Stories Behind the Story
Better Reading, hosted by Cheryl Akle
They say everyone has a book inside them. Whether or not it should be written is debatable – "inside" is, Christopher Hitchens once quipped, "exactly where I think it should in most cases remain". Regardless, the aphorism underlines an obvious truth: that people and their lives are full of fascinating stories. This is no more apparent than in listening to the Stories Behind the Story podcast, of which I have spent weeks dipping into the backlist. Hosted by founder Cheryl Akle, the podcast feels like a natural extension of the Better Reading group's function as a source of reliable book recommendations.
In each episode, Akle, who has decades of book and publishing industry experience, interviews authors both debut and established. Colson Whitehead and George Saunders are among the international talent, and local interviewees include such luminaries of Australian literature as Tim Winton, Richard Flanagan and Michelle de Kretser. There are also conversations with critics, comedians and journalists, and Akle readily admits that it was her interview with Nigella Lawson that most excited her food-loving family.
Like other top interview-format podcasts, the pleasure stems from it being more conversational in tone than traditional radio; Akle doesn't efface her enthusiasm or admiration, and anecdotes and experiences are reciprocally shared. There are true and fictional stories of unusual upbringings, larger-than-life characters and historical travesties. Identity is a recurrent theme, and Akle makes mention of her upbringing as a child of Lebanese immigrants. The podcast is a testament to the ability of good stories to transcend race, gender, class and culture, but above all, it's an account of how the books that made it out of their authors came to be.
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