Tuesday, April 14, 2009

I'm Hearing Voices

No, I'm not crazy, I'm just listening to a ton of podcasts lately. From home to the gym, occasionally on the treadmill when the Today Show is more commercial than segment, from gym to the office, from office to home or school - you know, any time I might be tempted to have "thoughts" of my own. Those things have to be curtailed at all cost. As I've mentioned in the past, I spend way more time staring at screens or just plugged in than I am offline. Nature, what's that? Face-to-face conversation? Meh.

So back to the podcasts. I listen to several and I'll rank them in order of how I approach them.

1. Like many others in my social set (at least it seems like it from recent conversations) I listen to "This American Life" and secretly think Ira Glass is dreamy. This is the one I download and consume immediately. It was great when I first started listening because there were so many prior episodes that I could listen to multiple shows in a week, but now that I am all caught up I am on a one-a-week diet that always leaves me wanting more.
What I get out of the podcast: news, quirky takes, poignant stories, humor and outrage for social injustice...also every once in a while Sarah Vowell and David Sedaris show up to read their stories or weigh in. We all need more funny people in our day.

2. Next comes The Moth podcast. For the uninitiated, the Moth is an organization that invites people onstage to tell stories. The only requirement is that they tell their story from memory, using no notes. The results are often funny, and I find myself sporting a goofy grin as I make my way down the street. My favorite was from Mike Birbiglia, who excerpted his off-Broadway show, Sleepwalk With Me. Another reliable character often featured is Jonathan Ames, everyman poet. This guy has some interesting stories. There are some sad stories in the mix as well, which I don't mind because this podcast is basically the closest thing I have to theater these days.
What I get out of the podcast: Occasional story slam throw-down events where one finalist is eventually crowned the victor, shared human experiences and some completely out-of-this world people who don't skimp on the entertainment.

3. I heart Garrison Keillor. I've already revealed myself as a gal who likes a good story, so of course I tune-in to Keillor, the ultimate storyteller, who weaves tales of Lake Wobegon (his fictional home town) in his "A Prairie Home Companion" radio show. The "News From Lake Wobegon" section of the show is what it is used for the podcast.
What I get out of the podcast: The show is filled with interesting characters, silly predicaments and touching moments. It's all good, but to be completely honest, I also have a weird affinity for Keillor's voice, especially the regional dialect. I would hire him to read me the phone book.

4. One of my favorite podcasts is one that desperately needs to step up production, because I want more! The New Yorker offers several podcasts, but the one I most enjoy is the The New Yorker Fiction podcast. Each month fiction editor, Deborah Treisman, invites a well-known author on the show to discuss the author's choice of a story from the magazine's archives. The author reads the story and then discusses the work and its author with Treisman. Pairings have included Jhumpa Lahiri reading William Trevor’s “A Day,” T. Coraghessan Boyle reading Tobias Wolff’s “Bullet in the Brain” and subsequently Tobias Wolff reading Stephanie Vaughn’s “Dog Heaven.”
What I get out of the podcast: Imagine if your high school English class had been taught by the author's of the short stories you were charged with reading (those of you who actually enjoyed doing the reading like me). Beyond exposure to great work, the authors have wonderful insights into how the stories were crafted. It is also wonderful to hear a writer in awe of another writer's work. Hearing about the author's who influenced them gives me even greater context for their work as well.

5. Then there is The New Yorker Out Loud podcast. I'll admit, with school and work claiming most of my time these days, I don't really get time to sit down with any magazine and read it cover to cover. While by no means a substitute for the articles in the magazine, this podcast gives me a quick rundown of features for the week before delving more deeply into one or two articles with their authors.
What I get out of the podcast: This podcast merely helps me join in on conversation, but it really only gives me a very surface appreciation for what people are discussing. However, in some cases the podcast features the voices of the actual people who were interviewed in the magazine, and hearing their views directly is a different experience than just through the journalist as mouthpiece.

6. NPR: Fresh Air Podcast - Terry Gross's daily magazine show of current issues, interviews and art discussions.
What I get out of the podcast: This show also helps me keep up to date on current issues, though I'll admit I sometimes do not wish to get such a deep dive. Still, one show that focused on Mexican drug cartels was pretty fascinating and really painted a picture for me about a headline I generally breeze by on a quick perusal of CNN.com.

7. President Obama's Weekly Radio Address - This is ABC News' broadcast of the President's weekly address or another event he might be speaking at.
What I get out of the podcast: Obama nation, voice of hope and change. It gives me comfort to check in and know that Obama is on the case, trying to get me job security and a financial future once again.

8. Times Talks Podcast - These can also be hit or miss depending on who is being featured, but it is also nice to save the $25 it usually costs to see these people in-person.
What I get out of the podcast: One-on-one access to luminaries in a variety of fields. More education, which is never a bad thing.

That's it for now, but I'm tempted to add a few others. Class will be ending for the semester in a few weeks and I am taking the summer off, so maybe I can add the Lost podcast or The Onion News. Or maybe I'll read a book.