Audible Feast’s Best Podcast Episodes of 2016
I’ve listened to somewhere between 2,000 and 2,500 podcast episodes in 2016. I listen all the time, and this website is maintained by me alone. It is a labor of love, as so many people involved in the underappreciated medium of podcasting understand. Throughout the year, I have shared the best episodes I’ve heard each week through my
Delicious Ingredients posts every Friday. As 2016 comes to a close, I’d like to share with you a big list of the very best episodes I’ve heard all year. The next post in this series will be the Best Podcasts of 2016 (series – not just episodes) and will be published shortly. I hope you’ll use this list to find something new or go back and listen to something you’ve heard before that deserves a second listen. Thank you for reading!
Here are Audible Feast’s Best Podcast Episodes of 2016:
The Heart: My Everything, My Bear (23 min)
"In a suitcase full of books and papers, there is a little notebook with a bear sitting alone in a hot air balloon. This journal is one of the only things Alex saved when they got rid of all their possessions and moved to Ohio. The journal is filled with accounts of the life and the love they left behind." One thing I love about The Heart is that you never know who is going to be featured, and I mean you don't even know whether you're going to hear a story from a cis gendered person, someone who is gender queer, someone who is gay ... and I love that because to me that signifies that The Heart treats every story equally. Every story about love or lack thereof deserves to be heard. This particular episode was about two people who fell in and out of love, and while gender identity is central to the story, it's just a story about love.
Code Switch, Episode 1: Can We Talk About Whiteness? (37 min)
“Let’s all agree that it’s really hard to grapple with whiteness, both due to the slipperiness of the concept itself, and also thanks to the almost visceral discomfort people have with talking about white identity. The problem is, by shying away from talking about whiteness, we also fail to understand the profound ways that whiteness shapes our culture and politics. And right now, in a crazy election cycle when folks’ feelings about their own white identities is a strong predictor of how they’re likely to vote, that’s especially dangerous. And that, y’all, is what we’re taking up on our inaugural episode: how we talk (and don’t talk about whiteness), and why it’s really important we figure out how.” I loved that Code Switch bravely addressed race week after week, starting with a big one - what does it mean to be white, especially in the 2016 election cycle? It (and many others that were had on Code Switch this year) is a conversation that needs to be had.
Reply All, Episode 79: Boy in Photo (48 min)
"The photo first showed up on the internet in 2006, on a message board for music nerds called ILX. Somebody’d stumbled across it randomly, and they’d posted it just because they just thought it was really funny. A picture of an awkward silence. But there’s something else in this photo. The boy in the photo looks so lonely, so out of place. If there was an entire nation dedicated to teenage longing, they’d put his face on the 100 dollar bill." Reply All had some great hits this year - I also liked episodes 64-67 and 52. This episode stood out to me because it was investigative - I don't even care about the poor kid in the photo, but I enjoyed the journey the team took to find him. It was really well edited and produced.
Radio Diaries, Episode 53: From Flint to Rio (24 min)
“This is the story of an Olympic boxer, before and after she made history. 2012 marked the first year that women boxers were allowed to compete in the Summer Olympics. We produced an audio diary that followed Claressa Shields, a 17-year-old from Flint, Michigan, with a dream — to become the first American woman to win Olympic gold in boxing. And she did just that. But how much does a gold medal really change things for a teenager in Flint? In this podcast episode, we catch up with Claressa, four years later.” My favorite podcast episode about the Olympics this year - classic Radio Diaries content.
Sooo Many White Guys, Episode 10: Phoebe Welcomes Token White Guy Mike Birbiglia (42 min)
“The actor, comedian and director reveals the truth about maleness AND whiteness in a heart-stopping episode that will leave you breathless. Plus, a surprise visit from Kelsey Grammer!?” Birbiglia is just an open, honest, inquisitive guy, and spoke so lovingly about his wife, Jen Stein, and Phoebe Robinson handled this interview so well, asking just the right questions. Robinson and Birbiglia talk about the difference between improv and stand-up, and of course, Birbiglia’s new movie “Don’t Think Twice.” But they also discuss what it is like to be a token white guy. I’m sad that season 1 of this fantastic show is over because it is super thought-provoking, funny, and intelligent.
