Editor’s Note: We’ve asked a few friends to share the podcasts they love, the interviewers and reporting that catches their imaginations again and again. Last week we shared Meaghan Ritchey’s suggestions, and today we’re bringing you a mix with a slightly different bent from Dr. Taylor Worley. We hope you continue to enjoy these!
On more than one occasion, friends have joked that my wife and I have “a podcast for everything.” That is only partially true. Between us, however, we can usually turn almost any dinner conversation toward a recent episode from a beloved podcast. Until this disorder is properly studied and suitably treated, we can only announce a public warning for all would-be dinner guests: We love podcasts and love to tell people about our podcasts.
Like many others, we got sucked into the podcast universe through the classic and canonical examples of This American Life and Radiolab. While my wife moved on to enjoy a more eclectic mix of offerings (e.g. Invisibilia, Death, Sex, and Money, and the now revived Brain Science Podcast—tag-lined “For everyone who has a brain.”), I stuck to the staples of the form and collected more interview-based shows along the way—Marc Maron’s WTF podcast or Alec Baldwin’s Here’s the Thing. Of course, whenever I listened to The Moth I felt large-hearted and worldly-wise, but an interviewer who can subtly extract buried emotions from guests you thought you knew keeps me coming back.
In the last couple of years, I’ve gravitated to the following dependable shows. These are the ones that I treasure the most.
State of the Re:Union – While this amazing, Peabody-awarded show has now ended, it boasts a truly unique archive of journalistic finds. With friends and acquaintances, I use the following description of the show: it explores profound problems facing local communities across the country and how those communities are finding their own creative solutions. When it shows up, the church usually looks good—concerned and caring, fiercely loyal and fearless. Start with “Jacksonville”—my first episode, but don’t miss “Pike County Ohio” or “Austin.” Keep on the look out for the show’s pioneering poet/cultural commentator/activist Al Letson; his next project will be big.
In Our Time – If you ever wanted to attend a dinner party with three or four top-tier British historians, listen to Melvyn Bragg’s BBC Radio 4 show. Almost any topic from history—“Sunni vs. Shia Islam,” “Salem Witch Trials,” or “Frida Kahlo”—becomes intriguing when his academic sortie delves into the details with their unguarded and argumentative (but in the irrepressibly polite and British way) conversations. They often make familiar history strange again.
On Being – I would only recommend this podcast after you make a fairly regular practice of listening to Pray-as-you-go and incorporating their simple rhythm of Jesuit meditation on the Bible. If that’s in place, let Krista Tippett’s super-soothing voice (Warning: Krista can induce napping) lead you to encounter some of the most important religious voices of our time. Her introductions can certainly inspire a greater generosity of spirit, or expose you to emerging voices like “Nadia Bolz-Weber,” but Krista’s greatest service to humanity is capturing the insights of “Jean Vanier,” “Father Greg Boyle,” and “Mary Oliver.” She welcomes me to meet new voices all the time, but I still listen to Jean Vanier’s interview over and over.
After reading Meaghan Ritchey’s podcast list, I wondered why I couldn’t produce an equally long and varied list. The most likely answer is that she’s a more interesting person than I am, but on further reflection, I’m not surprised that I’m so fiercely loyal to a consistent line-up of about twelve shows. When I’ve found a podcast that delivers time and again, I will keep showing up for it. This relationship says more about how I use podcasts than anything. I need these imaginative auditory excursions. Podcasts regularly redeem my daily commute. They make waiting in an airport or train station a coveted occasion. They let me wind down at the end of the day.
Recently, many shows are adopting a serialized approach. Consider seasons 1 and 2 of Serial from This American Life, Malcom Gladwell’s Revisionist History, or Radiolab’s More Perfect. Not only does this format present a more sustainable model for the interesting people involved (that’s Gladwell, right?), but it makes for more riveting journalism and even more focused explorations of specific issues (Serial’s Adnan Syed or a history of the Supreme Court in More Perfect). Could podcasts actually be undoing our society’s chronic attention span problem?
The sociologist and historian of spirituality Michel de Certeau famously wrote about bricolage in his two volume The Practice of Everyday Life. Without a direct equivalent in English, the term roughly means “do-it-yourself” meaning-making. While Certeau connected bricolage to the practice of daily reading as a form of resisting meaninglessness in our post-industrial society, the regular practice of listening to podcasts can serve as rich and timely curation for authentic being in our world.
Featured Image: ‘In the World But Don’t Know the World?’ (2009), by El Anatsui (Ghana)