LeVar Burton just can’t stop reading.
The former Star Trek and Roots star just wrapped the first season of his weekly podcast, LeVar Burton Reads, where Burton lends his reassuring, emotive voice to various works of short-form fiction. The term “season” is a loose one — the books are a grab bag of authors and genres, from Daisy Johnson’s exploration of solitary life in The Lighthouse Keeper to one of Neil Gaiman’s modern fantasy stories, Chivalry.
Though all 12 episodes are finished, subscribers still have something to look forward to: Burton just finished recording a bonus episode of the podcast at the Now Hear This podcast festival in New York City where he read one of the stories from Five-Carat Soul by James McBride and was joined by the author on stage.
Burton’s tastes are eclectic, to be sure. He says he doesn’t have a formula for picking the works he reads — and they’re sometimes suggested by his producer, Julia Smith, who Burton says is “one of the most well-read human beings on the planet.” Mostly, he looks for something that suits what he call his “quirky sensibility.”
“The idea is very low-tech, you know?” Burton says about his podcast in an interview before taking the stage at the festival. “It’s just me reading some of my favorite short stories. I know I’m going to be reading a story that I love from an author that I either know or don’t know, but the work, the story, brings me joy.”
Burton, of course, is intimately familiar with finding good things to read. He was the host of Reading Rainbow from 1983 to 2006, teaching a couple of generations of kids the value of reading and the power of the imagination. Burton and his company, RRKidz, had one of the most successful Kickstarters in history when it crowd-funded a revival in 2014, earning $5 million over a $1 million goal. (It wasn’t without controversy, however — Burton’s company settled a lawsuit from Reading Rainbow‘s rights holder, Buffalo public broadcaster WNED, at the end of August.)
“Sometimes it’s spontaneous, sometimes it’s scripted, but it’s about the storytelling.”
His notoriety in children’s reading led many to ask him over the years when he might start doing content for adults. A podcast seemed a natural move, and a partnership with Audible (which recently began offering podcasts) made it happen (the show is produced by Stitcher).
But while Burton is well acquainted with the power of the written word, he was newbie when it came to podcasting.
“I was unaware that it’s a community of people who tend to see the world in a similar way,” Burton says. “There are all kinds of different voices and points of view, but I think the common thread is this spirit of independence — just do it yourself. Hey kids, let’s put on a show, and then go and do that. Sometimes it’s spontaneous, sometimes it’s scripted, but it’s about the storytelling.”
Since Burton stopped doing Reading Rainbow full time, the way the world reads has transformed considerably. This hasn’t been lost on him at all, and Burton admits that going forward, “we’re going to have to learn to consume most of our content in the digital realm.” Not that he has a problem with that.
“Part of the miracle of living in this modern age for me is that … I carry a library around with me on my iPad. I have literally thousands of books that I hold in the palm of my hand. And they go with me everywhere. That that’s a miracle to me.”
Burton’s first taste of podcasting is far from the last. A second season of LeVar Burton Reads is in the works.
“I hope there are many more to come,” he says.