Thursday, January 7, 2016

My Current Podcast Listening List

As a podcaster myself, I spend more time creating than listening to podcasts, and have entire spans of time when I spend my listening energy on audiobooks. Still I have a highly culled list of podcasts I listen to regularly. There are many great episodes out there but I seem to enjoy book-related and storytelling-related shows the most. (Thanks to Bryan Alexander for not only mentioning Reading Envy on his 2016 podcast list (much more comprehensive than mine so check it out), but for giving me the idea to write about my own list!)

This past year has been the first year I've listened to many mainstream literary podcasts. I started Reading Envy in 2014, but that year, I didn't want what others did on their reading podcasts to influence our experiments and directions, so I deliberately kept my listening to genre fiction and audiobooksT. This past year I have gotten rid of quite a few of the genre podcasts I used to listen to, as I was noticing I was downloading/subscribing but never getting to them. (Sorry friends who have those. I still very much value you and sometimes listen to an episode that particularly interests me!)

Consider this my shortlist.


Dear Sugar Radio - Cheryl Strayed and Steve Almond take their old Dear Sugar advice column and turn it into a podcast. They cover questions submitted by listeners and fans, which doesn't sound like much but these two are very literary people who think through the filter of literature. They have imperfect pasts that makes them less of the sage on the stage and more of the model/proof that you can work through issues and move past them. They are not afraid to take tough topics on, and sometimes pull in other people (ranging from Dan Savage to Steve's Dad to other authors) for their expert opinions. Episode 14: How Do We Forgive Our Fathers? was particularly meaningful to me, and wisely scheduled during the angsty Fathers Day holiday season.

Books, Reading, Literature

Books on the Nightstand - Ann and Michael both work for Penguin Random House so while their podcast is a personal project, they frequently discuss or allude to books that are either about to come out or have just come out - most books are new new new. Sometimes they'll go back and mention books in a "don't forget about me" category, which I appreciate. These episodes are well-structured, and they make an effort to announce what to expect at the beginning - typically a few chunks with different topics.

The Guardian Books Podcast - These episodes have a wide variety and I don't listen to them all but the last one I did listen to read uncensored Houellebecq, if you can imagine. They are openly critical of what they didn't like (as they soundly did not recommend Submission and didn't sugar-coat it) but very well-informed. Sometimes they will have authors on reading short stories for an entire episode, sometimes it is author interviews - I never know what to expect but am more likely to listen than regularly read the Guardian, so it stays!

KCRW's Bookworm - I am an unabashed fan of Michael Silverblatt, apart from his lack of knowledge of science fiction. (When he had Jeff VanderMeer on, he freaked out and had his intern interview him and I couldn't believe he wouldn't instead just read his work! But anyway.) His interviews of authors are insightful and I usually come away from listening with another book or two on my to-read list. I can't recommend this one highly enough if you read mainstream literary fiction. It isn't so great for genre authors.

Man Booker Prize - This is one of those podcasts that reappears for maybe the six episodes up until the award is announced. I love the very British host(s), the quick pace of the episodes, and how it touches only on the most important topics related to the Man Booker Prize, a very specific topic that I am very interested in. This past year they talked to each judge (which was fascinating!) and to most of the contendors. I'm hoping they do it again for the Man Booker International Prize, as I could stand to learn more about those titles.

The Readers - One of my podcast guests told me of this one, and actually she learned about Reading Envy through forum discussions from either this podcast or Books on the Nightstand. The Readers is just two readers, one in the UK and one in the USA, talking about books. Sometimes they have a theme or structure and sometimes they just meander but it is usually informational. They are also open on their opinions and what they like and don't like. This one is much more amateur in its production and consistency but what the heck, so is mine.

Reading Envy - By the time I post an episode I've heard it at least three times. But I still like seeing it pop up on my podcast app. If you haven't given it a try, I have recommended first listens in the FAQ

Science Fiction Book Review Podcast (SFBRP) - One of the only science fiction podcasts I still have on my regular rotation, where Luke Burrage reviews every science fiction book that he reads, after he reads them, no set schedule. Lately his girlfriend Juliane has been joining him for discussion, and he has been learning how to have two people on at once. Both Juliane and Luke have been on Reading Envy.  Even though he doesn't give everything away, I don't often listen to Luke's episodes unless I don't think I'll read a book or have already read the book (or seen the movie.) It's more that I want to form my own opinions, you see, but I do later go back and listen to his reviews of books I have finished.

The Sword and Laser - The first podcast I listened to, from an online book club that now seems to go way back in my own reading. The podcast surrounds discussion of a monthly book pick but also attempts to sum up new releases, science fiction news (television, movie, and book), and author interviews.  I don't always read the books but I almost always listen to the show. After all, it is this book club where I met Tamahome, who said, "You should be on the SFF Audio podcast," where I met the person that helped me cofound this podcast." So it's the origin story in my podcast life, really.

You Wrote the Book! - Simon Savidge (from The Readers) interviewing authors. I'm new to this one and haven't made a decision on if I'm keeping it; some of the episodes I've peeked in on seem to have considerable background noise.

Pop Culture and News

Radiolab - These guys know how to put together a fully-researched, well-produced story, and it shows. I don't listen to every episode but since Jad Abumrad is one of my muses and gave a speech about sticking to a project through the hard times right when I was questioning the future of my podcast, so I will be a lifelong disciple of this one. Remembering Oliver Sacks and Fu-Go are my most memorable listens of this past year, but this is a podcast that I'm rather late to the game on. I'd like to go back and listen to more of their older seasons.

WTF with Marc Maron - Everyone kept telling me to listen to this one. I finally was pulled in with the Terry Gross interview. I only listen to the episodes that interest me immediately, maybe 1 out of 4, and I start around 12 minutes in and quit early because of considerable advertising and mindless chatter. Once you get past the annoying bits (which he himself admits) you will find a savvy interviewer who is good at cutting past the fluff and digging deep. It helps if the person he's interviewing has suffered from some sort of addiction. I have loved the interviews with SNL favorites in particular for some reason. 


KCRW's Unfictional - I'm sure I started listening to this because it was advertised on KCRW Bookworm. These are personal stories, often replays of other podcasts. Sometimes they are replaying stories I've already heard elsewhere, and I don't listen to all the episodes of this. When it's good, it's really really good. They also demo new podcasts sometimes that fit within their criteria.

Love + Radio - I'm not sure how to categorize this one because topic wise it is all over the place! I pick and choose episodes of this one, but I'd say they take full advantage of being in an environment without regulation of profanity or topic. Some feel like interviews, some like stories, always well-produced, professional.

The Moth Podcast - Live storytelling at its best. I think they pick great stories from storyslams that manage to translate the energy of a story told live despite only having the audio. Another podcast with an excellently organized website for easy access to old episodes, and one I relied on frequently in my storytelling class.  In fact I was inspired to teach Storytelling after attending The Unchained Tour (sponsored and organized by The Moth); I literally went home and wrote the course proposal the next day. 

This American Life - Also known to some for the public radio version, and I'm not sure how they differ. This is a podcast that I enjoy but the episodes are so long that I'm always getting unsubscribed as a courtesy of the podcast app. I feel like I have to set aside time to listen but then end up listening to the episodes that keep to the 17-44 minute range instead. When I was teaching a Storytelling class, I used this show as a frequent resource. The website for the show is great in how you can search for stories by theme and tag! Before I was ever a podcaster, I saw Ira Glass perform when I worked at DePauw University.

I'm noticing that some of the podcasts I keep around have nostalgia underpinnings for me. Interesting.

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