TRANSMISSIONS: Books of Some Substance

TRANSMISSIONS: Books of Some Substance

Welcome to Transmissions, an interview feature in which X-R-A-Y profiles podcasts.

Books Of Some Substance can be found at the website, Apple podcasts and YouTube.

David Southard reads. He’s written a book or two. Maybe he’ll write another someday. He co-hosts the Books Of Some Substance podcast from his home in South Korea.

Nathan Sharp is a graphic designer, an amateur motorcycle mechanic, an explorer of sounds, a reader of fictions, a collector of cameras, and a fixer of discarded things. He co-hosts the Books of Some Substance podcast and lives with his partner and his cat in California.


Rebecca Gransden: How would you describe the podcast to someone who is unfamiliar with what you do?

Books Of Some Substance: Imagine you’re at your local library’s book sale, rummaging through the vintage paperbacks and the yellow-paged hardbacks, buzzing with the anticipation for your next great find, distracted by the seemingly endless possibilities before you when you overhear an enthusiastic and wide-ranging conversation about a book you realize you’ve always wanted to read.

RG: Does the podcast have a mission or manifesto?

B.O.S.S.: Our mission on our website is ‘to inspire listeners to deepen their love of reading and expand their understanding of the world through engaging conversations about books of substance’. Basically, we want to spread the love of literature. We aren’t scholars or professors. We don’t know all the answers. But we believe in the value of stories. We see stories as perhaps the very source of what we call ‘meaning’. With so many different things vying for our attention, it is easy to feel like there is no time for Tolstoy, no time for Proust. We want to hold space for works like this and encourage others to do the same, not out of some aesthetic or scholastic obligation, but because they are beautiful and relevant. 

RG: Where did the idea for the podcast come from? How did you decide upon a title for the podcast?

B.O.S.S.: The podcast started as a bookclub that met in a dive bar in the Mission district of San Francisco. Our cofounder, Nick, used the phrase while we were discussing what kinds of books we would read. Something along the lines of ‘we will keep it broad, but we should only read books we think have some substance’. That evening we set up a Goodreads account and made ‘Books of Some Substance’ the name, then Photoshopped a logo onto the back of a leather jacket in a photo of a Japanese motorcycle gang. David, who did not live in San Francisco proposed that we create a podcast, something none of us knew anything about. For the first eight years the local book club and the podcast ran more or less in parallel. As of November 2023, the podcast has become its own thing entirely. 

RG: What episode of the podcast would you recommend to someone who is new to what you do?

B.O.S.S.: Start with an episode of a book you know and have read. We don’t do a lot of intro-to or summary-of-plot episodes. These are not lectures for a course, but conversations about the language and ideas of the book, conversations which often go in strange directions. So, start with a book you read recently or something you know. 

RG: How do you go about selecting what to feature on each episode?

B.O.S.S.: As is stated in the name of the podcast, we aim to read and discuss books of some substance. What that means exactly is open to debate, but there are a few parameters we generally follow: the novel might be found in the literature aisle of a bookstore, it might be considered to have cultural or stylistic significance, it was published between the end of the 19th century and the late 20th century, and typically the author is no longer alive (although there are episodes where this is not the case). Within those parameters, we follow where our interests lead, whether those are informed by recent events or the last book we read. We try to balance episodes on books and authors that might be found in the traditional Western canon with literature from international, and lesser known authors.

With the current season of the podcast, we decided to restrict our reading to the theme of Control. 

RG: If you are a writer, has the podcast impacted your writing life? and conversely, has a writerly disposition influenced the podcast? 

B.O.S.S.: What the podcast has been for us is a regular, semi-structured conversation about books. The fact that it is recorded adds a peculiar dimension to the conversation because you must always speak, respond, and question regardless of whether you quite know what you are going to say. This performative aspect engages a different part of the brain than a completely casual conversation. The risky part is that we are confronted from time to time with parts of ourselves that we might not be the most proud of (the foolish, the naive, the arrogant), but that are nonetheless true. The podcast becomes, in addition to an exercise in reading and understanding, an exercise in confronting, accepting, and growing comfortable with and even learning to trust that voice within that speaks without thinking. This trust is prerequisite to ‘getting out of one’s own way’ and is immensely helpful when writing as well as speaking. Perhaps it is the same desire to write, to articulate the strangeness of being oneself and perceiving the world from that particular perspective. It is not only strange, it is also somehow significant.

RG: For techheads, which single item of kit do you consider essential for the production of the podcast, and what would you say are the basics needed for those new to podcasting?

B.O.S.S.: A decent mic, solid internet connection, a quiet space, and a loving partner who accepts you for who you are and encourages you, or, at the very least, tolerates your hobby that eats up time and space. 


Books Of Some Substance can be found at the website, Apple podcasts and YouTube.

Rebecca Gransden lives on an island. She is published at Tangerine Press, Ligeia, Expat, BRUISER, and Fugitives & Futurists, among others. Her books include anemogram., Sea of Glass, Creepy Sheen, and Figures Crossing the Field Towards the Group.