cultural producers. Discussions between Listi and his guests run the gamut from the quality and mutability of language, to the political forces of our era, instinct, book matter, the value of sexual energy, the trouble with plot development and the inevitability of anxiety.
The success of Listi’s interview series is succinctly captured in his own words, words he used to describe the methodology of writing a realistic twenty-something male protagonist, ‘And the narrator, I should mention, is of average intelligence. That was important to me, to try and do that. To render him as utterly confused, and searching. Too many young narrators are wise beyond their years.’
Earlier this year, Listi reflected on the dangers of reading criticism of your work, advice which inadvertently lends itself to the danger of listening to too much advice from Other People: ‘You can’t spend too much time thinking about what people are thinking about it, otherwise you’d never get any work done, I imagine.’
Originally from New Zealand, Jessie Borrelle is a Melbourne-based writer, editor and an executive producer of the antipodean podcast Paper Radio.