Friday, March 26, 2010

Casting About...

One of the things I look forward to the most as the weather keeps getting warmer (not today! SNOW???!!!) is more regular walks with the kids. They love to get out and ride their assorted vehicles around the circle at the end of our street, but when I need to get some serious exercise, I make them both get in the wagon and pull them behind me. It's actually easier to do this than to try to push the double stroller up and down hills. O. just isn't ready to keep up on his bike yet.
While we walk, I often listen to my iPod. I take the earbuds out to answer the many questions the kids ask as we go, and when we pass other people, on the off chance someone might want to actually have a conversation. (In our neighborhood, usually not.) If it sounds like I'm being antisocial here, I'm not. I just really enjoy having some time to listen, not to music, but spoken word. Sometimes, I'm listening to an audiobook I've downloaded from, but more often than not, I'm listening to a podcast.
I didn't even get an iPod until a little less than a year ago. And I'm pretty sure it was the idea that I could listen to audioboooks on it that finally convinced my husband that it was not something that would just lie around on my desk; that it was not just something I wanted because I thought I was the last person on earth not to have one. (I'm still sure it was pretty close)
Soon after I downloaded iTunes, I discovered podcasts. A friend had mentioned that she listened to This American Life for free, and I was all for that. Then, I discovered more and more that I liked, and now have a regular subscription to about 7 or 8 podcasts. I love knowing that it's Monday morning and there is fresh new material waiting for me to download and synchronize to my little machine. I take it with me and listen in the car -- it's almost completely taken over my NPR habit. Though truth be told, most of what I'm listening to is NPR material.
So, for the next couple of weeks, I thought I'd share with you some mini-reviews of the podcasts I listen to on a regular basis. I still love my audiobooks, and listen to them when I have a little more time than a run back and forth to school pickup, or to the store.
My list is certainly not one that goes outside the mainstream: most of my listens are ones that regularly show up on the top ten most downloaded. I think that's because they're so well done.
I'll start with my two favorites, probably the best produced and highest quality of my subscriptions, and also two of the most popular overall:

This American Life: Hands down my favorite podcast, and easily one of the best produced examples of journalism out there right now. Each week follows a theme of some sort, usually with several different stories. They range from quirky and humorous, to important national issues, to heartwarming profiles of humanity. I loved the recent one they did about America's #1 Party School, Penn State, which was more a fascinating peek at university culture in general than an indictment of any specific school. I also really enjoyed "The Middle of the Night," a look at different slices of the population whose waking hours occur at night. From this show, I have learned that there is a whole group of people who make their living bidding on other people's unclaimed stuff in self storage units, the origins of the phrase "I'm not here to make friends" on reality television, and some facts I wish I didn't know about the longevity of bedbugs. I've also learned far more about the health insurance crisis and the mortgage crisis from this show than from any other news organization. "The Giant Pool of Money" should be required listening for anyone who has ever asked "How did we get in this mess, anyway?"
One of my favorite things about this podcast overall is how much fun host Ira Glass seems to be having doing it all. I just love his laugh when he gets cracked up by someone he is interviewing: purely infectious. I also had the pleasure of seeing Ira Glass speak in person years ago at this awesome Dave Eggers-organized event my dear friend MEP and I got to attend in Chicago. He was highly political in that appearance, so I've been surprised to see that is not the case overall.

You had to know one of my other favorites would be a food show, right? I just LOVE listening to host Lynne Rossetto Kasper talk about food. She has such passion for it, and genuinely seems to love just about every imaginable food. I adore it when she starts chatting about dives across the country with Jane and Michael Stern, especially when they rhapsodize about such things as "burnt end sandwiches" IE: the fattiest, most flavorful parts of a piece of barbecued meat sopped up in the cooking juices. She also interviews food historians, people doing research about new food trends, and regularly gets advice on wine. She visits restaurants and cooks in their homes. She also answers questions from callers, and often has such great advice I find myself wishing I could write down the recipes she seems to invent off the top of her head. I've gone to the website more than once to look up other recipes that I've heard discussed on the show. It's just a collection of all the things I love to think about most when I start thinking about good food. I find myself humming some of the tunes they use as introductions for different segments quite frequently.
I also discovered a most amazing blog via this podcast after she featured Sally Schneider, author of The Improvisational Cook on an episode. It's The Improvised Life, and it's this great collection of finding ways to be creative with what you have in all areas of your life. I so enjoy popping in every once in a while to find out what they've posted lately.

So there's a couple of the ones I most look forward to listening to each week. I'll update with some of my other favorites when I get a chance, but in the meantime, share with me what YOU love to listen to. (We'll get to the sad state of my music library another time.)


Stacia said...

Ira Glass in person! So jealous. We have all the This American Life episodes on our iPods, too. Also, our NPR affiliate just started broadcasting The Splendid Table. I'll have to give it a listen.

mep said...

I almost never listen to music on my ipod (I'm willing to bet that my music selection is even more woeful than you claim yours is). I'm pretty much all audiobooks, all the time.

Both This American Life and The Splendid Table sound right up my alley. I need to figure out a schedule or something for making podcasts part of my routine. (I feel like Bonnie right now. What did she used to say, "I need to get into that" or something. The phrase is escaping me).

Thanks for the recommendations! I've listened to a few author interviews and some Grammar Girl podcasts, but that is it for me for non-book, non-music listening. If I happen upon anything awesome, you know I'll share.

CaraBee said...

I used to listen to NPR quite a lot and This American Life was a favorite. I just don't get much radio time these days. I hadn't even thought to find their podcasts for my iPhone. Will do! said...

I have never listened to a podcast! I am such a techie virgin...