Female Trouble: Stacia Brown, Writer and Radio Producer (45 min)
"Stacia Brown has been writing her whole life, and though she received an MFA in fiction, she’s developed her freelance career on the strength of her nonfiction work, most often in the form of commentary on race, current events and pop culture. Stacia talked about reacting, sometimes too quickly, in the aftermath of police shootings and tragedies, her responsibility to Baltimore when she writes for national outlets, feeling like an outsider, and stepping away from writing about her personal life.” This is an example of podcast worlds colliding in a great way. I listen to Baltimore: The Rise of Charm City religiously, so I was so excited to hear an honest, in depth interview with Stacia Brown which included the genesis of her podcast. I love this girl-power show from The Baltimore Sun.
Lore, Episode 43: Supply and Demand (31 min)
"Throughout history, certain individuals have managed to rise to the challenge in the face of difficulty. But in 1827, that attitude was taken to a new—and horrific—level." This episode of Lore is one of the best I've heard. It's a compelling and unbelievable story about how due to the demand for medical research, corpse snatching turned into murder for two nefarious characters. Super creepy and well told as usual by Aaron Mahnke.
Song Exploder, Episode 70: Weezer (22 min)
"Weezer’s 10th album, the self-titled “White” album, came out April 1, 2016. In this episode, Rivers Cuomo breaks down the meticulous process of making the song “Summer Elaine and Drunk Dori,” through the different demo versions that the track went through, and the array of spreadsheets that he uses collect, analyze, and harvest his ideas." ZOMG. Data and spreadsheets and music. I loved when Cuomo said people think Weezer's songs have all these deep meanings or came from real situations, when in fact the writing is culled together from short phrases set up in a database! The music comes first, and then the words. Check out the part at the end when Cuomo talks about the crazy things he and his band mates add into the songs at the very end of the songwriting process. Terrific episode.
How to Be a Girl, Episode IX: School (Part I) (26 min)
"This episode has been six months in the making, because that’s how long it took for this story to play out. It’s the story of my daughter entering second grade at a new school where we knew no one, almost no one knew her secret, and I had no idea how I was going to keep her safe.” How to Be a Girl's glorious return to the podcast after several months has been better than ever. This show is wonderfully touching.
Sooo Many White Guys, Episode 7: Phoebe and Hasan Minhaj Talk Turkey (41 min)
“He’s a successful stand-up comedian, he’s the senior correspondent on The Daily Show, and he’s married at thirty. Phoebe can check one of those boxes — and one out of three ain’t bad?” As Minhaj notes in the episode, you can be a funny person and not always have to be funny. I love the atmosphere of this show – the candidness about race and opportunity mixed with appropriate levels of silliness (but not appropriate silliness, because what fun would that be?) It’s so culturally aware, I didn't miss an episode. Minhaj spent quite a bit of time talking about how much he loves his wife and how they overcame some cultural expectations to be together; it was so heartfelt. I’m really impressed by the guests Robinson has interviewed.
Fresh Air: Larry Wilmore on 'Breaking Taboos' at the White House Correspondents' Dinner (36 min)
“The reviews are mixed for Larry Wilmore’s performance Saturday night at the White House Correspondents’ Association dinner. The comic, who hosts Comedy Central’sThe Nightly Show with Larry Wilmore, landed jokes about President Obama, the presidential candidates and the press. But a few of his bits — including his reference to the president as “my n****” — were greeted with some discomfort." Remember when this happened? The media blitz surrounding this was big. And ultimately, Wilmore lost his day job a few months later - whether this event was a factor or not, who knows. Terri Gross handles this interview like a pro, asking tough questions and really getting Wilmore to open up as only she can.
Modern Love, Episode 18: A Heart Outrun (23 min)
“Gary Presley had all but given up on the idea of finding love. But — as the romantics out there know — love can find you when you least expect it. Sometimes, even when you’re resisting it. Gary tells his story in his Modern Love essay, “Would My Heart Outrun Its Pursuer?”” There’s something about Colin Farrell reading this that makes it 100 times better. He does a terrific job.
How to Be Amazing with Michael Ian Black, Episode 27: Audra McDonald (57 min)
“The record-breaking, six-time Tony Award-winning actress Audra McDonald went from a hyper-active kid performing in the local dinner theater to Broadway mega-star. In this episode, Michael chats with her about failed auditions, letting go of her idea of perfection, and how she learned to embraces new challenges, such as learning to tap dance for her upcoming role in Shuffle Along Or The Making of the Musical Sensation of 1921 and All That Followed.” Soon after this interview, Shuffle Along was actually cancelled due to McDonald's pregnancy and subsequent maternity leave announcement, so it's interesting to listen to this with that knowledge. I was really inspired by McDonald's honesty and Black's ability to break down the outer walls celebrities put up. These episodes are often like listening to a therapy session, and I love it.
