I know that many of my posts here are about books, but I want to take a break and talk about another form of storytelling. I am not only an avid reader–I am also an avid podcast listener. I listen when I workout, drive around town, clean the house, go for a walk, make dinner or just about any solitary activity that doesn’t require intense focus. Podcasts are a good distraction when an activity limits my ability to hold a book in my hands.
Podcasts recently experienced a surge in popularity with Sarah Koenig’s Serial, which is a spinoff of This American Life. Each episode of season one has Koening exploring a different aspect of the 1999 murder of Hae Min Lee, a Baltimore high school student. Adnan Syed, Lee’s ex-boyfriend, was arrested and later convicted of the murder. Syed is currently in prison for the murder and continues to maintain his innocence. Koenig spends time interviewing witnesses, people who knew Lee and Syed and others connected with the case. She pores over cell phone records, drives the route Syed allegedly took to dispose of the body and looks at anything she can dig up about the case. The result is a masterful piece of storytelling where the listener unpacks the story with Koening, knowing full well that there may be no nice, neat resolution at the end. Season one is finished, so if you haven’t listened already, set aside a day to binge listen to all the episodes.
I like the convenience of podcasts because I can listen to them whenever I want. Podcasts such as This American Life and Snap Judgement are NPR shows, but they are both available in podcast form, which is nice because I am not always near the radio when the shows air. These two podcasts are all about storytelling. Typically each episode contains several different stories that are on a specific theme. If you are a fan of This American Life, you will like Snap Judgement. Some of my favorite parts of Snap Judgement are when host Glynn Washington shares stories from his own life. There’s something about the way he puts everything out there that lends itself well to the spoken word. My only regret is that each of these shows only comes out once a week.
The Moth is another excellent storytelling podcast. They record live events where storytellers get up on stage and share their story in front of an audience. The weekly podcast alternates between the hour-long radio version that airs on NPR and the podcast version, which is usually about 15 minutes long and contains a story or two. Also check out The Truth. They describe their show as “movies for your ears.” They record mostly contemporary stories with sound effects in the style of old radio dramas. Most episodes are no more than 20 minutes, so it’s a good podcast to listen to when you only have a small window of time.
I also have a few interview-style podcasts in my regular rotation. A good interviewer can ask the kinds of questions that get the interviewee to pull you inside their story. Marc Maron’s WTF podcast is a good example of this. Maron has a gift for putting his guests at ease to the point where they often freely share their struggles with personal demons and interesting stories from lives lived in creative professions.
If you know me or have been reading this blog regularly, you probably know I have a range of dorky obsessions, which is why I really like Jackie Kashian’s The Dork Forest podcast. Each week she interviews a guest about what she calls their dorkdom. There have been guests talking about things like Star Wars, Doctor Who, professional wrestling, foraging for mushrooms, the Supreme Court, traffic court and more.
I don’t want to end this post without mentioning two more of my favorite podcasts. Professor Blastoff is hosted by Tig Notaro, Kyle Dunnigan and David Huntsberger. If you listen to this one in public, be prepared for moments of uncontrollable laughter where passersby stare at you as though you are crazy. The same goes for Throwing Shade, which is hosted by Erin Gibson and Bryan Safi.
Finally I want to mention the Workology podcast with Jessica Miller-Merrell. This podcast covers a range of HR and workplace topics. A little self promotion here–I got to be on this one as a guest a couple months ago, which was quite fun given how much I love podcasts.
Click on any of the links in this post to find the podcasts I have mentioned, and share some of your favorites in the comments.