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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
91 Episodes
What is it about sisters? Loving, competitive, sometimes incredibly sinister... this month, we're thinking about sisterhood, and all those memorable sisters that fill the pages of literature with their rivalries and alliances, adoration and rebellion. From Little Women to My Sister the Serial Killer, we're getting into why this familial bond is so potent in storytelling. With the days drawing in and Halloween nearly upon us, we're also thinking about how sisters can be uncanny, and we couldn’t have a better author guest to help us explore the spookiness of the sisterly bond: Daisy Johnson, whose new novel, Sisters, is about two girls who are disturbingly close, and what happens when they move with their mother to a crumbling house on the seaside after they cause a terrible incident at their school. We dedicate this show to sisters everywhere - the good, the bad, and the ugly. Recommendations on the theme, Sisters: Octavia: Atonement by Ian McEwan Carrie: We Have Always Lived in the Castle by Shirley Jackson General Recommendations: Octavia: A Man’s Place by Annie Ernaux Daisy: Little Eyes by Samanta Schweblin Carrie: The Lost Daughter by Elena Ferrante, translated by Ann Goldstein Email us: Tweet us & find us on Instagram:
Here at Literary Friction, we believe translation is both an art and a superpower; it gives us access to voices and stories from all over the world, and it's a rolling theme we keep coming back to on the show. What makes a good translation? Are translators finally starting to get the recognition they deserve? Why are there still so few translated titles published in English? This month, helping us answer these questions and more is Ann Goldstein, translator, editor and former head of the copy department at The New Yorker, whose work translating Italian author Elena Ferrante's bestselling novels has had a big impact on the popularity of translated literature in the English-speaking world. Ann joined us to talk about her career and her translation of Ferrante's latest novel, The Lying Life of Adults. We hope you enjoy it. Recommended literature in translation: Octavia: A Heart So White by Javier Marías, translated by Margaret Jull Costa Carrie: The Wall by Marlen Haushofer, translated by Shaun Whiteside General Recommendations: Octavia: A Musical Offering by Luis Sagasti, translated by Fionn Petch Ann: The Bay of Noon by Shirley Hazzard Carrie: Hamnet by Maggie O’Farrell Email us: Tweet us & find us on Instagram: @litfriction
Before we were hit with this recent heatwave, there was starting to be a chill in the air, and soon it will be the perfect climate for taking brisk walks in parks, or just round the block for your government mandated hour of exercise should we find ourselves in another lockdown. Either way, the perfect conditions for… listening to books! The first of our autumnal minisodes is dedicated to the cosy pleasure of being read to - we’re getting into audiobooks, so tune in for all things aural pleasure (and displeasure), and the simple joy of being told a good story.
Why is there so much delight in discovering a juicy new word? Do you ever read the dictionary for fun? Is it annoying when people use obscure words too often? This month’s show is dedicated to the building blocks of all books: words. Joining us is the author Eley Williams, whose first novel The Liar’s Dictionary is both about words and delights in them. In the novel, Peter Winceworth, a disgruntled employee of Swansby’s New Encyclopedic Dictionary at the turn of the century, begins inserting his own invented words into the first edition. In the present day, intern Mallory is tasked with rooting out his mischievous insertions. We spoke to Eley about lots of things including our favourite words and reading the dictionary like a novel, so kick back and join us for an hour of lexical wonder and appreciation. Recommendations on the theme, The Joy of Words: Octavia: A Lover’s Discourse: Fragments by Roland Barthes Carrie: A Clockwork Orange by Anthony Burgess General Recommendations: Octavia: Blueberries by Ellena Savage Eley: and what if we are all allowed to disappear by Tania Hershman Carrie: The Fifth Season by N K Jemisin Email us: Tweet us & find us on Instagram: @litfriction
We're still on our summer break, so we wanted to use this chance to bring you a re-run of one of our favourite shows from our archive. In 2018, we spoke to Thomas Page McBee about his book Amateur, which tells the true story of his quest to become the first trans man to box at Madison Square Garden in New York City. The theme of the show is Masculinity: what makes a man? Why do men fight? Is there a crisis of masculinity? These are some of the questions that authors from Ernest Hemingway to Grayson Perry have asked, and questions that Thomas Page McBee addresses head on in his searching, beautiful and wise book.
Minisode Fifteen: Joy

