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Literary Friction

Author: Literary Friction

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A monthly conversation about books and ideas on NTS Radio hosted by friends Carrie Plitt, a literary agent, and Octavia Bright, a writer and academic. Each show features an author interview, book recommendations, lively discussion and a little music too, all built around a related theme - anything from the novella to race to masculinity. Listen live on NTS Radio
82 Episodes
We're still stuck on the theme of intimacy, because we haven't been able to stop thinking about it. The demands of this crisis are forcing us to rethink so much that used to be instinctive, including how we connect with other people - physical contact has never been more loaded, and we're having to rely on other ways to bridge the gaps between us. In our last show with Garth Greenwell we were thinking about how books can be a tool for intimacy in themselves, and in this minisode we continue that conversation. How does reading and talking about books create intimacy? Has the way we think about intimacy changed during lockdown? Can books ever be a substitute for intimacy IRL? Plus, the usual (extremely inside) cultural recommendations. This episode is sponsored by Picador @picadorbooks
Like a lot of people, lockdown has made us think about intimacy. As separation from our loved ones drags on, we're all having to find different ways to connect, and in this socially distant reality, intimacy feels more necessary than ever - however we can get it (hot tip: books are good!). Writing and reading can be intimate acts, so for this episode we'll be discussing what intimacy means in literature, which writers - from Henry James to Sally Rooney to Maggie Nelson - have been able to capture it, and what it means to write in an intimate way. Our guest this month is Garth Greenwell, a writer whose work chronicles and explores intimacy in many forms, so he couldn't be a better person to talk to. His second book, Cleanness, follows an American teacher living in Sofia, Bulgaria as he navigates relationships with his students, love and sex. Listen in for our interview with Garth, our thoughts about intimacy in literature, and all the usual recommendations. Come closer, let us put our arms around you, and get enveloped for the next hour by Literary Friction. Recommendations on the theme, Intimacy: Octavia: The Argonauts by Maggie Nelson Carrie: Giovanni’s Room by James Baldwin General Recommendations: Octavia: This Brutal House by Niven Govinden Garth: Where Reasons End by Yiyun Li Carrie: The Years by Annie Ernaux Email us: Tweet us & find us on Instagram: @litfriction This episode is sponsored by Picador
In the absence of an outside world, and because we are missing our loved ones, our friends, our acquaintances, even strangers on trains, for Minisode Thirteen we're going inside our minds: we want to talk about the characters from literature that have stayed with us and taken root in our imaginations long after finishing the books that brought them to us. Which literary characters would be good quarantine buddies? Which would be full blown nightmares? Who has been unforgettable, for good or bad reasons? In this strangely liminal tine where our imaginations and subconscious minds have been sent into overdrive, we’re staying in because we can’t go out, so join us as we unpack a bunch of internal boxes, plus the usual recommendations. This episode is sponsored by Picador @picadorbooks
How do you hold onto hope in the dark? This question feels more pertinent than ever right now, and we couldn't think of anyone we'd rather ask than author Jenny Offill, who we spoke to from our various quarantine locations this month. Her new novel Weather is a sharp, insightful meditation on how regular humans process catastrophe, and while it's particularly about the climate crisis, as you might imagine it’s become weirdly relevant in our current situation too. But listen, rather than bring you a show about catastrophe, we also wanted to make a show about hope. ‘Obligatory note of hope’ is an expression a character uses in Weather, and it’s also a website that Jenny set up with resources she found during her research ( So, as well as talking to Jenny and giving all the usual recommendations, we’ll be thinking about what it means for a book to be hopeful, and talking about which books and authors have personally given us hope over the years. So, Pandora: shut that box just in time, and join us for the next hour on Literary Friction. List of books mentioned that give us hope: Octavia: The Argonauts by Maggie Nelson; Such a Fun Age by Kiley Reid; Just Kids by Patti Smith; Octavia Butler and Ursula K Le Guin's writing; The Examined Life by Stephen Grosz Carrie: Middlemarch by George Eliot; Mrs Dalloway by Virginia Woolf; Housekeeping by Marilynne Robinson; When I Was a Child I Read Books by Marilynne Robinson; Olive Kitteridge by Elizabeth Strout; Girl, Woman, Other by Bernardine Evaristo; The People's History of the United States by Howard Zinn; Ways of Seeing by John Berger General Recommendations: Octavia: Wrechedness by Andrzej Tichý Jenny: Fever Dream by Samantha Schweblin Carrie: Bad Behaviour by Mary Gaitskill Email us: Tweet us & find us on Instagram: @litfriction This episode is sponsored by Picador
