No one cares to speak to an unwilling listener. An arrow never lodges in a stone: often it recoils upon the sender of it.
– Saint Jerome in a letter to Saint Augustine, the OG unwilling listener
Is it possible to be a college student in 2018 and not subscribe to at least 3 podcasts? Can you even walk into a coffee shop and not get 5 (unsolicited) recommendations for an NPR show? I could go on and on about all the statistics regarding podcasts, their gradual climb to prominence, and how everyone is now an “audiophile” but there is a much better article about all that elsewhere.
For those who have even seen me attempt to sit still and make consistent eye contact, you know I have ADHD. I naturally multitask; so podcasts are perfect for me. Podcasts help me keep up to date with the news–and my “niche” obsessions like reading books for fun–in the morning while I run around my apartment worrying about what I am going to wear to class.
I wrote an article a few months ago about some new podcasts; I was both the writer and the only reader of it. Because of the restraints of that article I wasn’t able to talk about all the podcasts I listen to on a regular basis (regular in this case means at least once a week or whenever the episodes come out).
So I decided to spend the last few hours typing up a comprehensive review of most of the podcasts I listen to. I have excluded some podcasts that I listen to from this list because some of them such as “WTF with Marc Maron” and “Kermode and Mayo’s Film Review” are basically household names and don’t need to be written about anymore. Others such as “Embedded,” “Literary Disco,” and “The Paris Review” I have excluded because they are still in that auditioning process to be included into my schedule.
The purpose of this article is to circumvent the Ranker.com-style listicles, and help you find new podcasts from the ones I like. I once described podcasts as, “It’s like a conversation in your head.” Which upon realizing that the phrase “conversations in your head” sounds like the first symptom of schizophrenia I added, “I swear I’m not crazy.”
Because I am a good, open-minded person, I will include some cons alongside the pros because not everyone is going to enjoy what I enjoy. I believe that if you can’t admit the flaws of something, you aren’t thinking hard enough about what you’re consuming, and thus should probably give it up before you start sounding like a parrot who only knows how to whistle one tune.
(The podcatcher I use is Apple Podcasts. All of the following podcasts are available on Apple Podcasts.)
Book Riot’s Recommendation and New Releases Podcasts: “All The Books!,” “For Real,” and “Get Booked.”
Why I Like This Podcast: So Book Riot is the most consistent podcast network for literary news and recommendations. They have so many podcasts that they if you can think of a genre, they have a podcast about it. The three recommendation podcasts of theirs that I listen to are “All The Books!,” “For Real,” and “Get Booked.” “All The Books!” is a weekly podcast about new book releases. Unlike most book release newsletters, the hosts have actually read most of the books they recommend and manage to offer good synopsis and caricature of who would like the book. “All The Back List!” is a weekly podcast that is included in the subscription to “All The Books!”. This podcast is a 15 minute roundup of some books that are not new but are interesting enough to warrant a read. Often the episodes follow a theme such as animals or political thrillers. “For Real” is bimonthly podcast about exclusively new nonfiction releases. The format is the same as all the books except that “For Real” often has more mainstream nonfiction choices (“All The Books!” often dives into sub-genres and specifics…but more on that in the Why Not section). “Get Booked” is a weekly recommendation podcast in which people submit requests for specific recommendations and the hosts try to give them good recommendations.
Why You May Not Like This Podcast: All three (and a half) Book Riot recommendation podcasts’ hosts base their choices on their interests. While the amount they read is could take up library stacks, the types of books they read are usually the same. I am not a fan of YA and Romance so most of their recommendations are lost on me.
Why I Like This Podcast: “Annotated” is Book Riot’s weekly audio documentary series. It is very similar to Malcolm Gladwell’s “Revisionist History” except it is much shorter (about 25 minutes) and is much more narrowly focused on literature. Some of the topics they’ve covered are Truman Capote’s fall from grace; Why Indie Bookstores are thriving; and the story of J.P. Morgan’s librarian and the rise of art collecting by the Gilded Age robber barons. The episodes are quick and chock full of information. No matter how educated you are in literary trivia and history, you will finish each episode learning something new.