Precious Lives, Episode 99: A Surgeon's Plea (23 min)
“Is this kid really an infant? Are you kidding me?” This week a lead pediatric surgeon at Children’s Hospital of Wisconsin reflects on one of his most gut-wrenching cases." Hear from a person trying to save the life of a baby caught in crossfire. This is a terribly emotional story that must be heard. Precious Lives as a series is full of heartwrenching stories like this one, but somehow, after the U.S. presidential election and the re-emergence in the public eye of people who believe guns don't kill people, these stories are even more upsetting that make me want to take action in my own way.
Here's the Thing with Alec Baldwin: Anthony Weiner on Term Limits and Text Messages (49 min)
"Anthony Weiner is charismatic, full of ideas, quick on his feet — he's a natural politician. These personal strengths were well suited to governance during his stint in the New York City Council, and as a U.S. Representative in Washington. But his personal flaws became very public, and very visible, during a series of well-publicized sexting scandals. The professional fallout was swift in both instances: Weiner resigned his House seat, and later suspended his candidacy in the 2013 race for mayor of New York City. He talks to host Alec Baldwin about the ways in which an elected official has to publicly atone for private misconduct, and considers his next professional move." This is a bit of a controversial pick, because this interview was done before Weiner was ultimately guilty of committing the same texting sin yet again. But it's a great interview, and some of the things Weiner says are almost unbelievable, depending on the lens you use.
Outlook: Crossing a Minefield to Escape IS (13 min)
"In August 2014, the Sinjar region in northern Iraq, home to the minority Yazidi community, was taken over by the so-called Islamic State. The group went from village to village killing the men and capturing the women. Lamiya Haji Bashar is an 18 year old Yazidi woman who grew up in Kocho, a village which Amnesty International say IS 'tried to wipe off the map.' After several attempts, Lamiya made a courageous escape." This story is phenomenal – so heart wrenching and emotional, packed into a short 13 minutes. It’s a must listen.
What's the Point, Episode .44: An Unusual Pattern (39 min)
““I seem to have a jinx,” says Benjamin Geen, a former nurse who is in prison serving 17 life terms after being convicted of two murders and of causing grievous bodily harm to 15 other people. In the winter of 2003-04, more than a dozen patients admitted to Horton General Hospital in Banbury, England, suffered severe respiratory failure. Geen was a nurse on duty during all of the incidents, and that statistical anomaly set off an investigation that ended in his imprisonment. Geen maintains his innocence, and some statisticians who’ve investigated the case claim that, while unlikely, the pattern of deaths does not inherently point to criminal behavior. On this week’s episode of our podcast What’s The Point, we present a 25-minute radio documentary, “An unusual pattern,” that was reported by science journalist Joel Werner (who helps produce WTP each week) and first aired on the Australian Broadcasting Corp.’s “Health Report.” Werner investigates the Geen case and explores why it’s so hard to tell whether statistical patterns point to crime or mere coincidence.” Sadly, What's the Point just announced it is ending, but you can check out its archives anytime. My favorite WTP episodes are when the team applies statistic and data analysis to something controversial, such as this case. Great storytelling along with a nerdy analysis.
Switched on Pop, Episode 40: Around the World with Drake (39 min)
“How do you create a hit that both breaks sound barriers and chart records? Drake has done this with a unique mix of international music from Africa, the Caribbean, the U.K. and Canada. But is his chart topping success musical appropriation or celebration? A deep listening reveals diverse influences and musical rhythms that have crossed oceans centuries before “One Dance” was even conceived. Plus, we debut Blinky Bill’s “So Strong,” his first single off his upcoming solo album.” Drake: not just for the young kids y’all! Moms can love Drake too thanks to Switched on Pop explaining his use of Caribbean and African influence in his music, and the sidebar discussion on a 3-2 clave beat in so many music styles! Love it.