How are you finding reading at the moment? Are you struggling to drag your eyes away from Twitter or endlessly scrolling news sites? What does escapism really mean? What's working, and what isn't working in these anxious times? We are currently about sixty miles apart from one another, but very pleased to be bringing you Minisode Twelve from our isolation stations. We want to offer a little escapism, but we also want, maybe even need to talk about what's going on right now. So we're going to talk about literature in quarantine, which also means talking about not being able to read at all. We hope you're all doing ok, and we remain at your service through whatever's on the horizon, and as always, thank you for listening. This episode is sponsored by Picador @picadorbooks
Has anyone written a great social media novel yet? Is Twitter destroying our ability to read novels in the first place? How worried should we be about bookstagrammers? Why are you listening to this podcast instead of reading a book? What even is the point of podcasting?? On this month’s show we’re asking these not at all panicked questions and talking about social media in literature. As usual, our theme has been inspired by our guest: Kiley Reid dropped by the studio to talk about her debut novel Such a Fun Age, a fun, sharp story about babysitting, racial politics, class and privilege. Listen in to hear our interview with Kiley, our thoughts about the theme of social media in literature, plus all the usual recommendations. Thankfully, we recorded with Kiley before Covid-19 travel restrictions came into play, and before the virus spread, so if you want an hour to escape into a time before reality got turned around then open your mind, ignore twitter - at least for the next hour - and focus all your attention on Literary Friction. Recommendations on the theme, Social Media: Octavia: NW by Zadie Smith Carrie: Super Sad True Love Story by Gary Shteyngart General Recommendations: Octavia: The Water Dancer by Ta-Nehisi Coates Kiley: Jillian by Halle Butler Carrie: In the Cut by Susanna Moore Buy a tote! Email us: Tweet us & find us on Instagram: @litfriction This episode is sponsored by Picador
However you feel about Brexit, there’s no denying that it’s going to change the relationship that people in the UK have with the European Union and the twenty-seven countries that make it up. But we are not here to dwell in the misery of all that! One of the most beautiful things about literature is that, unless things get fully fascistic, no political machine can restrict your movement in your imagination. This minisode is a bit of a celebration of the European literature and culture we’ve loved, the stuff we want to read, and the power of reading to create and maintain connections where politics has failed us. So it’s Brexit, but make it optimistic? Tote bags: Email us: Twitter & Instagram: @litfriction This episode is sponsored by Picador
This month on Literary Friction we’re going on the run. Or, more accurately, we’ll be sitting still in the studio talking about literature that features characters and people who are running away both physically and psychologically, from Cora in Colson Whitehead’s The Underground Railroad, to Madame Bovary, to Augusten Burroughs and A.A. Gill. Our guest is Irish novelist Eimear McBride, who has come back on the show to talk about her third novel Strange Hotel, which follows an unnamed protagonist as she moves from hotel room to hotel room around the world, trying to forget her past, and the powerful allure of an untethered life. So, lace up your sneakers and jog along with us for the next hour of Literary Friction. Recommendations on the theme, On The Run: Octavia: The Year of Magical Thinking by Joan Didion Carrie: The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead General Recommendations: Octavia: Things I Don't Want to Know by Deborah Levy Carrie: Girl, Woman, Other by Bernardine Evaristo Eimear: Cleanness by Garth Greenwell Buy a tote! Email us: Tweet us & find us on Instagram: @litfriction This episode is sponsored by Picador
Minisode Ten

