In our last Petits Délices we mentioned how excited we had been to listen to Sarah Koenig’s updates on the ongoing litigation surrounding Adnan Syed’s hearing. We had mentioned Serial before, as well. Those two brief mentions over the past four months do very little to convey our supremely nerdy passion for podcasts, which we discuss ad nauseam between each other. Sometimes I think at least a third of our conversations begin “So I was listening to this podcast and…”
When walking to class, working out, or putting on makeup there’s usually a story being played. Our other roommates have asked, on occasion, “Did you have someone over? I heard talking…”
Nope, not being social. Just being taken for a ride by creative, thought-provoking audio journalism.
Podcasts are the perfect way to inject mental stimulation into a mundane task like cleaning, traveling, or the morning commute. I myself first started religiously listening to podcasts the summer I had an hour’s drive to and from work. It turned the chore into an enjoyable part of my day and often provided fodder for interesting small talk while at the office.
We want to give you a little taste of what it’s all about, episode length, and mood. And, because we are well and truly obsessed and this post was getting very long, this is going to be a Volume I type deal of five favorites, in no particular order. This list will be most useful for people who may not have delved much into the podcasting world or who don’t even fully understand the appeal. We certainly didn’t “get it” at first.
For me, this was the podcast that started it all. During a doctor’s appointment I let slip that I was an Econ major and my physician practically jumped off of his stool and dropped my paperwork in his effort to convey his enthusiasm about this podcast. It’s an NPR production, a Blue Chip of the podcasting world, that covers tangentially economic issues from a human-oriented perspective with humor, insight, and compassion. You don’t have to be an economist or anything close to enjoy and understand this podcast. They use economic principles as the foundation for their investigations, but avoid discussing the technical details that alienate so many from the field.
Episode length: about 20 minutes, perfect for getting ready in the morning or a quick walk
Sample favorite episodes: Bagging the Birkin (the economics of how the hell the Birkin Bag is so expensive and so scarce); We Cooked a Peacock (an attempt at recreating a 16th century Dutch recipe for the rich and famous, looking at the intersections of food, class, wealth, and time); and Anatomy of a Scam (they talk to people who work for those “Call This Number and You Can Work From Home!” ads)
RadioLab emphasizes creative production and uses their resources to create a sonically rich environment for listeners to immerse themselves in. They weave various audio elements together, along with the hosts’ thoughtful, often hilarious discussions. They tell a story laced with fascinating facts, always with the aim of peeling back a layer of human mystery to reveal some deeper truth, or at least discover something interesting along the way. This podcast, over all other podcasts, has given me the most to talk about with other people because you end the episode having been made as enthusiastic about the topic as the journalists themselves.
Episode Length: ~35 minutes
Sample Favorite Episodes: Nazi Summer Camp (when a journalist’s father casually mentions the Nazis that worked on his farm one summer, she looks into the story of a town that played host to POWs for an extended period of time, the surprising humanity with which they were treated, and the national tension that arose from this tolerance); Eye In The Sky (the technology exists to take super HD snapshots of an entire city at every second from up above, and this technology has been used in war-torn areas to see what happened before a bomb went off. But should this technology be brought here to stop crime? One man tried to make it so); Hard Knock Life (their Valentine’s Day episode was about a beetle and it was hilarious. Special guest Lin-Manuel Miranda of Hamilton fame).
I have talked about the impact Elizabeth Gilbert’s Big Magic had on me, but the truth is I never would have picked up that pretty cover had I not stumbled upon Magic Lessons, the companion podcast. Honestly, I probably wouldn’t be writing this on our blog that has existed and been maintained for four months now had I not listened to John Hodgman’s episode about the rush of fear and pleasure of diving into a new project and putting yourself out there. Gilbert alternates between an episode spent talking to a woman who has written to her about some creative roadblock and giving her own advice, and episodes where she contacts one of her professionally successful creative friends for their take on the situation. The show is bursting with love and exuberance and some grounding reality. The only downside is that they only made 12 episodes before calling it a wrap.
Episode Length: ~30 minutes
Sample Favorite Episodes: Cheryl Strayed to Moms – Pursue Your Passions like a Mofo (a charming conversation with Cheryl Strayed about making time for your creative pursuits in harmony with your responsibilities); The Pure Pleasure of Making Stuff (about creating for the sake of creating); John Hodgman on The Question of What Comes Next (a conversation with John Hodgman about switching amongst creative endeavors and the joys of a new challenge).
Krista Tippett engages personalities from all walks of life with unique perspectives in meandering, fascinating, thought provoking conversations about life and spirituality, identity and compassion, death and consequences. The conversations can be humorous. Some have changed my life. It should be noted that Krista Tippett’s voice is also exceptionally pleasant and relaxing. I enjoy falling asleep to her.
Episode Length: 1 hour
Sample Favorite Episodes: Pico Iyer – The Art of Stillness (on the importance of the “inner world,” his life after settling in Japan, and his yearly stay at a Benedictine hermitage); John O’Donohue – The Inner Landscape of Beauty (a discussion of O’Donohue’s Celtic ideals, and honestly it’s my favorite because O’Donohue and Tippett seem to be competing for who can have the loveliest voice throughout the conversation); Rex Jung – Creativity and the Everyday Brain (a neuroscientist discusses the chemical nature of creativity); David Stendl-Rast – Anatomy of Gratitude (a Catholic Benedictine monk who lived through the fascist takeover of his home discusses the redeeming value of the active practice of gratitude “not for everything, but in every moment.”)
An episode usually consists of three stories that have been told live at different events around the globe. They are raw, hilarious, touching, and immersive. The stories are always well rehearsed and excellently told by their writers (because the producers of the show select the best of the best), but these people are not famous. They are you and me, and they are guaranteed to teach you something about what it means to walk in someone else’s shoes.
Episode Length: 50 minutes
Sample Favorite Episodes: this show has a bit of a different format, so I can’t give you favorite episodes, but please just go listen to it and you’ll know what I mean.
These are the tip of the iceberg and we can’t wait to share more with you, but we are also always looking for new podcasts worth checking out. Do any of you have any favorites? Please, please let us know and we’ll give them a listen!