Alter Ego, Episode 11: Adelaide is Miss Giggles, Rapalaide, and Merlaidy (52 min)
“Adelaide is multitalented to the extreme! I’m featuring her in the week of burlesque because that’s how we met… but she is much more than one type of artist. In this episode we focus on THREE of her Alter Egos: Miss Giggles, Rapelaide, and Merlaidy. Miss Giggles is the kids clown who draws and paints and is a child at heart, but in an adult setting she strips down with a silly fun burlesque tease. Rapelaide is a rapper, flowing, confident, and expressed. You’ll get to hear one of her raps, “I’m an Artist!” Merlaidy is a mermaid, Adelaide feels most connected with her. She has a whole storyline about how she comes to shore and can transform to a human. Besides all of these things, Adelaide Marcus is also a very talented visual artist.” This was my first listen to Alter Ego, and this show drew me into its web in one episode. Alter egos are intoxicating.
In the Dark, Episode 1: The Crime (34 min)
“The abduction of Jacob Wetterling, which made parents more vigilant and instigated the first national requirement that states track sex offenders via registries, took place before moonrise on a warm October night in 1989.” Go ahead and try not to cry, but keep tissues handy. Whether you feel connected to this story or not (I do, as I was a young girl around Jacob’s age in Minnesota at the time), it’s gripping and sad. The entire series was phenomenal, but this first episode really set the tone for what was to come in the next few episodes.
The Life Game: Canadian Scientist Maria Issa Fought for Recognition in a Male-Dominated Field (27 min)
Canadian scientist Maria Issa is a trailblazer for women in science. As a PhD student Maria’s groundbreaking research uncovered a key element in understanding how HIV affects the human body. Maria was the director of the pathology education centre at UBC where she continues to teach today. She has also been tireless advocate and mentor for women in science and sat on the board of the Society of Canadian Women in Science and Technology. But her story begins in 1949 in Hungary where she was born.” Why it’s great: It’s taken me a little while to get into The Life Game, but I’m glad I’ve stuck with it. The show pairs a guest with a set of actors who try to tell the guest’s life story through improv acting. There are a couple different “sets” during the performance – usually they build the story up with some back and forth between guest, host, and actors, and then they act out a particular life scene and the guest gets a bell and buzzer to encourage or stop the acting, and then the guest gets to play a role themselves. There have been some really tender moments and this one in particular was great for me because I too fight for recognition in a male-dominated field. And there was something so very touching about the childhood Issa endured in cold-war Hungary.
Nocturne, Episode 15: To a Distant Continent (27 min)
“Lynne Cox has spent her life swimming vast distances and pushing herself to the edges of possibility. Since the beginning, she has thrived on exploring uncharted territories, including the ocean at night.” Nocturne is such a thoughtful show, with a creative premise - what happens at night. Vanessa Lowe is, like me, doing this show all on her own, and I love her point of view. This show, part of The Heard, has been chugging along for a couple of years now and I get so excited when it shows up in my feed. This particular episode was breathtaking.
HumaNature, Episode 8: Row Row Row Your Boat. Or Not ... (16 min)
"It was supposed to be a leisurely float down the Snake River. But when they lost their guide, a group of tourists got more than they bargained for.” This was an exhilaratingly fun episode from a great series from Wyoming Public Media. Terrific storytelling.
This American Life, Episode 600: Will I Know Anyone at This Party? (65 min)
"There’s a seismic, historic change going on in the Republican party this year. Producer Zoe Chace tells Ira about a place you can eavesdrop on a group of Republican friends as they fret and argue about that change week after week: a podcast called Ricochet. Ira talks to Rob Long, one of the hosts of the podcast, and to Avik Roy, who’s appeared on the show." This time Chace knocks it out of the park. After spending the better part of the year embedded within Republican Party fundraisers, campaign events, town halls, etc., she shares some insight into what is at the heart of the divide in the party: immigration. And what is it about immigration that divides people? According to some in my home state of Minnesota, it's all about fear. So, so, so much fear. This hour long episode flew by - a true sign of an excellent scoop.
