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Podthoughts by Colin Marshall: Litopia

Posted by Maximum Fun on 18th July 2011

Vital stats:
Format: writing-related interviews, panel discussions, and word games
Episode duration: 45m-1h30m
Frequency: unpredictable, but often enough

The U.K. has really gotten on board with this podcasting thing. Not only do I usually find the U.K.-based guests on my own show Skype-ready and raring to go, but most of the U.K.-based podcasts I’ve listened to lately have an uncommonly polished, “professional” feel. I still don’t know what to call the form of podcasting where you connect a bunch of panelists from all over the world, talk in defined segments with actual recorded bumpers (as they say in, to bust out the scare quotes again, “real” radio), stream it all live, and incorporate synchronous feedback from listeners, but if you like that sort of thing and also have an interest in writing and publishing, then hey, check out Litopia [RSS] [iTunes].

I admit to a slight confusion about what to call this podcast: iTunes calls it Litopia, the web site calls it Radio Litopia, and something called the “Litopia Writers’ Colony” produces the whole shebang. Not only that, but the podcast feed actually contains episodes of distinct shows, each with a different title. You’ve got Between the Lines, an interview program featuring authors like sci-fi eminence Ben Bova [MP3], intellectual gatecrasher Geoff Dyer [MP3], and guru-of-human-endeavor Seth Godin [MP3]. (Having interviewed those latter two myself, I had to scope out the competition.) You’ve got The Debriefer, an ongoing discussion about writing-relevant legal matters such as (U.K.) copyright and libel law. You’ve got Open House, which seems to involve a lot of word games. And finally, you’ve got Litopia After Dark, recommendations of which brought me here in the first place.

In the host or co-host seat of all these programs sits Peter Cox, literary agent, prominent vegan, and thread uniting all corners of the Litopian world. Having held a fairly high media profile on the other side of the pond for decades, he displays an impressive suite of hosting skills, and Litopia After Dark finds him at his most host-ish. Bear in mind, though, that he still presides over a British show, which means that all its moments of highly articulate perceptiveness must ultimately be balanced out by the kind of lazy penile humo(u)r that wouldn’t have flown in third grade. People will feel varying comfort levels with this traditional union of the refined and the sophomoric, but Cox adroitly rides his panels’ highest moments and suffers their lowest with grumblingly good nature.

Though Litopia’s broad scope of content would seem to cast it as one of those programs “for everyone who reads,” I’ve come to think of that as, for all the hand-wringing about the reader’s imminent extinction, a hopelessly large audience to actually satisfy. You’d do much better to think of these shows as intended partially for readers, but mostly for writers. This sensibility provides both an injection of specificity, which keeps things interesting, but also an injection of a certain sourness. I say this as someone who does much with the written word myself, but you’ll find few people as unhappy as writers, especially now that the internet has Chicken Littled so many of them into a permanent mode of bitter, amorphous head-clutching grievance. I periodically sense this feeling of the world having failed writers arising on Litopia After Dark discussions, but because they at least take the relevant industrial questions head-on, they don’t just feel like whinefests. It helps that you also get publishing gallows humor, word games, and — sure, they have some value — a dash of penile joking along the way.

[Podthinker Colin Marshall also happens to host and produce The Marketplace of Ideas [iTunes], a public radio show and podcast dedicated to in-depth cultural conversation. Please hire him for something.]