Podcasts are probably my greatest downfall. (I mean there are definitely other contenders but I don’t wanna think about that too hard.) From driving long distances to coping with insomnia, podcasts have really been there for me the past few years. Whenever I’m not writing I tend to have one on in the background. They are a source of comfort — sort of like going back to a favorite book, listening to the same familiar voices can be incredibly grounding. As you might expect, I’ve blazed through a lot of podcasts this year. So you don’t have to sift through them all like I did, I’ve picked out a few of my favorites. Of course, here I am foregoing the addition of shows like Serial and S-Town, because those are just basic staples at this point. (If you don’t know what I’m talking about or haven’t listened to them before, then GO DO IT RIGHT NOW. That is your homework. You’re welcome.)
Want to think about the pandemic?
No, this podcast isn’t all about the pandemic (it was running before the whole 2020 disaster), but if you want more info on it from women with degrees and research to back them up, they certainly don’t hold back. There is a whole series of episodes to do with COVID-19, but they have also covered a million other sicknesses/viruses that are both fascinating and a little distanced from our current situation. They also make a drink to correlate to the topic (both alcoholic and non!), so know that they are fairly lighthearted considering the gravity of the subject.
One half of the duo running this podcast is Dolly Alderton, who also wrote Everything I Know About Love, so it’s no surprise I love it. This podcast is sorta like pop culture and current events, but through a thoughtful and nuanced lens. Even if they mention things about this world that I’d rather not hear, it still tends to comfort me.
Want to forget about the pandemic?
Four people, four random facts, and a million tangents. Doesn’t get much simpler than this, but No Such Thing As A Fish never disappoints. This is probably the podcast I listen to most often because I like to fall asleep to it. I find it comforting enough for drifting off but also distracting enough that it keeps my mind away from the anxious late-night thoughts that keep me up. Of course, I also listen to new episodes while conscious, because the conversations are honestly fascinating.
I recommend this to friends when they have the blues and need a pick-me-up, because as unlikely as it sounds, this podcast really saved me from some dark times a couple of years ago. The premise is that the host finds his father’s erotic novels and decides to read them aloud to his friends (and record it all). It’s both horrifying and hilarious, I promise. Even Emma Thompson is a guest at one point — if my word isn’t convincing enough, take hers. The podcast is pretty well known, but I’ve found that Americans aren’t as familiar with it, so I always make sure to suggest it just in case. My Dad Wrote A Porno has always been a go-to when I need to shake myself out of a funk.
Sorta like No Such Thing As A Fish, but hosted by comedians and particularly focused on the absurd. It’s new, but good.
I’m told this podcast was made to accompany a TV show (and has since ended), but I’ve never had an issue with listening to it on its own. Each episode is standalone and brings on an expert to talk about various subjects — some of which you never knew you needed to hear. A good one to listen to if you want something a little more intellectual, but also snack-sized.
Want to hear about something worse than the pandemic?
I know everyone’s talking about this one, and I’m only partway through myself, but this one deserves a mention. Rabbit Hole from the NYT investigates how the YouTube algorithm functions in providing us with new content — and features a man who was radicalized by it. There’s obviously a lot more to the story, and Rabbit Hole covers it all, but you should listen for yourself (especially if you, like me, are fascinated with content creation and social media).
Y’all know I listen to true crime podcasts, but I truly tried to keep them to a minimum on this list. I myself have been a bit burnt out from all the heavy material — hence a lot of the other listens posted here. This is probably the darkest one here, investigating the famous Delphi murders of two young girls, which are unsolved to this day despite a surprising amount of leads that have yet to go anywhere.
There’s some hometown pride here, y’all — The Breakdown covers legal proceedings an’d the justice system here in Georgia, and is produced by the wonderful Atlanta Journal Constitution, so you know it’s some quality work. There are seven seasons so far, each focusing on a different case — from the shooting of a mentally ill veteran by a police officer to the famous Tex McIver case. The newest season, currently in progress, follows the system as it processes the murder of Ahmaud Arbery, one of the horrific killings that helped flame the recent surge in Black Lives Matter protesting.
Yeardley Smith of The Simpsons fame talks to real-life small town law enforcement officers about their experiences on the job, covering everything from murder cases they’ve been involved in to the everyday role of police in the community. Considering the recent news, it’s uplifting to hear stories about law enforcement doing its job with integrity and compassion.
Another Atlanta gem focused on true crime. Instead of the cases everyone has heard about, The Fall Line does research into the often-unsolved murders of minority women and sex workers in the Southeast, bringing these little-known stories out to the public and exposing corruption and bias in our policing/justice system.
Want to feel a little better about humanity?
Comedian Mike Birbiglia tries out some in-progress material on various guests, and ends up having some excellent conversation that makes you laugh and think. This podcast started as a product of the pandemic, so it’s pretty new.
No, you actually don’t have to have listened to the Mountain Goats to appreciate this podcast, at least in my opinion. I had heard of them before listening, but by no means was a die-hard fan. I Only Listen to the Mountain Goats is a podcast hosted by writer and longtime fan Joseph Fink (Welcome to Night Vale, Alice Isn’t Dead) and the band’s frontman John Darnielle. Each season goes through one of the Mountain Goats’ albums song-by-song, but the overall conversation is more about what it means to be an artist. It can be a bit obscure at times, but I always leave this one feeling inspired and ready to make some art.
Probably the most predictable one on this list is, of course, a podcast about books. Hosted by southern bookstore owner Annie Jones & Co., this pod discusses just about everything book-related. They never fail to remind me all over again of my bookstore-owning dreams, but be careful — I have had to restrict myself on occasion thanks to my book buying bans and dwindling bank account.
Want a Wild Narrative That Has Little-to-No Basis in Reality and Might (Probably Will) Freak You Out?
A simple premise: Everyone who falls asleep dies. A night watchman finishes his shift only to realize he is one of the only ones left alive. Racing against the clock, he and the remaining survivors struggle to find a cure. Think Karen Thompson Walker’s The Dreamers, but with a little more action.
A female truck driver is forced to carry a mysterious load, but as she travels the highways, realizes something is terribly wrong. I won’t lie, this one did spook me a bit, but it’s good, I promise.
From the creators of Welcome to Night Vale, this follows a woman who gets a job as a trucker so she can search the country for her mysteriously missing wife. It gets weird.
Blood Ties just came out with it’s second season, which I have yet to listen to but am very excited for. The story starts when a wealthy family heads off for an island vacation — only, the parents never arrive. After the family’s private plane goes missing, the daughter and son are left to pick up the pieces. But the secrets they uncover change everything they knew about their parents.
When the power grid goes out, the world is thrown into chaos. The one person keeping his small town somewhat sane is their local radio DJ, who stays on the air while they attempt to ride out what they hope will be a temporary situation. Spoiler alert: things don’t get much better. Sorta like The Walking Dead meets Welcome to Night Vale, only without the zombies and things aren’t so happy.
Right! Well that about covers it! There are, of course, a million great podcasts out there, so this is just a tiny snippet of what I’ve been listening to the past couple of months. If you have any podcasts you wanna share, please do message me/comment below, because I always need more material.