Minisode Ten


For the first minisode of 2020, we're wading into the gossipy world of TS Eliot's love life: this year marks the publication of his romantic letters to Emily Hale, fifty years after their deaths. If you missed the story in the press, let's just say it's not one in which he covered himself in glory. Listen in for our thoughts on literary fetishism, posthumous publications, and how to choose a wife that won't kill the poet in you, plus all the usual recommendations. Tote bags: Twitter & Instagram: @litfricton This episode is sponsored by Picador:
Our first show of the year (and decade) is all about New Beginnings: from Virginia Woolf's novels to memoirs like Amy Liptrot’s The Outrun, we’ll look at books that feature rejuvenation, and think about why it's such fertile ground for storytelling. Joining us is author An Yu, whose thoughtful and surreal debut novel Braised Pork inspired the theme. It tells the story of Jia Jia, a young artist in contemporary Beijing who, after the abrupt death of her husband, must begin her life again. Listen in for our chat with An, who stopped by the studio to talk about starting over, the power of enigmatic symbols, and why we need stories to make sense of the world around us, plus all the usual recommendations. It’s good to be back! Recommendations on the theme, New Beginnings: Octavia: Days Without End by Sebastian Barry Carrie: Washington Black by Esi Edugyan General Recommendations: Octavia: Exciting Times by Naoise Dolan Carrie: Kudos by Rachel Cusk An: Village of Stone by Xiaolu Guo Buy a tote! Email us: Tweet us & find us on Instagram: @litfriction This episode is sponsored by Picador
For our last show of the year, we’re going into therapy - or, more accurately, we’ll be talking about therapy’s intersection with literature. Does analysis make good fiction? Do therapists make good characters, or good authors? What has the language of psychology given to literature? We’re very happy that the inspiration for today’s topic is our guest, Ben Lerner, whose third novel The Topeka School is a brilliant meditation on family, psychology, toxic masculinity, whiteness and American life, told through the lens of one man’s coming of age in Topeka, Kansas in the 90s, where Ben himself was born. So, lay down on the couch and do the work with us for the next hour on Literary Friction, and we'll catch up with you in the new decade. Happy holidays, everyone! Recommendations on the theme, In Therapy: Octavia: Medical Muses: Hysteria in Nineteenth-century Paris by Asti Hustvedt Carrie: The Examined Life by Stephen Grosz General Recommendations: Octavia: Year of the Monkey by Patti Smith Ben: The Mushroom at the End of the World by Anna Lowenhaupt Tsing Carrie: The Past by Tessa Hadley Buy a tote! Email us: Tweet us & find us on Instagram: @litfriction
It’s our last minisode of 2019, so we're looking back over some of our favourite reads of the year, some of our resolutions for 2020, plus the usual cultural recommendations - so, if you need some inspiration for what books to buy people for Christmas then grab a pen! Also, here’s your annual reminder to support your local independent bookshop instead of ordering everything online. An update on our lovely, fair trade cotton tote bags: we now have an Etsy shop where you can buy them! The link is below, all the money we make from the sales goes back into making the show bigger and better, so please get one for all your friends. Finally, thank you for listening and for another brilliant year of Literary Friction. Happy holidays everyone! See you on the flipside. Tote bags: Twitter & Instagram: @litfriction Email us:
From William Faulkner to John Updike, and Hilary Mantel to Margaret Atwood, why do authors return to the same characters and places again and again? What can a trilogy do that a solo book can’t? And why do we get so excited (and nervous) about these returns? To help us answer these questions, this month we have a very special guest: the inimitable, Pulitzer prize-winning author Elizabeth Strout. Her latest novel, Olive, Again, is a return to the complicated character of Olive Kitteridge and her community in Crosby, Maine. Recommendations on the theme, Returning: Octavia: Everything Under by Daisy Johnson Carrie: Eligible by Curtis Sittenfeld General Recommendations: Octavia: Be My Guest by Priya Basil Elizabeth: Tolstoy by Henri Troyat and Tolstoy by A.N. Wilson; Carrie: Hateship, Friendship, Courtship, Loveship, Marriage by Alice Munro Email us: Tweet us and find us on Instagram: @litfriction
For Minisode Eight we were inspired by a question podcaster Isaac Butler asked on Twitter, which was: What’s a Great Book that you read because it was assigned to you that you actually loved? We also asked: Which were the books that really did it for you at school or university? Did you like being set reading, or rebel against it? And were there any books you had to read that almost turned you off for good? Plus all the usual recommendations.
This show is a little different from usual as we’re coming to you from the Cheltenham Literature Festival, where we were this year’s podcast in residence. This jam-packed special features recordings from both the events we chaired: ‘A Body of Work’ with Karen Havelin and Eleanor Thom, in which we discussed their books Please Read This Leaflet Carefully and Private Parts, including how to write about chronic/persistent pain, and endometriosis; and ‘Me Too in Fiction’, where we spoke to Rosie Price and Ayelet Gundar-Goshen about their books What Red Was and Liar, which deal with sexual assault and its aftermath in very different ways. Plus: voxpops from Max Porter, Candice Carty-Williams, Wana Udobang and Sinéad Gleeson, who all told us what they’d read and loved recently; and our utter glee at discovering the back seat of a car makes an excellent makeshift recording studio, steamed up windows and all. It’s full of the good stuff to warm you up as the nights draw in.
This month's show is called City of Voices in honour of our very esteemed guest, author Zadie Smith. We met Zadie for a live event in Sheffield to talk about her first short story collection, Grand Union, a playful, ambitious symphony of different voices, styles and forms. Listen in to hear about why we should all embrace our inner chaos, the ways our voices get co-opted by Big Technology, and for a more general chat about literature by authors like William Faulkner and Yaa Gyasi that encompasses a range of different voices. Plus, of course, all the usual recommendations.
Do you consider yourself a vain person? Because this month is all about vanity in literature, dedicated to those characters who are just a little bit too pleased with themselves. It's also our first full show back this Autumn, and we are thrilled to kick things off with none other than the inimitable Deborah Levy, who joined us for a live event at Foyles in London to talk about her latest novel, The Man Who Saw Everything. It features a beautiful, vain, frustrating, intriguing, ultimately very human protagonist, and slips through time with Lynchian abandon. So whether you're a Dorian or a Narcissus, or a paragon of humble virtue, join us for the next hour for all the usual conversation and recommendations on Literary Friction.
Minisode Seven

