Like D, I am an inveterate lover of podcasts. From early on in our friendship, we’ve shared a regard for Slate’s Cultural Gabfest and its slightly younger sibling, NPR’s Pop Culture Happy Hour. I listen to both of these shows almost as soon as they show up in my iTunes feed. Both have segments that are long enough to generate interesting discussion but short enough that even if I’m absolutely bored by whatever they’re talking about, I can suffer through them without hitting fast-forward. The only times I do skip through a segment are when PCHH indulges its propensity toward taxonomy (so much fun to discuss if you can take part, sooooo dull if you can’t). I also end up hitting the fast-forward button when SCG chooses a topic about which none of the three panelists know the least little bit (they seem to be aware of this problem and have lately been bringing in expert guests, or at least guests who have spent more than five minutes Googling the thing). Like my favorite comedy podcasts–Stop Podcasting Yourself and Jordan Jesse Go!–or my favorite story/documentary podcasts–This American Life (no doi) and The Longest Shortest Time–I never feel as though I’m forcing myself to listen to them. Sometimes I’ll even “save” a current episode of one of these shows for a long walk or drive, when I know I won’t be distracted or interrupted.
There are a few shows in my feed that, while I usually love them, I often feel as if I’m forcing them down like one might force down a salad. I know it’s good for me, but sometimes I’m just not in the mood for raw cabbage and green apple. However, like a good salad, I find myself regularly surprised by how much I’m enjoying the show and feel really great afterward. The podcasts taken from Fresh Air are consistently fantastic, but I’ll sometimes see an interviewee like Linda Ronstadt and think, ugh, do I really want to hear this? As it turned out, yes, yes I do. The other podcast that I sometimes have to “force*” down like a salad is Bullseye. The reason that I rarely skip an episode of either is because the interviewers Terry Gross and Jesse Thorn are just SO GOOD at what they do. I trust them both to take an interview that seems completely uninteresting to me and do amazing things with it.** By making a habit of listening to almost every show they release, I inject a good deal of variety into my pop culture diet.
Other contenders that don’t consistently succeed, but can still provide pleasant surprises every once in a while:
How Was Your Week : I always look forward to the monologue, but the interviews can be touch and go at times.
Judge John Hodgman: Sometimes the case is just boring, but sometimes I find myself moved to tears by Hodgman’s ruling.
* Such a strong word given the high quality of these shows and the fact that I mostly am excited to listen to them.
** Thorn’s recent interview with Elizabeth Gilbert made me cry. I need a friend to listen to it so that we can discuss, because I find myself troubled and embarrassed by my enjoyment of Gilbert and her work. Is she selling me a load of snake oil? Or am I embarrassed to like her because of her audience?