Why You May Not Like This Podcast: Like all documentary series, there are good episodes and bad episodes. Their first episode on George Orwell and 1984 and the CIA was partially interesting but did not focus the interesting life of Orwell enough for me. Similarly some of their episodes try to pass off commonly known literary stories as formerly unknown tales. It would be interesting if Book Riot did a podcast series on forgotten authors like I attempted to do for a class project.
Why I Like This Podcast: Mike Ingram and Tom Mcallister are two college professors, book buffs, and literary magazine editors. Their podcast, “Book Fight!”, is a weekly seasonally themed show about stories involving literature. Every season they have a different theme. This winter was Winter of Wayback, in which they talk about essays, stories, and novels from the 1950’s. This spring was The Spring of Scandal during which they chose a different literary scandal to talk about each week. Like most conversational podcasts, you come for the story but stay for the personal discussions.
Why You May Not Like This Podcast: I personally have trouble distinguishing between Tom and Mike’s voices. They do have differing opinions–which is surprising absent in a lot of literary podcasts–but generally they agree on the same things, which can lead to some repetitive discussions. They do have some games they play after the main story, the most recent one involved trying out weird flavors of Pop Tarts, but most of these games are forgettable and add nothing but length to the episode. Some of their choices for episodes are weak and lead to a very weak discussion. I actually enjoy it when they use the essay or story they’ve chosen as a step stone to a better discussion. For example, their episode about Mark Greif’s essay “Afternoon of the Sex Children” lead into a much more interesting discussion about the different types of literary magazines.
“Book Riot- The Podcast”
Why I Like This Podcast: “Book Riot- The Podcast” is a weekly literary news podcast produced by the good people at Book Riot. Because literary news is rarely covered in most mainstream publications, and the little literary news there is is usually press releases or famous people memoirs, it is a necessary podcast for those who need a connection to the literary world. Jeff O’Neal, CEO and Co-founder of Book Riot, and Rebecca Schinsky, the Executive Director, are the hosts and they meld well together: Rebecca being more high energy and Jeff being more academic but very relaxed.
Why You Might Not Like This Podcast: Sometimes the hosts spend multiple episodes on one news story. Sometimes this is interesting as in the case of Junot Diaz, which evolved as the allegations and administrative decisions changed every week, and other times you tune out until you hear them start talking about a new story. Also since most of the stories warrant about 10 to 15 minutes of discussion, they only can get to about 4 or 5 stories per episode. In other words, you won’t find every literary news story but you will find some interesting ones.
Why I Like This Podcast: “Keep It!” is a pop culture podcast hosted by Ira Madison III, Kara Brown, and Louis Virtel. Every week the hosts discuss stories from the worlds of music, film, and art. All of the hosts keep the discussions loaded with multi-generational pop culture references. The discussions never get bogged down with esoteric trivia. The name of the show comes from the closing segment in which the hosts name one person or group of people that they wish would just keep their bullshit to themselves.
Why You May Not Like This Podcast: I started listening to this podcast because I want to be a culture reporter/arts critic and have a hard time keeping up with pop culture. Instead of trying to slowly learn the nuances I decided to dive right in and learn as I went along. This method has worked every time I have gone to a foreign country without knowing the native language–kinda worked. What I am noticing as I listen to “Keep It!” more often is that the discussions straddle the line between rant and esoteric references to early 2000’s pop culture. While most of the debates manage to at least name both sides of the argument, there are some such as the unanimous boycott of Kanye’s recent projects that I felt were understandable but could have been less of a rant.
“Lovett or Leave it”
Why I Like This Podcast: When I heard that Jon Lovett of “Pod Save America” had his own show, I was ecstatic. Jon is best known for turning ad copy into absurdist comedy specials and also being a ball of electricity that constantly shocks the other hosts on the Tuesday episode of “Pod Save America.” “Lovett or Leave It” is a live weekly political comedy show. It’s like “Pod Save America” but instead of just policy wonks, former Obama staffers, and politicians, Jon brings on stand up comics, journalists, and celebrities. The panel is almost always extremely diverse. The show is comprised of funny games and discussions. I personally love listening to the games for the incorrect multiple choice answers. The show always ends with a beautiful “Why this all matters” speech by Lovett.
