My husband is having an affair with his Kindle, but I’m still sweet on podcasts, my original digital love. When my hands are busy—folding laundry, loading the dishwasher, driving kids to lessons and myself to coffee shops—I listen to other people’s stories. Sad, funny, frustrating, whatever; bring it on.
Though the iconic “pod” for which the podcast is named is now obsolete, podcasts and audio books have surged in popularity thanks to the ever-increasing number of ways to listen. My personal theory is that oral storytelling reminds us of our childhoods. I never thought I’d get to relive my dad doing all the different voices in the Chronicles of Narnia, and then I discovered Jim Dale’s readings of the Harry Potter series.
Raconteurs lift me up. They sing the songs that comprise my hymnal, and I praise the love and fortitude expressed in their words. It’s a dire situation if I finish listening to a story and don’t have another waiting for me, so I keep a long list handy.
From that list, I’m sharing my top five hits, both heavy hitters and B-sides. If you are a devoted Saturday NPR listener, you’ll recognize some of the podcasts as popular radio shows. I linked to a favorite episode to get you started. Dive in! The listening water’s warm.
(A note about audio books: You can buy them on iTunes, try Audible.com, or see if your library has playaway MP3 devices you can check out, which is how I like to listen.)
My Top 5 Podcast Hit List:
2. Serial: This newish show just wrapped its first season, an in-depth analysis of whether a man was wrongly convicted to life in prison. It’s an evolving story from one episode to the next, so start with Episode 1.
4. Radiolab: The hosts Jad Abumrad and Robert Krulwich remind me of an uncle and nephew arguing and postulating at Thanksgiving. Try this hour devoted to telling the story of a baby born at 23 weeks, 6 days, one day shy of our definition of “viable.”
5. Here’s the Thing: Like Jerry Seinfelds’ show Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee, Alec Baldwin’s WNYC interview program is riveting. It’s like being a fly on the wall of Alec’s living room while he chats with other famous people. Since I mentioned Seinfeld, here’s an episode where Alec interviews Jerry.
I said Top 5, but I must give honorable mention to foodie-centric The Splendid Table. Every Friday I tune in to see what Lynn Rossetto Kasper has to say about food. Not as famous as but just as knowledgeable as Martha Stewart, Lynn has given me countless good tips over the years. Give a listen to an episode in which she talks to David Sedaris about dinner.
Starting today, Cheryl Strayed and Steve Almond, the writers who created The Rumpus' advice column Dear Sugar, are teaming up with WBUR to bring us a podcast. They'll dish out, in Strayed's words, “the real story that lies beneath what's apparent.” This one is so new there isn't an iTunes link yet; for now you can find it on the WBUR website.
If you fall down the listening rabbit hole as far as I did, you might enjoy these storytelling podcasts:
Love + Radio
StoryCorps (see list of staff picks)
The Dinner Party Download
Stanford Storytelling Project
The New Yorker: Fiction
Porchlight Storytelling Series
The Writer’s Almanac
The Classic Tales
The Memory Palace