Minisode Seven


Hello! We're back! We missed you! Welcome to Minisode Seven, in which we make an excited return to the studio and catch up on what we got up to over our summer break. Before all that, though, we want to play you some of an ace live event Octavia did with authors Jia Tolentino and Emilie Pine, discussing their brilliant essay collections, Trick Mirror and Notes To Self. Sadly you can only hear the first half of it because there were ghosts in the machine (technical meltdown), but it was a fascinating conversation so we still think it's worth it. We also have some really exciting stuff lined up for this autumn: a live event with none other than Zadie Smith; the launch of some very stylish LF merch; and we are the podcast in residence at Cheltenham Literary Festival this year. So, listen in for Jia, Emilie, new news, old news, the usual recommendations and, as ever, a little music too. It's good to be back!
We're still on our summer break, but we didn't want to leave you totally bereft of literary friction, here's a little something from the archive. In Spring 2016 we spoke to Kevin Barry about his novel Beatlebone, and in celebration of his place on this year's Booker Prize longlist (for his latest novel Nightboat to Tangier) we thought we'd re-run the episode. Beatlebone is a wonderful novel about a very famous John's quest to reach a tiny island that he owns in Clew Bay, off the West Coast of Ireland. Inspired by his trip, our theme is 'down the rabbit hole', dedicated to all those literary escapes to the ends of the earth and to the centre of the mind. We'll be following that elusive rabbit's fluffy tail and lighting out for the territory with Huck Finn, breaking out of jail with the Count of Monte Cristo, and getting lost in all kids of mythical adventures. Come along for the ride, and enjoy a bit of time travel into the world of our younger selves - our equipment was a lot less pro in those days!
For our last show before we take our summer break, we bring you this author special with poet and novelist Ocean Vuong, who was over from the States to talk about his novel On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous. Carrie was on holiday so Octavia flew solo for a long interview with Ocean where they talked about submission as power, queer narratives, acceptance over forgiveness, the subversive potential of fragmented storytelling, the violence of parental love and a whole lot more. We’ll be back in September with an exciting Autumn programme, and we’ll put out some shows from the archive in the meantime so you can still get your LF fix. Until then, have a wonderful summer everyone!
Comments (2)

Authentictalks 2.0


May 27th

Melissia Lenox

I tremendously enjoyed the fabric and caliber of Octavia's interview of and discussion with the long-revered poet and now, debut author, Ocean Vuong. He is such a genuinely beautiful human being and I feel privileged each time I get to hear him speak or read. Octavia should lead more shows/handle more interviews.

Apr 7th
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