Our Grasp of Heaven, by Noah Bradley

Spectology: My New Favorite Book Club Podcast

I’ve been listening to Science Fiction book podcasts for several years, and have been relatively disappointed with them for equally as many. The hosts are always a little too into whatever they’re into, making them unwilling to examine their darlings critically or in any sort of depth. Worse than this, I’ve listened to many podcasts where the hosts seem to suffer from a severe reading comprehension deficit, and place that blame squarely on the text they didn’t pay attention to. I’ve heard podcast hosts brag about listening to audiobooks at 3x speed and then mention — without a shred of self-awareness — that the book was confusing, they didn’t understand the story, as if this was some sort of educated, or valid criticism instead of a revealing look at their own attentional issues. I feel like this is the literary equivalent of playing on your phone while watching a movie, and it’s not only disrespectful of the text, but of oneself.

I don’t want a book club podcast that is effectively just a mirror, held up to the worst of our inclinations as readers. I want something better than this. I’ve longed for a science fiction/speculative fiction podcast where the subject matter was respected, taken seriously, and used as a jumping off point to engage in a more socratic dialogue on theme, philosophy, characters, prose, politics, storytelling, etc. I want hosts that are thoughtful and engage with books in a way that shows their respect for the process of reading and writing. I want opinions that are backed up by evidence, presented in a clear way. I want hosts that understand that reading a book is having a dialogue with it; if you don’t meet the book halfway, bring something to the experience, you’re not really meeting it at all. I want podcasts that feel like a conversation with readers who have something to say. Of course, it should still remain relatively unstructured to allow for some meandering, and get into interesting areas or topics to be examined. I want to learn something from the experience.

For years I’ve been unable to find anything like this, but apparently there are more out there who have been looking for it, because the new Spectology podcast is nailing it. This is precisely what I’ve been looking for. There’s a dialogue here about interesting things, with hosts that have actually paid attention to the book they’re discussing. Their discussions don’t break down into polemic, or black-and-white blanket statements. They’re capable of thinking about and discussing ideas, without wholeheartedly agreeing or disagreeing with them. It’s so refreshing. This is a podcast that I would love to be involved with in some way if they are ever interested in having an occasional contributor.

If you find yourself frustrated with science fiction and literature podcasts, I highly suggest you check out Spectology. The first book they discuss is Use of Weapons by Iain M. Banks.