A Book and a Podcast to Make Your Hair Stand on End

Posted August 13, 2015 by LeahAdmin in Reviews / 29 Comments

A Book and A Podcast to Make Your Hair Stand on End
The Beautiful Bureaucrat by Helen Phillips
on August 11, 2015
Pages: 192
Genres: Literary Fiction
Format: Galley
Source: Publisher
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Confession time: I’m kind of obsessed with podcasts. As a reader, I love putting new information into my brain any way that I can — and podcasts allow me to do this in situations in which I can’t feasibly read a book. (I also suspect that, as an introvert, I like being able to listen to people talk without having to hold up my end of a conversation.) Whether I’m washing dishes, taking a walk around my neighborhood, or driving for more than 15 minutes, I probably have a podcast playing. At some point, I’ll write a post about my favorite shows, but today I’d like to shine a spotlight on one of my favorite podcasts — and a fantastic book that pairs well with it.

The Welcome to Night Vale podcast takes the form of radio broadcasts from the small desert town of Night Vale. Cecil, our deep-voiced radio personality, provides community updates about dark hooded figures, angels, mysterious lights in the sky, and a dog park that neither dogs nor people are allowed to enter. It’s deeply weird, darkly funny, and a ton of fun. However, as I’m subscribed to more podcasts than I can feasibly listen to, I got distracted last year and stopped listening — until last month, when I read a book that made me crave Welcome to Night Vale‘s creepy absurdity.

The Beautiful Bureaucrat by Helen Phillips is a delightfully strange debut novel about a young couple who abandons “the hinterland” to seek their fortunes in the big city. Unemployed, with funds running desperately low, Josephine takes a job in an enormous, windowless concrete building. Day after day, she inputs an endless series of numbers into “The Database” and fights a growing sense of unease about her faceless boss with the rotten breath; the fingerprint-smudged, sickly pinkish walls of her office; and a co-worker who knows far too much about Josephine’s personal life. Bit by bit, she unravels the mystery of the nature of her work, ultimately making a discovery that has ground-shaking implications.

This novel is short enough to read in a single sitting, which is lucky for readers; it’s nearly impossible to put down. Evoking a creeping sense of dread, The Beautiful Bureaucrat is a compulsively readable book about life and death, love, and the secrets within a marriage. The ending fell a bit flat for me, but I’m not sure what I would have done differently. Overall, I loved the bleak atmosphere, the building sense of suspense, and the Murakami-esque use of the surreal.

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  • Interesting way to approach this! And I’m a podcast fan as well – mostly for when I’m running!

  • I too love podcasts, so will give this one a listen!

  • Wesley

    I love Nightvale! Do you know any other podcasts that are in the same vein? I’m trying to expand my podcast listening since I’m all caught up with Cecil and the gang! All praise to the glow cloud!

    • This is the only fiction podcast I listen to, but I just took a quick look at the “literature” chart in the Apple podcast app. The NoSleep Podcast is an anthology of original horror stories with atmospheric music, the New Yorker: Fiction podcast features a different short story each month, and I also found We’re Alive — A “Zombie” Story of Survival.

  • You read my mind on Bureaucrat’s ending. I don’t know how else to have ended it, but it just didn’t do it! The rest, though, oh my.

    And what a great rec! Despite so many of my friends loving it, I’ve managed to never listen to Night Vale. I also subscribe to way too many podcasts, but the difference is that you actually listen to them. 😛 I’m awful at making the time.

    Nice review!

    • Ha! I’ve been pretty bad lately because I subscribed to Scribd, and now ALL the audiobooks are available to me, and I need to get my money’s worth 😛 It’s great, but my podcasts are piling up.

      • I finally broke down and am trying out audio books, and I know my Audible free trial/library selection is going to basically eliminate the possibility that I will ever listen to podcasts again. 😛 I might give Scribd a shot once Audible runs out!

        • Scribd actually just ruined all the audiobook goodness 🙁 As of 9/20, most of their audiobooks (as in, every single one in my library) will be on a credit system like Audible.

          • Dangit, Scribd! 🙁 Was it just a subscription for the full library before?

          • LeahAdmin

            Yep, it was unlimited!

  • Lizzi

    This sounds kinda good! My sister loves Night Vale and is always telling me to listen – she even went to a live show they did in London, apparently it was very good. I think I will check out this book – always like something a bit different (as long as it’s good…). Another great post Leah!

  • I’d never thought about podcasts that way, as a conversation that you can enjoy without having to participate. This really appeals to me and now I want to go and listen to podcasts all day.

  • Veronica

    I love podcasts! Mostly they are the bookish theme but Stuff You Missed in History Class is soooo great!!

    • I’ve only listened to a few episodes of Stuff You Missed, but I should probably resubscribe! (There are just TOO many wonderful podcasts out there.)

  • This is a GREAT pairing! I’ve heard Welcome to Nightvale mentioned quite often, but it’d never clicked that it’s a podcast!

    • I believe they’re actually publishing a Welcome to Night Vale novel this fall, too! (Which I should probably go back and mention in my post.)

  • I finally got myself a pair of comfy earbuds, so I need to start checking out podcasts again. Thanks for the suggestion!

  • Amy Sachs

    Murakami-esque and similar to Nightvale? I’m more convinced than ever that I need this book!

  • Welcome to Nightvale sounds like Lake Woebegone — but way better 🙂

  • Diane D

    This one has been moved way up top in my August reads. Sounds terrific.

  • I have been seeing The Beautiful Bureaucrat everywhere lately, I think it’s a sign that I need to read it 😉 I think I’m going to check it out now 🙂

  • I really loved TBB and don’t know why. It should have been a mess but I loved it. And agree with the ending, a little flat but still great. Reminded me a bit of The Handmaid’s Tale for the “what is going on?” factor. 🙂

  • Oooo…that podcast sounds like a creepy Lake Woebegone (or whatever that Garrison Keillor radio show is/was). I’m going to have to check it out!

    Apparently, I am the last blogger on earth who hasn’t read TBB but everyone seems to agree it’s worth it so I will get after it for my next book!

  • I’ve been on a hiatus from Welcome to Nightvale myself. I’ve just had too many audiobooks and too little time to fit in podcasts as well! I didn’t love The Beautiful Bureaucrat, but I can see why it’s strangeness would remind you of Welcome to Nightvale 🙂