Listen in to podcast, audiobook picks
Whether you’re in the market for cerebral stimulation, a witty pandemic distraction — or you need something for your third walk around the block today, we’ve got you covered.
Here are some podcast picks and worthy audiobooks.
“This is Uncomfortable”
Paying a spouse to wash dishes, asking for a raise and that awkward convo after you lend a friend cash. “This is Uncomfortable” is a strikingly intimate podcast about money and relationships. Reporter Reema Khrais navigates the often off-limits topic with emotional intelligence and personal experience. In “Crying at Work,” Khrais shares when she did it, and interviews a former boss at NPR who witnessed it. Always a diverse group of sources sharing with heart, and always in easily digestible 15-30 minisodes. This is a new fave.
Host Aaron Mahnke digs into the nooks and crannies of dark history from an anthropologist’s point of view, tying the tales behind Dracula, werewolves and more back to human nature, universal anxieties, and offering interesting context for the time. Super well-researched and succinct. “Lore” is now an Amazon show, a three-volume book set, with podcast spinoffs “Unobscured” and “Cabinet of Curiosities.” If you grew up reading “Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark,” this might be your jam.
“This American Life”
This podcast has been a public radio show since 1995, but the FM radio world has been a foreign land to me since around 2004. Hosted by Ira Glass, this podcast delivers exactly what you would expect: stories reflective of American life. A recent episode, “Alone Together,” featured the show’s staff reaching out to loved ones while they were quarantined at home.
You have to listen to understand. “This American Life” is inspiring, thought-providing, funny and dare I say it: iconic.
“Every Little Thing”
Who invented the Scrunchie? How did the limbo originate? Why is pink “for girls” and blue “for boys?” What instrument creates that ominous, familiar sound in scary movies and TV shows?
“Every Little Thing” is a delightful podcast hosted by the adorably quirky Flora Lichtman that digs up answers to questions you didn’t know you had. You’ll learn something in every episode.
There wasn’t much that could get me interested in economics until I read the book “Freakonomics,” co-authored by journalist Stephen J. Dubner and economist Steven D. Levitt, about 15 years ago.
Much like the book that inspired it, the podcast “explores the hidden side of everything.” Episodes have explored the side effects of social distancing; why tipping still exists; how to convince Americans to pay their taxes; and what the Trader Joe’s grocery chain can teach us. It’s educational, but not too wonky.
Though the Major League Baseball season is on indefinite hiatus due to COVID-19, many of this podcast's 1,500-plus episodes are tied not to the day's events but to deconstructing every angle of the national pastime. Hosts Ben Lindbergh, Meg Rowley and Sam Miller are equally as likely to break down the value of a catcher's pitch framing ability as they are to muse at length about how different baseball would be if a tree were allowed to grow in the middle of the infield. Recent highlights include a historical breakdown of sign-stealing in baseball well before the Houston Astros got caught this winter and podcasts previewing the Twins' (March 9) and Brewers' (Feb. 3) 2020 seasons, that is, if they ever begin.
"Men in Blazers"
British ex-pats Michael Davies and Roger Bennett are tweed-wrapped ambassadors of soccer in America, where, as they say, it has been the country's sport of the future since 1972. Though their beloved English Premier League is suspended, this admittedly sub-optimal duo has been keeping the fires burning by taking questions from their beloved GFOPs (Great Friends Of the Pod), delving into America's soccer history and tiptoeing around the ultimate Sophie's choice: How the 2019-20 Premier League season being possibly voided is the only thing standing in the way of Everton-supporting Rog's worst nightmare: Liverpool winning the league championship.
The internet is massive, but this podcast helps us, story by story, understand it a little bit better.
You hear stories of a culture of online thieves that hack and steal social media accounts, politician’s secret social media accounts, how robocalls came to be, Facebook’s alleged eavesdropping on conversations and more — all stories that you’ll remember for months to come.
Housed under Gimlet Media, the hosts of “Reply All” are also funny, captivating and energetic, just what you want when learning about what are sometimes dense topics. And it’s not just the hosts discussing these topics; they’re talking with those who have first-hand knowledge of it.