Why You May Not Like This Podcast: Some of the guests are horrible choices and can ruin an otherwise great panel. Usually the guests are intelligent and funny but some guests use the mic they’re given to promote themselves or to just scream out random nonsense. There are times when some of the guests say things and I think, You just gave Fox News tons of ammunition for millennial bashing.
“Pod Save America”
Why I Like This Podcast: “Pod Save America” is the Huckleberry Finn of podcasts: if you’ve actually listened to it, you know how great it is; but if you have never listened to it, then you think it is overrated. “Pod Save America” is a bi-weekly conversational podcast about politics. Its hosts, Jon Favreau, Tommy Vietor, Dan Pfeiffer, and Jon Lovett, are kinda like a boy band: they all have their own personality and you will naturally find yourself drawn to one of them. Because I appreciate the ability to crack a joke during the most serious discussions, I like Jon Lovett. At the end of every episode there is an interview with someone important in the world of politics and news. The guests I can think of off the top of my head are Joe Biden, John Legend, and Yara Shahidi. They often post their live shows, which are full of funny and informative games.
Why You May Not Like This Podcast: I have a problem with political preaching. I dislike it because I used to do it a lot and I have realized that it accomplishes nothing. There are some episodes of “Pod Save America” that are extremely preachy and sound like an echo chamber. I still have trouble telling the difference between Tommy Vietor and Dan Pfeifer because their voices and shticks are so similar. All of the “Pod Save America’s” hosts hearts are in the right places, and their insane amount of charitable contributions are extremely impressive, but I would like them to maybe listen to a few of their episodes and notice the repetitions and work on expanding their talking points.
Why I Like This Podcast: Malcolm Gladwell is such a obsessive weirdo, and I love him so much for it. Much like his books, his podcast, “Revisionist History,” tries to set the record straight. Each episode focuses on a topic or a specific story and how it has been mistold. The episodes are heavily researched and that could explain why they have a weird release schedule (see the Why You May Not section for more information on that aspect). Here are a few examples of the topics he has covered: CTE and the Burden of Proof; A Forgotten Female Painter and legacy; and even Law Review Articles and how an interpretation of a semicolon can mean that Texas can be split into multiple states. It’s a hell of a show and I can listened to it for hours.
Why You May Not Like This Podcast: I actually think everyone should listen to this podcast. The only criticisms I have are that some episodes are better than others and that it is released only in the summer for a few weeks. While it is worth the wait, I do think that it would be nice if it was year round. Also Mr. Gladwell, where is this new book you keep talking about?
“The Book Review”
Why I Like This Podcast: The New York Times Book Review has a podcast. It’s called “The Book Review.” The episodes follow this formula: an interview or two with an author releasing a new book; a quick chat with a reporter who covers the publishing; and then a roundtable discussion about what the staff reviewers are reading and reviewing this week. Pamela Paul, who is the editor of the New York Times Book Review and is a great interviewer, is the host and she keeps the podcast moving like a train that can not be late.
Why You May Not Like This Podcast: I have always had a few problems with the New York Times Book Review. Their website is quite ugly and bland in design: white blocks with little black letters, separated by gray or black stripes is such an ugly style choice that it was literally used as a design template for prison uniforms. Their critics are almost all over 35 and the ones that are younger tend to have the literary opinions of a tenured college professor. Often their reviewers try to be even-handed but this often comes off as vague and unwilling to pass judgment. Their podcast, interestingly enough, has a completely different set of problems. The people they choose to interview are almost always nonfiction writers. I can’t remember an interview of a fiction writer that didn’t focus on the author’s real life relation to the main character in his book. Yes, a person’s life influences their literature but if I wanted to hear about their life I would listen to Marc Maron’s podcast. The round table discussions are interesting in that you can occasionally find a good recommendation. Their critics also often sound the same. I haven’t really managed to place voices with names (except for Greg whose ongoing struggle with Ulysses is very funny) and feel no desire to follow up with any of their written reviews.
