Just about anyone can record a podcast these days, but not all podcasts were created equal, so for Summer Sessions 3, I thought I’d help you weed through the chaff and give you the wheat. Here are ten piquant podcasts to try now.
My first introduction to TEDTalks was through a friend who forwarded me an episode about screen time (TEDRadio Hour, “Screen Time – Part II”) and I have since recommended it to twenty or more parents while discussing our love-hate relationships with screens and our kids. What I learned in that episode alone completely transformed the way I think about screens and the rules we apply as a family to their use.
TEDTalks cover everything from technology, entertainment, design (hence the name, TED), art, science, business…just about everything.
Try: TED Talks Daily, 12 Things I Learned From Life and Writing by Anne Lamott. It’s just 15 minutes long and a real treat.
2. Stuff You Should Know
The first time I listened to Stuff You Should Know was while driving north with my kids for my mom’s memorial service. Heavily drained and sleep deprived, I needed something that would hold my interest throughout the long drive and take my mind off my grief without trying to make me laugh, per se. Odd as it sounds, “How LSD Works” was the perfect trivial-but-fascinating salve for my wounds. Since then, I’ve learned about why we can’t find Amelia Earhart, how maps work, hallucinogenic mushrooms, corsets, and more.
Try: “How Swearing Works”, covering the history of foul language, whether or not cussing relieves stress, and when it’s okay to swear in public.
3. Dan Flores | Coyote America by ALOUD @ Los Angeles Public Library
I used to consider coyotes mildly pestering. But when my fifteen pound, twelve year old Maltese, Bear, survived an attack by a coyote in my suburban neighborhood, just 10 miles from Downtown Los Angeles, I started seeing them as unwelcome, blood-thirsty, conniving killers. So when my friend told me about this particular episode from ALOUD @ Los Angeles Public Library – an interview with writer and American West historian, Dan Flores – I was curious to see if it could challenge my new low-opinion of this animal. (It did, but not in the way I expected it to.)
Since this is the only episode I’ve listened to from the ALOUD @ Los Angeles Public Library podcast, it’s the only one I’m comfortable recommending, but it’s very well-done and definitely worth listening to, especially if you live in an area where your pets and coyotes co-exist (and, according to Flores, you definitely do because they’re in every city in America.)
Try: Dan Flores | Coyote America.
4. Dear Sugar
Dear Sugar is today’s answer to Dear Abby of old: totally contemporary, radically tolerant, and, of course, audible rather than readable. Originally an online column for TheRumpus.net written by Steve Almond, the column transferred hands to Wild author, Cheryl Strayed. Together, Almond and Strayed now co-host the podcast version of the column, this time dispensing information and opinions in conversation with each other.
Each episode reads and then reacts to one or more letters written in by listeners seeking relationship advice. Topics have included subjects often considered too controversial for polite conversation, including advice about how to “break up” with a friend (vs. a lover), moms who hate motherhood, having an open marriage, “ghosting”, cyber-stalking, habitual lying, compulsive spending, what to do about an openly gay family member who is “too affectionate” with his boyfriend at family gatherings, and more.
I don’t always agree with the advice Almond and Strayed give – their relativistic ethos borders on unprincipled at times, in my opinion – but I appreciate the tenderness they show to the people writing in and, especially, their open-minded and nonjudgmental attitudes about some topics many people are too ashamed to discuss openly. Dear Sugar is as confessional as it is advisory.
Try: Is My Husband’s Pot Habit A Problem?
5. Anna Faris is Unqualified
I stumbled upon this podcast accidentally last spring, starting with a two-part episode recording a conversation between Anna Faris and Chelsea Handler and was hooked.
On Anna Faris is Unqualified, Anna is surprisingly smart, hilariously self-depricating, charmingly honest, and a gracious conversationalist. I feel like I’m sitting in on a conversation between three friends (well, four if you include her male sidekick, Sim, who is the prim schoolboy to Anna’s irreverent nymph, not unlike Ethel was to Lucy) over a bottle of wine and a platter of cheese in sweatpants and tees.
Technically, the podcast is meant to dispense relationship advice – and Anna is unexpectedly both sage and humble in this role – it covers a broad spectrum of topics in a relaxed, informal way many women will relate to.
Try: Chelsea Handler Part 1.