Two episodes recommended: “The Case of the Missing Hit” and “The Snapchat Thief.”
“Uncover” and “Conviction”
Both of these true crime serials, the first from CBC and the second from Gimlet, recently dropped new seasons detailing the mind-boggling stories behind a Satanic panic that swept across North America in the 1980s.
Children in cities around Canada and the U.S. — including right here in Minnesota — were coming forward with horrifying accounts of how adults were sexually abusing them and forcing them to watch or take part in disturbing rituals, murders, cannibalism and all kinds of other unimaginable things. Popular songs, when played backwards, revealed hidden messages in support of the Satanic mission. Alleged perpetrators of the heinous crimes were being sentenced to decades in prison.
Except police couldn’t seem to find the bodies. Or any physical evidence really. But why would the kids make it all up? These shows dig into how it all went so far.
“American Elections: Wicked Game”
This series from Wondery ostensibly tells the story of each of the 58 presidential elections in our nation’s history, but it really excels at recounting forgotten, behind-the-scenes stories and setting a scene for how our political landscape has, or has not, changed over time.
It’s hosted by a guy named Lindsay Graham — no, not U.S. Sen. Lindsey Graham — whose deep voice, mixed with sound effects and music, sets a tone that feels more like listening to a dramatic performance than a mere podcast.
The show started last fall at the very beginning, the 1789 election, and continues each Tuesday through Nov. 3. Yes, that’s Election Day, at which point we’ll all be ready for a much-needed break from politics.
The Onion does “The Daily.”
Are you in the market for a one-of-a-kind specially designed luxury planet? Then you might look to request a design from Stellar Firma Ltd., a futuristic company that specializes in the field of designing plants for the uber rich. But pray your planetary request doesn’t fall into the hands of designer Trexel Geistman and his clone assistant David 7. (What happened to Davids 1-6? Don’t ask.) An improvised weekly science fiction podcast from brothers Tim and Ben Meredith features a new planet suggestion from their listeners every week. Trexel and David squabble as they fully flesh out the idea in hilarious ways. Previous planet designs have included death rays, dangerous lava playgrounds, and an eternal night club.
“No Bad Ideas”
Ever read an article and find yourself thinking, “That’s a terrible idea … but it’d make a great script!” That’s the basic idea behind this weekly podcast from creators Gabriel Urbina, Sarah Shachat and Zach Valenti. It’s a storytelling game show and creative exercise where they take the worst ideas from the Internet and try to turn them into good stories. One writer brings an article, and the other two hosts have 30 minutes to develop and improve upon the idea. Sometimes they stay close to the original tale and find alternate motivations. Other times, one portion of the original article will prompt a far-flung spin-off. It’s fun to tag along on the creative journey.
“Tides of History”
“Tides of History” debuted in 2018. Host Patrick Wyman is also not your typical historian. Sure, he holds a doctorate in history with a focus on the late Roman Empire, but while working his way through graduate school, he also worked as an MMA and combat sports writer — all of which informs this podcast. Tides typically focuses on an aspect of the early modern period of history — from roughly the 14th to early 17th centuries — highlighting the conflicts, trends and developments that have helped shape the modern world. Far from being boring or stuffy, Wyman presents his material in an accessible and entertaining way, often creating “composite characters” to help listeners understand what it was like for common soldiers or people living in the age. There are history podcasts that are more rigorous academically and others that focus more on entertainment, but Wyman manages to straddle a line between informative and engaging.
Free audio books through the library are great.
“The Girl on the Train” by Paula Hawkins
This book was turned into a movie where the main character, Rachel, is played by Emily Blunt. Rachel takes the same train every morning and night. At one of the regular stops, Rachel looks on to a home of what she thinks is the perfect couple, but when the woman goes missing she inserts herself into the middle of the situation.
“Dear Edward” by Ann Napolitano
This book was released in January. It tells the story of a 12-year-old boy who is the sole survivor of a plane crash that not only kills everyone on board but also kills his mother, father and older brother.