Minisode Fifteen: Joy


Don't know about you, but we've really felt the need for a little more joy around here lately. We miss it, and as the world continues to turn upside down, we’re learning how to find it in new ways and in new places. So, Minisode Fifteen is dedicated to JOY, and the best thing about joy is that once you have a little of it you can find ways to pass it on, like a paper chain of joy spreading out across communities virtual and real. What's bringing you joy right now? Is reading a joyful act? Can finding joy be a practice? And as we get into what brings us joy, hopefully we’ll spread a little of that joy to you, and finally as usual give a few recommendations of things we’ve been into lately. This is our last show before we take our summer break in August, so we wish you all good things, and may you go to your joy.
What does it mean to write luxuriously? How can books be rich and generous? This month we’re talking about luxury in literature - and no, we don’t mean books about the 1% having spa days or flying first class. Instead, we’re talking about writing that explores the aesthetic, opulent, baroque and decadent. Through writers including Oscar Wilde, F. Scott Fitzgerald and Sylvia Plath, we’ll be thinking about what makes writing luxurious, and why engaging with luxury can be a subversive act of resistance for marginalised communities. Our guest today is Shola von Reinhold, whose debut novel Lote is about present-day narrator Mathilda's fixation with the forgotten Black Scottish modernist poet, Hermia Druitt. It's also a beautiful meditation on aesthetics and beauty and who is allowed access to them. Listen in for all the usual recommendations, and a chance to find out if you're an Arcadian or a Utopian. So, come indulge with us in a little literary friction. Recommendations on the theme, Luxury: Octavia: Ariel by Sylvia Plath Carrie: The Line of Beauty by Alan Hollinghurst General Recommendations: Octavia: The Glass Hotel by Emily St John Mandel Shola: Race, Sexuality and Identity in Britain and Jamaica: the Biography of Patrick Nelson by Gemma Romain Carrie: The Vanishing Half by Brit Bennett Email us: Tweet us & find us on Instagram: @litfriction This episode is sponsored by Picador
This month, we're going behind closed doors with Carmen Maria Machado, who dialled in from the States to talk to us. Her innovative memoir, In The Dream House, is about her experience of domestic abuse, something that is so often hidden from view, and even more so when it happens in a queer relationship. What does it mean to write into archival silence? How do we tell the most difficult stories? As usual, our theme is inspired by our guest, so join us as we talk about literature that looks at what happens behind closed doors, both in the literal sense - domestic spaces that are not what they seem, or hold secrets - but also those books that show us narratives that are usually left out of literature and culture. Plus, of course, our usual book recommendations - so sit back, and let us open YOUR door on Literary Friction. Recommendations on the theme, Behind Closed Doors: Octavia: The Year of Magical Thinking by Joan Didion Carrie: We Have Always Lived in the Castle by Shirley Jackson General Recommendations: Octavia: The Bloody Chamber by Angela Carter Carmen: Milk Fed by Melissa Broder Carrie: Hurricane Season by Fernanda Melchor Email us: Tweet us & find us on Instagram: @litfriction This episode is sponsored by Picador
We're in the midst of an international protest movement, sparked by the murder of George Floyd by a member of the Minneapolis police. As a result, it didn’t feel right to put out a new show, so instead we wanted to re-run a show from 2017 during which we talked about race with Reni Eddo-Lodge, the author of Why I’m No Longer Talking to White People About Race and Kishani Widyaratna, an editor at Picador Books in London. In her now best selling book, Reni takes a thorough and passionate look at the UK's long and complicated relationship with structural racism. This show comes with the caveat that we recorded this conversation three years ago. Our thinking has evolved since then as we’ve all continued to read and listen and learn about race. For white people in particular, anti-racist work is an ongoing journey. However, it’s sad and frustrating that most of the issues we were discussing then remain the same. It’s important to point out that we were talking about race generally on this show, whereas the current protests are for Black Lives Matter, focussing on anti-blackness, which is connected but a more specific issue. Recommendations on the theme, race: Octavia: Citizen: An American Lyric by Claudia Rankine Kish: Wide Sargasso Sea by Jean Rhys Carrie: The Warmth of Other Suns by Isabel Wilkerson General Recommendations: Octavia: Mislaid by Nell Zink Kish: Living a Feminist Life by Sara Ahmed Reni: Your Silence Will Not Protect You by Audre Lorde Carrie: First Love by Gwendoline Riley Further Reading: Why I'm No Longer Talking to White People About Race by Reni Eddo-Lodge Reni's podcast, About Race: Me and White Supremacy by Layla F. Saad White Fragility by Robin DiAngelo Are Prisons Obsolete? by Angela Davis So You Want to Talk About Race by Ijeoma Oluo Email us: Tweet us & find us on Instagram: @litfriction
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
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
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Aug 3rd

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May 27th
Reply (1)

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
Reply (5)
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