Planet Money, Episode 728: The Wells Fargo Hustle (18 min)
"The third-largest bank in the country, Wells Fargo, is in big trouble. A federal investigation found that Wells Fargo was opening bank accounts without customers' permission. Perhaps as many as two million fraudulent accounts. After the scandal broke, Wells Fargo's CEO John Stumpf was called to Capitol Hill to testify. He told the senators that the bank's upper management wasn't responsible for the giant scam. He said it was just a bunch of bad apples working at bank branches. Mostly low-level employees. One of the low-level employees was watching her former boss testify. And she couldn't believe it. This wasn't Wells Fargo's culture? Upper management had nothing to do with it? She knew the company in branches across the country had pushed and pushed young bankers until they broke the rules. Even the law. Today on the show, we take you inside the branch at the headquarters of Well Fargo bank. A place where a lot of workers were rewarded for doing some very bad things." A whistleblower exposé? Yes, please. Unfortunately this is a depressing one for me, as I previously held a high opinion of Wells Fargo. I'm disappointed by the corruption and deceit by large companies in America, especially when it impacts innocent people who have grown up believing banks were trustworthy places to keep your money.
The Mash-Up Americans: Nina Garcia is Not Judging You (32 min)
“Nina Garcia, Colombian-American star of Project Runway, fashion icon, and creative director of Marie Claire, dishes on the best place to eat Colombian food in New York (hint: it MAY be her house), why she almost said no to Project Runway, and how being an immigrant drives her success.” This is a great show out of Southern California affiliated with the fabulous American Public Media. No surprise this is right up my alley, as it's about learning from and accepting people with diverse backgrounds. And the hosts are delightful!
Us & Them: Hello Mary Lou (35 min)
“Mary Lou Bruner, who made headlines with her wild accusations about President Obama is running for Texas State Board of Education. If elected, she’ll be responsible for guiding the nation’s second largest public school system. Could she influence the content in textbooks used across the nation?” I live in Texas so this was of particular interest to me. Host Trey Kay very respectfully handles Mary Lou Bruner, who actually lost her election bid after this episode of Us & Them was published in May. Bruner was particularly concerned about certain parts of the interview being included on air - so you know that makes for great audio.
ARRVLS: Forty Blinks (24 min)
"One brisk autumn morning in Brooklyn, Katie decided to go for a bike ride. Little did she know that the gruesome events to follow would nearly cost Katie her life, and forever change how she looked at the world. " This arrival was about a young woman's arrival to the emergency room, and what it took to even arrive there. Katie McKenna recounts her experience in a captivating way that will make your heart pound as if it were you who had just been hit by a truck.
The Heart: Mariya (36 min)
“”When I was younger, someone took a knife to my clitoris and cut out a small, but significant part of me.” Based on the 2015 essay from The Big Roundtable, writer Mariya Karimjee takes us on a journey from her childhood in Pakistan, to her adolescence in Texas, through college, all the way to where she is now, back in Pakistan as she navigates family, love, her body and her personal relationships, all despite the physical and emotional trauma that she has suffered.” This is extremely powerful and honestly breathtaking. Must listen.
The Brain Candy Podcast, Episode 67: Rivals 3 Finale Recap & Discussion (54 min)
“Today we discuss the Rivals 3 finale. Sarah talks about the show, Johnny Bananas, and his decision regarding the twist. She says if she has any regrets, whether she’d do another show, and her relationship with Johnny is like now.” Most of you probably don’t follow MTV’s The Challenge, but it’s a reality competition where former MTV personalities compete in physical and mental challenges to win money. The shows are certainly manipulated by producers (as is most reality TV) and in the season that Susie and Sarah discuss, Sarah was bamboozled by her partner who, after winning the whole challenge together with Sarah, made a decision to keep $275K for himself and give her nothing. Sarah shares her perspective and Susie does a great job of being both Sarah’s friend and an objective interviewer in this podcast episode.
BBC Witness: The Battle for Mixed Marriage in the U.S. (9 min)
“In 1958, a mixed-race couple, Mildred and Richard Loving, were arrested and then banished from the US state of Virginia for breaking its laws against inter-racial marriage. Nine years later, Mildred and RichardLoving won a ruling at the Supreme Court declaring this sort of legislation unconstitutional. Witness speaks to the Lovings’ lawyer, Bernie Cohen.” I love this piece of history and it is eloquently yet succinctly told in a short episode.
