Bookshelf: Local authors recommend their favorite literary podcasts

Tiphanie Yanique, author of "Monster in the Middle," recommends the podcasts "Good Night Stories for Rebel Girls" and "Bore You to Sleep."
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Tiphanie Yanique, author of "Monster in the Middle," recommends the podcasts "Good Night Stories for Rebel Girls" and "Bore You to Sleep."

Credit: Kay Hinton

Credit: Kay Hinton

Tiphanie Yanique, Jessica Handler and Anjali Enjeti offer suggestions for your audio feed.

As anyone who has transitioned from working in an office to working from home knows, one of the benefits is kissing the commute goodbye. Before the pandemic, the AJC reported that Atlantans commuted on average 35 minutes per trip by car and 53 minutes per trip by bus or train.

Eliminating a commute from your lifestyle is good for the environment and can shave an hour or more off your workday. But there is one downside: There’s less time for audiobooks. When I used to drive or take MARTA to work every day, I passed the time by listening to audiobooks. I’ve never been so well-read as I was then. Now that I work from home and live in a neighborhood where I can walk to the market, I drive less often, so I let my Audible account lapse. Long-form audiobooks are just no longer conducive to my lifestyle right now.

But it dawned on me recently that I missed plugging in my earbuds and losing myself in the intimate experience of being told a story. So I set out to fill that void, and I realized there are plenty of literary podcasts out there that could satisfy my itch for audio stories. And best of all, I could listen to an entire episode in the time it takes me to clean the house or walk the dog. Once I started researching my options, I discovered the choices are overwhelming, so I asked some local authors to share their recommendations.

Novelist and nonfiction writer Jessica Handler, author of “The Magnetic Girl” and “Invisible Sisters,” suggested “fiction/non/fiction,” a podcast that interviews writers about current events. She describes it as “deep conversations with authors about writing and cultural/social issues.”

The current episode features National Book Award winner Ha Jin, a Chinese American poet, novelist and former professor at Emory University. Interviewed by hosts V.V. Ganeshananthan and Whitney Terrell, the author talks about current tensions between Taiwan and China, as well as his new book, “A Song Everlasting,” about a singer from China who flees to New York to escape the government’s effort to thwart his artistic freedom. Episodes last an hour or longer and drop every two weeks on Thursday.

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Author Jessica Handler

Author Jessica Handler
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Author Jessica Handler

Anjali Enjeti, author of the novel “The Parted Earth” and the essay collection “Southbound,” suggested a long list of podcasts, including “How Writers Write” and “Minorities in Publishing.” But the one that caught my eye was Fully Booked, presented by Kirkus Reviews. In addition to short reviews of new books, each episode includes an interview with a current author talking about his or her latest book. Enjeti herself is a featured author, as are Susan Orlean, S.A. Cosby, Emily Ratajkowsky and Tiphanie Yanique. Episodes last about an hour and drop every Monday.

Speaking of Yanique, the author of “Monster in the Middle” also offered several recommendations.

“For fiction I love “Good Night Stories for Rebel Girls,” which my daughter and younger son love,” she said. “I bought the book and then found the podcast. These do not really help them sleep at night, but they dig the stories anyway.”

The podcast presents 10-to-20-minute kid-friendly biographies of successful women told in the style of a fairy tale, only these stories are all true. An eclectic selection of women is highlighted, including Oprah Winfrey, Simone Biles, Lady Gaga, Gloria Steinem, C.J. Walker and Amanda Gorman. The podcast recently launched a Rebel Girls app where the podcasts are free for now, but perhaps not for long. Expect rates of $3.99 a month or $39.99 a year to be instated soon. New episodes drop every Tuesday.

“For myself, I love those podcasts which tell you a story to help you actually fall asleep,” said Yanique. “I like “Bore You To Sleep,” and a host of others like that. The form of the sleep story is so fascinating to me. The story has to be interesting enough to calm the inner chatter, to keep my mind from wandering to what I have to do tomorrow or stressing about the mistakes I made during the day. But it can’t be so titillating of a narrative that my mind attaches — that I want to stay awake to hear how things will play out or how the character will be emotionally impacted. That won’t help me sleep. There is a sweet spot where I am engaged with the story but not attached to it. And then I’m waking up the next morning feeling rested. I often wonder what it would be like to write a story like that.”

Episodes run about 30 minutes, and a new one drops most every week, but there is no regular schedule.

For true crime aficionados, I would be derelict in not mentioning The Atlanta Journal-Constitution’s terrific podcast “Breakdown,” an investigation by seasoned reporters of current and cold-case murder trials in Georgia, now in its eighth season. Hosted by AJC legal affairs reporter Bill Rankin and produced by staff writer Asia Simone Burns, the podcast is currently covering the case of Ahmaud Arbery, a 25-year-old Black man who was shot and killed while jogging through a Brunswick neighborhood in February 2020. Three white men are on trial for felony murder; 11 white jurors and one Black juror will decide their fate. Episodes run from about 30 minutes to an hour, and a new one drops every Monday.

Suzanne Van Atten is a book critic and contributing editor for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. Contact her at svanatten@ajc.com and follow her on Twitter at @svanatten.