Podthoughts by Colin Marshall: Talk to Me

Posted by Maximum Fun on 22nd March 2010

Format: live-recorded New York lectures and Q&As from novelists and other writerly types
Ideal audience: those outside literary centers and thus desperately in need of a fix
Duration: ~1h
Frequency: erratic, but frequent
Archive available on iTunes: last 29

For avid lecturegoers, especially those who live in hamlets, backwaters and/or nowheresvilles, I bet podcasting’s a godsend. When you’re at a remove from the lecture circuit, it’s not as if you’ve got Jonathan Franzen, Jeffrey Sachs, Germaine Greer or Mad Men creator Matthew Wiener swinging by for chats and coffee on the regular. Online lecture repositories like Open Culture and iTunes U put a lot on offer, but it’s podcasts like WNYC’s Talk to Me [RSS] [iTunes] that really get across that live-event flavor.

As potentially un-public-radio-nerdy and thus as unfamiliar with a behemoth of the medium like WNYC as you might be — yeah, I know, not likely — surely you can discern a datum or two about the station’s location from its call letters. The epic struggle between U.S. cities for the title of Most Alive with Literary and/or Spoken Intellectual Culture is usually said to endure between the likes of Seattle, San Francisco and Iowa City, but shows like this reveal that we underestimate the fair city of New York at our peril. Well, nobody really underestimates New York. We Americans outside it realize, at least on some abstract level, that the place is absolutely seething with writers and lecturers, frustrated and otherwise. We just get… confused by it. In one episode of Talk to Me, a speaker extolls the literary virtues of Brooklyn. Specifically. He then goes on to say that, hey, Manhattan might just be the candidate for the next Brooklyn. This draws big laffs.

I promise that most of the lectures featured on the podcast aren’t quite so inside. But listening to it does feel like eavesdropping on a few of those Genuine New York Literary EventsTM that those of us on the West Coast hear so much about. What separates these from any other lecture or interview podcasts you might hear is that each installment offers both the lecture and the public Q&A following it, as well as the introductory remarks, venue description, thanks to the donors, etc. Sound like small potatoes though this might, it’s pretty damn cool to hear the proceedings exactly as the live attendees did.

Well, almost exactly. For a WNYC production, Talk to Me bears some strangely unprofessional scars. The editing, to cite the most noticeable example, can sound pretty herky-jerky; too often, the cuts and pastes leap right out at you. It’s hard to believe they sound better than whatever gap, mumble or stumble they’re meant to mask. But the content seems more or less intact, and, given the basically-wide-open public nature of these lectures, it’s endearingly human. The aforementioned Franzen [MP3], Sachs [MP3], Greer [MP3] and Wiener [MP3] put on good shows, with their prepared remarks, but the truly interesting bits are their unprepared interactions with fellow presenters and the audience. Free idea for enterprising podcasters: a “Just the Muffin Tops”-esque program offering “Just the Q&As”.

[Got a podcast to suggest for Podthoughts? Got any suggestions as to how to take Podthoughts to the next level, no matter how wild? Send it all, without hesitation, to Podthinker Colin Marshall at colinjmarshall at gmail.]