Sunday, August 14, 2016

A List: Podcast Recommendations

I first discovered podcasts in the summer of 2005; the term showed up as a category in iTunes after an update, so I looked into it, intrigued by the option of downloading some favorite programs onto my iPod for free. I loaded some up before I tagged along with Eric for his three-week seminar in Boulder, Colorado, and I listened on the airplane and as I explored Boulder on foot while Eric was in class.

Since then, my podcast list has evolved, but I continue to listen while driving (now that I can plug into my car's speakers via USB or Bluetooth), exercising, gardening, cleaning, or while enjoying a quiet night of knitting or sewing.

I find myself with a mental list of favorites that I share when the topic comes up, and a friend asked if I would do a post on them. As it will be handy to link to this when someone next asks for a referral, I was happy to comply.

A disclaimer: I opt for things that will entertain more than edify me (I am trying to keep interest up while undergoing mundane tasks; I'm more likely to seek edification when reading, as heady podcasts can be hard to digest when I'm partly distracted with the task at hand).

With that note, there are two general themes that these podcasts can fall into: 1) literary, and 2) personal narratives. This is no surprise for those of you who know me. I was an English major (and briefly an English teacher), and as can be seen by my book log, I still enjoy losing myself in books. Also, it's not unusual for people to open up to me, disclosing secrets and struggles; I believe facing those things can help us to learn about ourselves and grow, and hearing personal insights on podcasts helps me to appreciate the universal struggles we face. If these themes don't interest you, my podcast recommendations will fall flat for you.

I've linked to the specific websites below, but the easiest way I have found to listen is to subscribe to the audio feeds via iTunes (if you have an Apple device) or Podcast Republic (for Android).

LITERARY PODCASTS in alphabetical order
CraftLit A former Enough teacher talks about what crafts she's working on, then helps listeners through a book - she chooses open domain texts so she can talk shop, then she plays the audio, either from Librovox or by enlisting some talented listeners to read; at one time she had a feed called Just the Books for those who liked literary and not crafty talk, but she couldn't keep up with both feeds; if you don't want the crafty talk but are still interested in the books, there's apparently a time stamp somewhere on the CraftLit feed so you can skip straight to the book. I appreciate this podcast because, although I was an English teacher, I didn't feel the most adept at helping students reflect on the important points. Heather Ordover switches between short stories and longer works, including Pride and Prejudice, North and South, The Count of Monte Cristo, Age of Innocence, A Tale of Two Cities, and much more.

New Yorker: Fiction In this monthly podcast, the fiction editor invites a contributor to read one of their favorite fiction pieces from the magazine's archives (not their own work), and they discuss its significance together. This can be more uneven, both in reading performance and selection, but I like more than I dislike, so I mention it here as a nice second-tier pick.

Selected Shorts If you appreciate short stories, check this one out. The creators understand authors are not always the best at reading their own work, so they get actors to perform them at public performances. Each episode centers on a specific theme.

Modern Love This is a newer podcast where actors read essays from The New York Times column of the same name. Then they interview the author of the piece to learn more. The submissions focus on some aspect of love, whether that of amorous love, parental love, or somewhere in between. This is a second-tier podcast of mine; something I'll listen to if I'm caught up with my favorites, but not an immediate download for me.

    The Moth This has become my favorite podcast. The podcasts fall into two categories: the Moth Radio Hour, where individuals have worked with coaches to polish a personal story in their lives that they will deliver without notes, and Story Slam favorites, where attendees throw their name in a hat if they want a chance to come on stage and share a five-minute story that meets that night's theme. They run the gamut of emotions, and I've been brought to tears when listening to stories. And it just reinforces my belief that everyone is so fascinating -- one of the first stories I heard was a doctor in the USA getting a call out of the blue to treat Mother Teresa (as you do).

    Radio Diaries Here's another new one for me,
    so it's relatively untested. Individuals are given tape recorders and editors put together a segment; the one I listened to was a segment from a Saudi girl who had recorded for two years, and This American Life has used episode segments in a couple of their shows.

    Reply All Here's a second-tier one for me. I believe Ira Glass (from This American Life) brought it to my attention, or used one of these segments in one of their shows. It's a similar vein to This American Life, where a story is explored in more depth, but it's more hit or miss as far as my interest is concerned and not as long.

     Serial  This podcast went viral last year when it debuted. Sarah Koenig, from This American Life -- sense a theme here? -- left the show to explore stories in more depth. In Serial, an entire season is spent on one story. The first season was about Adnan Syed, convicted of murder, although there were many questions throughout the investigation and trial. It's fascinating. There is a second season as well, but I can't speak to that one yet; I'm a couple episodes in and I'm undecided - it's nowhere near as gripping as the first season.
      StoryCorps I'm woefully behind on these, which is silly given they're relatively short, but I do enjoy them all the same. They take place in a recording booth where individuals are invited to come and share a story, and selections from some of those stories are aired -- you might have a couple family members or close friends interview each other, or you might have two near strangers come together to reflect on a pivotal moment when their lives crossed (for instance, one story had a bank robber, who served time for the robbery, interviewing someone who had been in the bank at the time). These can also bring me to tears, as people tend to dwell on monumental moments in their lives (one that stuck with me was from a doctor sharing about a family whose child died while waiting for an organ donor; the family then chose to donate their child's healthy organs so as to spare another family the grief of losing a child, and there are many moving accounts).

      This American Life In the world of podcasts/radio programs, this is one of the best in my estimation, and from my list above, it's clear they've inspired or spun-off several other programs. Each episode focuses on a single theme, with stories that fit the theme 
      (sometimes one story is consuming enough to fill an entire show, like one fascinating episode about a woman learning she had been switched at birth). They are so good at tying everything together and keeping interest, no matter the topic. It's one of my favorites (vying for first with The Moth). 

        So there you go, my current list (minus some recent recommendations that I haven't had opportunity to listen to yet). What are you listening to? Any recommendations that I should check out, even if they don't fall into the above categories?