The Joys of Podcasts

White earbuds with cord coiled upNormally on this blog I’ve had a book of the week, which I’ve either read or listened to. Of late I’ve been doing so much reading from news outlets online about the political situation that my actual book reading has suffered, although I do have a fascinating audiobook all loaded up and ready to go about the US role in the conflict with Al Qaeda and ISIS. (Sounds really cheerful, doesn’t it?) I’m going to try to finish that and report on it next week.

So I was sitting here thinking about what to write for now and realized that my biggest enjoyment of late for the spoken word has come from podcasts. If you’re not totally on board with this concept, I will just say that they’re just an updated version of radio programs; in fact, many radio segments can also be listened to via podcasts. Much as TV programming has become an on-demand product by way of all the new ways to access it, so has radio. I get kind of tickled when I think that my parents or grandparents would probably just say, “Oh, so that’s the new soap opera, is it?” My parents were born right around 1920 and grew up listening to the radio. We had some expressions in our house that came from those old shows, notably that we called a closet stuffed with junk the “Fibber McGee’s Closet,” after an ongoing joke in the old “Fibber McGee and Molly” radio show in which, if someone started to open the door of said closet, Fibber would say, “Don’t open that closet!” and then there would be the sounds of stuff crashing to the floor. All too true, I’m afraid.

Anyway, now you can listen to podcasts on your smartphone. I use my phone much more for listening to this material than I ever do for actually talking to someone. Here’s a list of a few faves. I don’t worry too much about subscribing to these, mainly because they always seems to say “subscribe in iTunes” and I’ve never succeeded in installing that app or program or whatever it is. Most of the time I just remember that, hey, it’s Saturday, so the “Generation Why” podcast should be up, or it’s Monday, so the “Undisclosed” podcast should be up, or whatever. I do have a couple of apps on my phone, but for the most part I just type in the title on the Google search bar. Primitive, I know!

First, the podcast that got me started, way back in the fall of 2014: Serial Season One. I usually have NPR on during the day, and this program was an offshoot of a program called “This American Life.” They kept mentioning it, but I didn’t pay too much attention. At some point, probably because it was a true-crime mystery, I decided to listen to the first episode and thereby joined an enormous community of people who were obsessed with it. It’s fair to say that, although podcasts were certainly around back then, Serial gave the genre a real boost. New episodes dropped on Thursday mornings, so after I’d binge-listened to the first three or four that I’d missed I had to wait along with the rest of the world for the next one. The second season didn’t come up to the level of the first, alas. I didn’t follow it past the first couple of episodes or so. But season one spawned a whole set of podcasts about the podcast, the best of which was Undisclosed. I got addicted to that one, too, and also lost interest in the second season. Between these two podcasts plus at least one other one it looks as though Adnan Syed, the young man accused of killing his girlfriend in 1999, will get a new trial.

Second, the podcast that I mention frequently in these posts, Happier with Grethen Rubin. I don’t know why it’s not “Happier with Gretch and Liz,” because it’s two sisters, Gretchen Rubin and her sister Elizabeth Craft. I’ve linked to their very first episode, now almost two years ago, so you can start from the very beginning. As I’ve said before, this podcast is deceptively light and simple, and it’s not until it’s over and I’m thinking about it that I realize, Hey, that’s a very helpful point they made! So this week (#101) the sisters were talking about “doing something for your future self.” This is just a fun way of saying, “Take the long view about what you’re doing now,” but because the wording encourages you to think of your “future self” as almost a separate person, one to whom you have certain obligations, it’s helpful to obligers like me. My future self will be happy tomorrow if I get my work done today.

Third, a political podcast that I also listen to faithfully, Slate’s Trumpcast. I have an app for this one and the Happier one on my phone’s home screen. Without getting into my ow political views (you can read about those on the “Personal and Political” blog I run, or visit my personal Facebook page), I will just say that I’ve found this podcast to be a tremendous source of comfort and challenge during the election season and now at the beginning of the Trump Presidency. They have a wide range of guests on the show, and I always find their ideas interesting.

Then there are podcasts that I listen to more or less regularly. The top ones in this category would be:

The Generation Why podcast: Two friends discuss unsolved mysteries of the past. The quality is a little uneven, not because of the guys but because of the subject matter, as some mysteries are just more compelling than others. There can be some fairly gross details about some of the murders they discuss, and in the earlier episodes they weren’t too careful about their language. That last problem seems to have cleared up, though. The dynamic between the two is pretty entertaining.

Up and Vanished: An examination of one case, the disappearance of Tara Grinstead, a young woman living in Georgia, in 2005. Her body has never been found. The host, Payne Lindsey, is very engaging.

FreakonomicsRadio: Looking at all sorts of subjects from a very unusual perspective by the author of the Freakonomics books, Stephen Dubner. Have you ever wondered, for instance, why mattress stores tend to be clustered together? Or what it really takes to become an expert at something? There’s a huge archive for this podcast, so you can scroll through the episodes and pick what looks interesting to you.

That’s enough for now, I guess. Take a listen!

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