But! I didn't want to leave my dreamwidth entirely barren, especially immediately after participating in a friending meme (still running here, if you want to bulk up your reading page) and anyway, it's the year-end/new-year time of things, a good moment for summing up and posting lists. And so here is a topic about which I hardly ever post, but which I spend quite a bit of time with in my daily life: podcasts! I'm extremely fond of using podcasts to fill all the boring bits of life, particularly the bits when my hands and/or eyes are otherwise occupied (so that I can't read a book) but my brain is not: commuting, of course, but also washing dishes, folding laundry, showering, cooking, and more. I usually go through two or three episodes of various podcasts a day. And so, of course, I have favorites – podcasts that I desperately wait for new episodes of. And... less favorites, ones I listen to only when I have nothing else ("I Only Listen to the Mountain Goats", why is the host so annoying?) or that I try to listen to and end up abandoning ("History is Gay", why are both hosts so annoying?). But let's stick to the positives for today. Here are my Top Ten Favorite Podcasts of 2019, listed in ascending order:
10. Ben Franklin's World. A young historian (I believe she's a PhD student, at least in the early episodes I've listened to so far) interviews scholars, museum workers, and professors on their research in early American history (generally mid 1600s to early 1800s, with a few episodes that go earlier or later, and with a focus on the area of the British colonies). To be honest, I don't actually like the host's approach very much, but the people she talks to are so interesting that I've kept listening anyway. This is also one of the few podcasts I listen to that doesn't have any element of humor to it at all (I tend to look for a light mood in my podcasts), but it's fascinating, and I always want to take notes while I listen.
9. The Allusionist. The host, a woman with a background in writing and editing, produces this show with a somewhat "This American Life" vibe, but on the topic of weird linguistic detours. She herself describes the show as "about language", but that seems way too broad to be helpful. Some recent episode topics to give you a better idea of whether you'd like to listen yourself: how do you decide what to engrave on your headstone? did the Berlin Wall lead to East and West Germany developing separate dialects? why did medieval Europe believe in a demon whose sole job was making typos? what's the history of the word bisexual? This isn't a laugh out loud type of show, but the host does approach her subject with humor and curiosity, which I appreciate.
8. Sawbones. One of the brothers from MBMBAM and his wife, who is a doctor, discuss the weird, terrible medical practices of the past – bloodletting, black bile, patent medicines, etc – and the weird, terrible medical practices of the present day – drinking bleach, anti-vaxxers, the keto diet, etc – with a sense of humor. I probably would have placed this show higher if I'd made this list last year, because recently they've been focusing more on contemporary issues, which tend to be less funny. And I get it, vaccines are important! But there's only so many episodes I can to listen to on that topic before it gets boring.
7. My Favorite Murder. Yes, I am the last person on earth to start listening to this EXTREMELY FAMOUS podcast in which two women comedians discuss true crime cases, both historical and recent, and I only began listening last month. I'm not entirely sure I'll stick with this podcast longterm, but so far I've found it strangely addictive. It's surprisingly light in mood for such a heavy topic, which makes it a good listen for when I want something I only need half a brain for.
6. Gastropod. Another "This American Life" style podcast. In this one the two hosts, both women journalists, focus on the history and science of food. Some of my favorite episodes include the one on cilantro (what is the science behind the haters?), the one on a maple syrup crime ring, and the one on if eating off a literal silver spoon can make your food taste better.
5. My Brother, My Brother, and Me. Everyone already knows about this podcast, don't they? Just in case you've missed out: three comedian brothers respond to advice questions (both questions emailed directly to them and random ones pulled off of Yahoo! Answers) with a mix of deliberately terrible and genuinely sweet advice. Occasionally interrupted by other projects, such as the oldest brother's news updates on fast food developments, or reading ebay auctions of haunted dolls.
4. The Dollop. Hosted by two comedians, both extremely unknowledgeable about American history. Despite that, one host finds and researches a strange incident therein and presents it to the other, who reacts. Episodes I've listened to recently include topics like the origin of the Ouija board, the Rajneeshee cult, mountain man Hugh Glass (played by Leonardo DiCaprio in "The Revenant"), and the history of the LAPD. Even when I'm already familiar with the subject matter, their commentary makes me laugh out loud.
A sidenote: history, inevitably, tends to involve racism, sexism, people being just generally terrible to one another, and many related topics. The hosts are both straight white men, and have the blindspots you'd expect. That said, I've been honestly surprised at how willing they are to learn and to correct themselves just in the small percentage of their backlog that I've gone through.
3. Apocalist Book Club. Two women read every post-apocalyptic novel ever written in chronological order, starting with "The Last Man" by Jean-Baptiste De Grainville (1805). Some of the books are terrible, but there's nothing as funny or as weird as the bad fiction of another era. This podcast is a relatively recent discovery for me, but I'm almost out of episodes and very sad that they update only once a month.
2. The Baby-Sitters Club Club. Two thirty-something dudes, comedians, review each book in Ann M. Martin's classic preteen-girl series, The Baby-Sitters Club. I realize that this sounds like a set-up for mockery and condescension, but the hosts instead show a lot of love for the series: arguing about who is the best babysitter, debating the deeper themes of the series, analyzing the writing styles of the different ghostwriters who took over after the first thirty books, tracking the careers of rarely mentioned side-characters, and so on. I absolutely love listening to this podcast, and am very worried about it ending soon, as they've read nearly all the potential Baby-Sitters content. But I never want it to end!
1. Alternate Ending. A podcast about movies with three hosts: Tim, "the expert"; Carrie, "the casual viewer" (aka the person who knows nothing about movies); and Rob, who is sort of the in-between in terms of movie knowledge. Most episodes have a theme, and each host brings their own list of movies to discuss (recent examples: "Top 5 Nicole Kidman movies", "Top 5 movies about divorce", "Top 5 cats"). I've been a fan of Tim's written movie reviews for many years – he's absolutely the person who taught me to notice things like shot composition and set dressing, though I'm still trying to figure out editing – because of his wonderful mix of critical technical analysis and appreciation for underappreciated genres like slasher flicks and Disney animation. Also he writes hilarious reviews of bad movies, such as this one for Maze Runner: The Scorch Trials. The podcast is all of this plus great chemistry between three friends. It is my very first listen whenever new episodes download.
What podcasts to do you listen to? Anything you'd recommend for me? These aren't all the ones I listen to, but I'm happy to talk about others as well!
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