The Weekend Listener #13

The Weekend Listener is an eclectic weekly list of noteworthy podcasts and radio recordings, old and new, curated for your listening pleasure. Posts in this series are published on Fridays – please search the website for the previous instalments.


Science Diction | Language Evolves: It’s Literally Fine

A black and white image of a person flicking through a dictionary
Photo by Snapwire on

Language constantly evolves and perhaps no one has a better grasp of how and why that happens than lexicographers. In this episode of Science Diction, two Merriam-Webster experts discuss changes in the English language, explaining how many common English words have their origin in mistakes and linguistic mishaps. [Duration: 27’05’’]


Bookclub | Donna Tartt: The Secret History

A hand seen holding a copy of Donna Tartt's novel The Secret History. In the background, some library shelves.

Published thirty years ago, The Secret History became an instant literary sensation and it has remained one of the most popular novels in the ‘dark academia’ genre. Interviews with its author, Donna Tartt, are pretty rare, and if you’ve enjoyed The Secret History, you will love the conversation she had with a group of readers for the BBC Radio 4 Bookclub programme back in 2014. (If you are not at all familiar with the book, have a look at my review.) [Duration: 29’]


American Stories | ‘The Gift of the Magi’ by O. Henry

A black and white photograph of the American writer O. Henry as a man in his 40s or 50s; clean shaven, wearing a suit and tie.

O. Henry was a master of storytelling, famous for his plot twists and witty use of language. This radio version of the short story ‘The Gift of the Magi’ has been adapted for English language learners: the website contains a full transcript, as well as a lesson plan, an online quiz and vocabulary notes. More advanced students may also want to compare this adaptation with the original, which you can find here. [Duration: 14’16’’]


The Folklore Podcast | Yule Be Surprised

A black man sitting on the living room floor in front of a nicely decorated Christmas tree. He is wearing a white jumper, blue jeans and red holiday-themed socks. Next to him, to the left, a black girl opening Christmas presents. She is wearing a festive red jumper.
Photo by cottonbro studio on

Earlier this week, on 21st December, was the Winter Solstice – the shortest day of the year. Known as Yule across Northern Europe, it has been marked for millennia as one of the most important sacred days, rich in symbolism, traditions and folklore, many of which have survived to this day. This episode of the always fantastic Folklore Podcast series explores the ancient, pre-Christian origins of many common Christmas customs. [Duration: 34’58’’]


The Essay | Winter Solstice by Hanne Ørstavik

A wintery nature scene showing a sunrise (or possibly sunset) over a frozen lake surrounded by trees and ground covered with snow.
Photo by Pixabay on

More on the topic of Winter Solstice, this is a wonderful essay by Norwegian novelist Hanne Ørstavik in which she shares her memories of childhood spent in Finnmark – Norway’s northernmost region. She mentions wonderfully rich Sami legends and rituals connected with the Winter Solstice – folklore we can all learn something from. The website contains a full transcript of the essay. [Duration: 13’02’’]


Tapestry | What would the world look like if paganism had defeated Christianity?

A snapshot showing a part of a Greek temple with caryatids, located in Athens, Greece. In the background, a panorama of Athens and mountains in the distance.
Photo by jimmy teoh on

This podcast could have easily been included under the Literature or History sections here. The interviewee is the celebrated British writer Julian Barnes who talks about Elizabeth Finch, his latest novel, published earlier this year. More to the point, he discusses questions asked by its heroine: was the 4th century victory of Christianity over paganism a mistake, and would polytheism have contributed to a better, more tolerant world? [Duration: 54’]

Is there a podcast episode you’d like to recommend on these or related topics? You’re very welcome to share it in the comments section below.

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