6. Freakonomics Radio
By now, even if you haven’t read Freakonomics – a book that applies the tenets of economics to understand human behavior – you’ve heard of it. Just like the book (and subsequent follow-up books), Freakonomics Radio looks at myriad social norms, trying to understand what motivates us to do the things we do.
Host, Stephen J. Dubner, keeps the tone light, engaging, and humorous, gets to the point fairly quickly (episodes are usually 30-45 minutes long), has brilliant and interesting guests, and is basically like the coolest, most entertaining professor you’ve ever had.
Try: These Shoes Are Killing Me, attempting to understand the evolution of shoes, why we love them, and whether or not we ever needed to start wearing them in the first place.
7. Revisionist History
A relatively new podcast, Revisionist History, which is hosted by the author of the bestselling and fascinating mind-bender The Tipping Point, Malcolm Gladwell, is about “things overlooked and misunderstood”, looking at historical events, historical trends, social expectations, important people, and more to determine what we know, don’t know, and whether or not there are new or different interpretations we should consider.
By applying his usual inductive reasoning skills and gathering a host of interesting if little-known facts, Gladwell paints an entirely new picture of things we presume to be well-established – or simply points out something most of us don’t think much about – facilitating an earnest quest for answers to questions we are afraid or haven’t thought to ask.
Try: The King of Tears, which explores what he calls “the sad song line” in America, asking why country music songs make us cry and rock and roll songs don’t.
I love the Jesuits. They’re probably 80% of the reason I’m catholic. So when my friend, Father Scott Santarosa, S.J. asked me about my prayer life a few months ago (“catch as catch can” was my answer) and recommended Pray-As-You-Go, I knew it was worth checking out.
Having an active, dynamic prayer life as a busy parent can be really difficult. And yet, I don’t think I’ve ever needed to feel spiritually connected to myself and my maker more than I do now, as a busy parent.
As Fr. Scott advertised, Pray-As-You-Go offers all the ingredients necessary to help me pray – a scripture reading, time for silence, reflection, listening, self-examination, and calls to action – in fifteen minutes or less. (It also uses the liturgical readings, which is a nice bonus if you happen to miss mass or just want to follow the liturgical calendar.)
Try it in your car or even during a morning workout! It’s practical spirituality at its best.
Try: Today’s episode (because the format is the same from day-to-day).
9. The Joe Rogan Experience
Although this podcast is more male-friendly than the others on this list, I’m including it for a couple reasons. The first reason is that The Joe Rogan Experience Podcast is one of the most popular podcasts in America with nearly 1,000 episodes. That’s no small feat. The second reason is that it’s really, really entertaining.
As of a month ago, I’d never listened to a single episode of The Joe Rogan Experience, but after a friend and podscast-lover mentioned this first when I asked him what his favorite podcasts were (the same friend, incidentally, who recommended the podcast on coyotes with Dan Flores), I decided to tune in and see what all the fuss is about.
While Rogan himself is clearly a guy’s-guy – he makes a lot of sports references, drops a few choice f-bombs here and there, talks about a lot of guy stuff, and interviews other guy’s-guys on the show – he is also surprisingly thoughtful, reflective, considerate, and a really fantastic interviewer. This guy is a total pro and I genuinely enjoy the way he engages his guests, the questions he asks, and the graciousness he shows towards them as a host.
Try: Episode #908 with Leah Remini.
This Peabody Award-winning podcast chronicles the as-yet-unsolved murder of 18-year-old Hae Min Lee in Baltimore, Maryland. After Lee’s body was found in the infamous Leakin Park in 1999, suspicion was immediately cast upon her on-again, off-again boyfriend, Adnan Masud Syed. Despite Syed’s self-proclamations of innocence and despite having very little evidence to convict him, Syed was arrested, tried, and sentenced to life in prison.
(Based on evidence uncovered during the production of the podcast, Syed has been granted a motion calling for a new trial, which has not yet been scheduled and, not surprisingly if you’ve listened to the podcast, may yet be appealed.)
Not long ago, I read that, until S-Town, Serial was the most downloaded podcast of all time (although, regrettably, I can no longer find the source for this information) and it’s not hard to see why. This story has all the makings of a Dickensian novel: love, sex, racial divides, corrupt government officials, betrayal…. You’ll be certain of Syed’s innocence one episode, and convinced of his guilt the next, for twenty three fabulously colorful, smart, and sometimes frightening episodes.
Serial is a insomniac’s dream and is well worth staying up past your bedtime to listen to.
Try: Season 1, Episode 1, The Alibi