Why I Like This Podcast: The Daily is a daily (get it?) news podcast hosted by Michael Barbaro of the New York Times. The format of the podcast is one 20 to 25 minute dive into a relevant news story. The New York Times reporter who wrote the story is interviewed about it; some context is given; and occasionally there will be an interview with one of the principal actors in the story. The final 2 minutes are devoted to a quick roundup of “what else you need to know today.” Each roundup story is basically the first three paragraphs of the front page stories. It’s a good podcast for those people like me who commute and don’t have a stable New York Times subscription.
Why You Might Not Like This Podcast: I used to like this podcast a lot more when it was more like the front page of the New York Times. The 25 minutes would be devoted to 2 or 3 stories. Then the last 3 minutes would be a news roundup of some less interesting but still relevant stories. In the last few months, “The Daily” has become more longform and has ventured into audio documentaries. These are nice and highly informative but leave me wanting to hear the day’s news. The New York Times already has started making separate podcasts for their longform audio documentaries such as “Caliphate,” so I do not understand why they need to keep taking over “The Daily.” Also Michael Barbaro is a tad annoying as an interviewer. He’ll occasionally ask these huge, tabloidy questions that cause the interview subject to say politely, “Whoa slow down.”
Why I Like This Podcast: This is the first podcast I listen to in the morning. “Up First” is hosted by a duo chosen from the following reporters: David Greene, Steve Inskeep, Noel King, and Rachel Martin. They all are masters at keeping the conversation on track. It is a news roundup podcast and limits each story to about 2 or 3 minutes. It’s 10 minutes of straight news. You are told what you need to know and often hear the reporter who broke the story tell it to you. If there is a major breaking news story, they will release a Special Update episode which will be about 10 minutes long and will tell you the facts. One aspect I do like as a literary nerd is that they will honor the passing of a writer on air. Their tribute to Philip Roth and Donald Hall were both heartwarming.
Why You May Not Like This Podcast: “Up First’s” only faults are that it is sometimes too brief. Some stories get completely ignored and others are given too little time. Also the news is sometimes outdated by the time the podcast is an hour old. They also kick the can down the road by always saying that if you want more information to check out the “NPR Politics” podcast. I tried listening to the “NPR Politics” podcast, got bored, and unsubscribed.
“Who Shot Ya?”
Why I Like This Podcast: I will be the first to admit that I know close to nothing about films. I watch a lot of them and can talk endlessly about some of them. But I really have trouble critiquing them. As anyone who has ever heard me talk about a film before, I end up getting hung up (read as: obsessed) with odd dialogue and inconsequential scenes. “Who Shot Ya?,” which was recommended to me by someone in the same aimlessly drifting boat as me, is hosted by Alonso Duralde, a film critic; Ricky Carmona, a stand up comic, a writer on “Tosh.0”, and DJ; and April Wolfe, another film critic. Instead of the normal promotional format (“In the studio with us we have [insert director of new movie] who is going to talk to us about his new movie, and then we are going to have a review of this movie.”) it is a round table discussion of the movie full of jokes and biting critiques. What’s refreshing is that the three hosts (and their guest hosts) all have separate opinions and you can never guess how they are going to react to the film. But one thing you can count on is that Alonso is going to be the film nerd, April is going to give an intelligent slash, and Ricky is going to be just a joy to listen to. They also incorporate their own diverse lives into their reviews. Alonso is a gay man; Ricky is Spanish; and April is a woman. The opening news segment is not just a regurgitation of headlines but a judgment as to whether the news from the film world is actually worth caring about.
Why You May Not Like This Podcast: I love this podcast–a lot. It is usually the first podcast recommend to all my friends. The only real problems I have with it are that some of the guest hosts are boring or out of place. Ingu Kane, a contrarian film critic who I agree 50% of the time and the other 50% of the time I think is just trying to be a troll, is one guest host that sometimes causes the vibe of the episode to dampen. The games at the end of the episode are okay but are nothing special.
Are there any podcasts you think I should listen to? You can send me a recommendation through the Contact form. If you like my writing be sure to share it with your friends and family, especially those relatives that work for famous magazines.