Criminal, Episode 49: The Editor (27 min)
“In November of 1988, Robin Woods was sentenced to sixteen years in the notoriously harsh Maryland Correctional Institution. In prison, Robin found himself using a dictionary to work his way through a book for the first time in his life. It was a Mario Puzo novel. While many inmates become highly educated during their incarceration, Robin became such a voracious and careful reader he was able to locate a factual error in Merriam Webster’s Collegiate Encyclopedia. He wrote a letter to the encyclopedia’s editor, beginning an intricate friendship that changed the lives of both men.” Another truly classic episode from this terrific show. What a great story with a lot of positivity and hopefulness. I have listened to every episode of Criminal and this type of episode is why I love the show. I know this particular episode was co-produced by Daniel A. Gross, but damn, Phoebe Judge is a rock star.
Terrible, Thanks for Asking, Episode 2: I've Made a Huge Mistake (47 min)
"The year is 2007. Eva Hagberg is a 20-something writer snagging bylines in the New York Times by day, and partying herself stupid by night. It’s all going great, until she gets her big break, and her big breakdown…" This is a story of forgiveness. I don't want to spoil it because it is so good, but it starts with a woman who makes a mistake that she believes impacts another person profoundly, and later in life she connects with that person and finds out the truth.
This American Life, Episode 589: Tell Me I'm Fat (67 min)
“The way people talk about being fat is shifting. With one-third of Americans classified as overweight, and another third as obese, and almost none of us losing weight and keeping it off, maybe it’s time to rethink the way we see being fat. A show inspired by Lindy West’s book Shrill.” The stories in this episode are so relatable and emotional. I remember Lindy West's TAL episode from last year about being trolled, and this piece is a great follow up with little regurgitated material. One of the best TALs of the year.
A Pint with Seaniebee, Episode 33: Tavis Sage Eaton Has a Pint with Seaniebee (47 min)
"The founder and lead singer of PushMethod joins the podcast to recount his powerfully honest and inspiring life story and share some of the band’s music. He recounts how a troubled early life obsessed with guns eventually led him to joining The Marines for four years as a rifle expert. Returning to New York from tours in the Middle East at the age of 22, he shares the extreme difficulties he had readjusting back into society and the generally poor levels of support proffered to today’s returning US military veterans." This was one of the best Pints with Seaniebee I've heard. I love when Sean Boyle interviews musicians because he typically includes their music in the show, and it totally works. In this particular episode Boyle points out some commonalities that he's noticed among the many creative people he's interviewed for the show, so as a listener who has heard many of his interviews, I loved that, it made me think of those other episodes. Boyle asks pointed questions and his guests are really open, so it's refreshing to hear how someone got to where they are today - with all the bumps and bruises so many people are reticent to talk about.
Modern Love, Episode 2: One Last Swirl (22 min)
"We all project our issues on others, right? Onto our friends, family and coworkers.This Modern Love story is about a man projecting his deepest emotions onto his pet — not a dog or cat but a fish! Yes, a fish. But don't be misled, this story is about a lot more than a dying pet. Dan Barry's beautiful essay "Just One Last Swirl Around the Bowl" takes us on a deep emotional journey all the while prompting us to think about our own mortality.This week's essay is narrated by Jason Alexander." I could probably listen to Jason Alexander read the phone book (oh wait, those don't really exist anymore ...). I love that the narrators get to choose the essays they read, and then explain why they picked that essay after they've finished. Modern Love truly started off with a bang this year and this was one of the first episodes.
Rumble Strip Vermont: Six Families, Six DCF Stories (38 min)
“This show offers a close look at what it’s like to be a parent inside the DCF system. To have your choices, your lifestyle, your living circumstances under the microscope of a state agency that’s capable of taking away your children. DCF is an intensely private agency, and there’s no way to corroborate the details of these cases. The truth about these cases is always elusive and complicated. And I’m not looking for good guys or bad guys here. This is a show about six parents with six very different stories from all over the state of Vermont.” I was thrilled to hear that Erica Heilman joined The Heard this year, as her local storytelling show fits perfectly with their suite of shows and I love how the producers collaborate with each other. This episode was so rich; Heilman does a masterful job getting people to open up about very tough subjects without being exploitative.
Death, Sex & Money: Brooke Shields, Recovering Daughter (30 min)
"Brooke Shields became famous as a sex symbol long before she was actually having sex. At 12, she played a child prostitute in the film Pretty Baby. Soon after, she starred in the sexy teen romance Blue Lagoon. And at 15, she became the controversial face of Calvin Klein jeans. But then, in college, Brooke publicly revealed her virginity—which she says turned her into "the most famous virgin in the world." "There was a juxtaposition of those two things," Brooke says. "I was not aware. I was not sexually aware."" An honest reflection from Shields about, among other things, hitting puberty in the celebrity spotlight.
