Thea Lenarduzzi is a commissioning editor at the TLS and the co-host of Freedom, Books, Flowers and the Moon, the TLS’s weekly podcast. She is also a freelance writer and, slightly sporadically, the literary editor at Five Books.
Tell us about the TLS podcast: when did it start and what are its aims?
We started Freedom, Books, Flowers and the Moon in summer 2016, when I came back from a stint at the Independent newspaper (the print publication that is, which folded about 6 months after I arrived; I’m hoping the two things are pure coincidence…). My commute took ages in those days and I credit podcasts with keeping me (more or less) sane. So when I returned to the TLS (I’d been there for 6 years before my flirtation with daily news), I was keen to see if we could do something similar. At the TLS, we have some of the best pieces you’re likely to read on such a wide range of topics – quite truly from arts to zoology, and everything in between – by the best writers, whether experts in their field or curious generalists, so I was in no doubt we’d find things to talk about. So that’s what we do: the Editor Stig Abell and I pluck two or three pieces from that week’s edition of the TLS and ask the writers on to discuss. It’s just a different, and necessarily more informal, way of interacting with the paper, really…
What’s the story behind the name ‘Freedom, Books, Flowers and the Moon’?
It’s from Oscar Wilde. When he was holed up in Reading Gaol he wrote a famous letter – later published as De Profundis – to his dear lover Bosie, in which he said “…I can be perfectly happy by myself. With freedom, books, flowers and the moon, who could not be happy?” As well as capturing something of the range we cover, it also suggests the kind of… transportative (if that’s not too grand a word) quality a good podcast can offer – although our podcast is more likely a companion to listeners on punishingly dull commutes rather than those in an actual jail… but who knows?
How do you decide which titles to feature?
We do things a little differently in that we don’t tend to have the authors of books on to talk about their new titles – plenty of other shows do that and it can become a bit of a publicity blur. Instead, we ask critics about the work. These are experts or impassioned generalists engaging with the ideas and seeing strengths and weaknesses in the work – which you don’t usually hear about from the authors themselves. (That said, we do also do spin-off episodes where we talk to authors about their books – off the top of my head: we’ve had Michael Pollan on to talk about his new study of psychedelics; the novelist Jesmyn Ward on race and fiction and all manner of important things; Carlo Rovelli on the minor matter of the workings of the universe; and Valeria Luiselli to discuss her book on the plight of Mexican immigrants to the US, which I think she just won the National Book Award for – so, you know, all pretty high-calibre…) And it’s not all book-related either – we have plenty of original essays to talk about too. Things vary wildly from week to week.
What’s coming up over the next few months, and how do you see the podcast developing in the longer term?
It all depends on what we run in each week’s paper and we tend to only know that about a fortnight before we record… so who knows! What I can tell you is that, in the coming weeks, we’ll probably be talking about issues around diversity in children’s books, alcoholism (and writing about it), how the people who design algorithms have lost control of their monster, The Odyssey, the unexpected afterlife of Philip Larkin, and plenty more besides. You’ll just have to subscribe and see what pops up in your feed…