(I love podcasts. I listen around 2 or 3 hours a day, between my commute, time at the gym, and household chores. I’ll be going over my favorites in the course of a few posts. This is part one, Stories.)
These are all podcasts that present, in some fashion, a story. Narratives are engaging and the best use that engagement not just to communicate a narrative arc, but to illuminate or reveal something that transcends both our ability to communicate it directly and narration itself. David and Goliath isn’t a story about a minor military victory of tribal antiquity, even though that’s the main narrative arc.
Selected Shorts and New Yorker: Fiction both present published short fiction in an audio format. The New Yorker podcast has a current contributor -such as George Saunders or Joyce Carol Oates- read a short story from the magazine’s archive. There is usually a brief discussion after the reading. Stories published in the New Yorker are usually on the longer side, -by contemporary standards, at least- and they tend to be extremely “safe”. There is some amazing literature here, (just look at what percentage of Norton anthologized stories were first published in the magazine) but they aren’t taking risks.
Selected Shorts is a public radio program; as such, also annoyingly safe. It features “canon” short stories (Carver, Updike, Barthelme), read by screen and stage actors. The delivery can get a bit performative for my taste, and why producers feel the need to bleep out words like “asshole” and “shit” on a podcast in 2014 eludes me, but the selection is good.
The Moth and Risk both draw their inspiration from traditions of oral storytelling; The Moth is the original live storytelling show. People from all walks of life, with all kinds of manners of speech, get on stage and tell personal stories in front of a live audience. There is an energy to live, improvised storytelling that becomes lost in the smoothness of editing, and the raw emotion shines through. Everybody has a couple good stories; The Moth spotlights some of the best out there. Risk is similar, but focuses on the dangerous and taboo. Risk is sex positive and extremely explicit.