The Lapse, Episode 41: With Their Boots On - Andrea Abbate (22 min)
"“If you wake up and find mommy dead in the morning, you have to promise, promise, promise to take my contacts out.” Parents, right?" At times this story seems kind of unbelievable, but I think what's most amazing is how Andrea Abbate came out the other side of her disastrous childhood and was able to function well in society. It's a sad but really good story.
Embedded: The Capital (33 min)
“El Salvador is the murder capital of the world, by many estimates. It has the highest homicide rate anywhere outside of war zones. The reason? Violent street gangs, exported from the U.S. We spend 24 hours in the capital city, San Salvador, when the gangs try to flex their muscle like never before.” Transport yourself to El Salvador, one of the scariest places on Earth in 2016, with Kelly McEvers. You won’t be able to turn it off. This episode still haunts me several months later - I have this vivid image of McEvers on foot, slinking through local neighborhoods in San Salvador and being scared to death. The mic was on.
Heavyweight, Episode 3: Tara (38 min)
"Jonathan watched a short experimental video in college in which a little girl sat in silence while her parent sobbed. Now, Jonathan wants to know if that girl is okay." Jonathan Goldstein is fantastic, and although some have likened this to Mystery Show, I think it's far superior because to Goldstein. Sure, there's an element of "mystery" here, where we don't know exactly what happened after something took place many years ago, but this show is treated with so much more patience and care than a glib mystery about something really inconsequential, like what happened to a video store that went out of business. For me, the painstaking process of finding out Jake Gyllenhaal's true height doesn't spark a fraction of the emotion that any of the episodes of Heavyweight have, and this episode is a perfect example.
99% Invisible, Episode 203: The Giftschrank (21 min)
"Deep in the heart of the Bavarian State Library in Munich, the Giftschrank was a box (and later, a room) for storing books that were seen as potentially hazardous. Over the years, such “poison cabinets” or “poison rooms” in this and other German libraries would fill up, get emptied, fill up again—the contents of the Giftschrank speaking volumes about what German society considered dangerous at any given moment.” Classic 99PI, with equal parts design, culture, and history, all centered around something that existed, but was largely hidden. This episode was exhilarating, imagining people sneaking into the Giftschrank in Nazi Germany.
Story Pirates, Episode 30: Polar Bears (12 min)
"Story Pirates presents the new story “Polar Bears” by Cally Thomas." OK - Story Pirates is a kids show (though I contend adults should also listen to it because it's hilarious) where a team of improv actors acts out a story written and submitted by an elementary school kid. The actors of course embellish the story and parent humor abounds. My kids have listened to every Story Pirates episode, but this is the one they keep going back to over and over. I also think it's funny, and not at all annoying to listen to repeatedly as young children insist.
The Story Collider: Jeff Sparr: Obsession (13 min)
"Jeff Sparr finds an unexpected purpose after his life is torn apart... by a case of jock itch." I listen to The Story Collider pretty regularly because I love stories, personal narratives, and science, and this show combines all three. I was not prepared for this episode about a man who describes how he realized he had OCD and how it affected his life from that point on. Jeff Sparr sounds a little like a tough guy at the outset and as with other Story Collider episodes you may be expecting a funny yet touching story - but just wait and listen and you'll be rewarded.
Shannon Cason's Homemade Stories, Episode 86: Cheating (25 min)
"Why use a prettier name for it? Call it what it is. Most of us who have been in relationships have to face this demon at some stage in life. Is it a growing pain or fatal?" This is a terrific personal narrative about cheating, which includes commentary from Cason's wife.
ARRVLS: Orthodox (20 min)
“What happens when your religious faith and sexual identity directly contradict one another? Josh Tranen lived with this contradiction for years. Even while studying in an orthodox Yeshiva in Israel, Tranen struggled to reconcile his beliefs with his identity. But when attitudes towards marriage in the US shifted, Tranen found his relationship to his religion changing as well.” Tranen talks about leaving one type of bad, just expecting another type of bad to begin as he goes off to college, and then he ever so slowly and gently steps out of the closet. Truly an arrival into a new life, which is what this sometimes-abstract show is all about. I’m also always happy to hear from more GLBTQ voices.
