Four Thousand Years of Literature, One Podcast


Anyone who enjoys reading can benefit from an understanding of literature past. Some may follow an early passion to study literature in depth and earn an English degree; many more who simply wish to familiarize themselves with foundational texts may read independently. Academics and amateurs alike can appreciate the literary lessons and discussions in Jacke Wilson’s The History of Literature podcast.

This free weekly podcast tackles the classics. In it, host and creator Wilson, a writer and self-proclaimed amateur scholar of literature, takes listeners on a winding tour of works and authors that have left an enduring literary mark. The History of Literature began as a linear exploration of all the major works of world literature, from The Epic of Gilgamesh onward. Wilson soon admitted interludes to his ambitious mission and added guests—scholars, authors, and fellow enthusiasts—to create episodes exploring how wider literary themes interact across different works and times, examining ideas such as “Literature and Loneliness” and “Poetry and Empire.” He also began to encourage debate about what qualities give a work of literature lasting significance, inviting guests to discuss “Great Literary Endings” and “Great First Chapters,” even daring them to name the “Top 10 Books You Don’t Need to Read.”

The show spans Wilson’s monologues and conversations, the most engaging aspects of which are the speakers’ evident passion for their subject and their willingness to admit that they cannot answer each question that literature raises—and that this is part of its human value.

The majority of listeners won’t have read every text or writer mentioned in the show, but such knowledge isn’t necessary to understand most of the general discussions. The episodes which focus solely on a particular title or author will be most satisfying to those who have read the works beforehand, and anyone who doesn’t wish to hear the full plot revealed can, of course, save it for later. Rest assured that the wider-ranging episodes make an effort not to give the stories away—with the obvious exception of “Great Literary Endings.”

Here are some good episodes with which to start:

Episode #57: Borges, Munro, Davis, Barthelme – All About Short Stories (And Long Ones Too)

Episode #52: Recommend This! The Best 101 Books for College-Bound Readers

Episode # 50: Othello'

About the Author:

Carolyn Kelly is currently an intern for Booklist. A senior at Princeton University, she is studying English. When she isn’t reading a wide array of literature to try and decide what work to write about for her undergraduate thesis, she can be found trying to win tickets in the Hamilton lottery.

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