Here Be Monsters, Episode 63: The Art of the Scam, by Malibu Ron (21 min)
"Presumably, any given mystic falls into one of two categories: true believer or scam artist. It's foolish to think that this is a categorization that can be made at first glance. Spotting a good scammer is near impossible, unless they tell you outright. On this episode of Here Be Monsters, Jeff Emtman has a conversation with an internet mystic who identifies as scam artist. Vice would call him an "Etsy witch"; he calls himself a "haunted demon seller." Regardless, he doesn't give out his real name." Another classic HBM episode capturing the things we're afraid of, or creeped out by, but don't really like talking about. This was a great interview of a guy who sells voodoo dolls, spells, and other kooky stuff online, and has plenty of buyers to support his shoe habit.
StartUp, S4E3: Shadowed Qualities (41 min)
"This week, Alex receives feedback about his job performance from his co-workers, friends, and family. Some of it is good, some less so. But there is something else that comes up during the review process that shocks him. We explore what happens when you unpack your emotional baggage—or someone unpacks it for you—and you realize the unexpected effect that it has been having on your team. In this final Gimlet-focused episode of season four, we take a raw and intimate look at a defining moment in the trajectory of a CEO." It's a little uncomfortable to basically listen to someone on a counselor's couch, which is essentially what's happening in this episode with Alex Blumberg. I applaud Blumberg's braveness and openness. He talks about being 50 and not wanting to grow up, not wanting to be more organized or change, and holding on to some stuff from his childhood. I'm not sure how I'd feel about this piece if I worked at Gimlet, but I do appreciate the emotional openness especially coming from a man. From a show (and entire network) that almost always has some positivity, joking, lightness in every episode, this was a big departure and I loved it.
Transom Podcast: A Life Sentence: Victims, Offenders, Justice and My Mother (54 min)
"The story of the violent crime my mother survived in the fall of 1994 has never been something I share easily. It’s more something I offer after I’ve really gotten to know someone and feel that there’s something important they need to know about me, about my family. I’m acutely aware of the impact this crime has had on my mother’s life, on our family’s life, and I’ve always had a sense of its larger consequences. I thought if I could tell the story of both the intimate and the public impact, it might be worthwhile.” This episode was recently re-aired on This American Life, but I listened to it when it was originally aired in March 2016. Great personal narrative about the choice to forgive a violent criminal.
How to Be Amazing with Michael Ian Black, Episode 33: Dan Savage (61 min)
“America’s leading sex advice columnist known for his popular Savage Love column and podcast talks to Michael about how growing up a closeted gay in a religious Catholic family prepared him for the job of letting people know they are normal, no matter what their sexual interests may be.” I’ve heard Dan Savage both on his own show, where I think he is very eloquent and smart, and interviewed several times. This interview of Savage is the best I’ve ever heard – Black once again expertly flows between serious inquisition and sarcastic wit at just the right times. Imagine Savage discussing his sexual show content and then Black saying, “Ok, I’m just jotting down some notes. And sketches.” Snort. I LOVE this interview.
Inflection Point with Lauren Schiller: Gender & Race Diversity in Tech - Roz Hudnell (26 min)
“Meet one woman leading the charge to literally change the face of technology by bringing in more women and people of color to the industry–starting as early as elementary school. Roz Hudnell is VP of Corporate Affairs atIntel, and President of Intel Foundation. She is also one of the few senior African-American women at the company–and she is on a mission to change that too.” Inflection Point is now my “spirit podcast” that I identify with more than any other as a strong feminist and person trying to make a difference in the world by changing the status quo. I was raised to speak up, to make a difference, and to be myself, and that is what Inflection Point is all about. I think this is my all time favorite episode of this show, I just can’t say enough about what it means to have role models who truly try to make a difference for women in traditionally male fields. Thank you, Roz Hudnell, for standing up and speaking up.
The Uncertain Hour, S01-2: White Gloves, Aluminum Cans, and Plasma (35 min)
“Perhaps more than any other group, women on welfare have been stigmatized. In this episode, we introduce you to two women who’ve relied on welfare through the years: Ruby Duncan, an 83-year-old welfare rights activist in Las Vegas, and Josephine Moore, a 59-year-old mother of six in Kermit, West Virginia." This entire season was fantastic, but this episode really investigated the human impact of welfare programs.
Happy Holidays to you and yours!