Podcast picks: an editor series

Raina DeBrouwer

Listening to the news can be a mentally exhausting endeavor these days. From an impending “ecological Armageddon” to institutional sexism in Hollywood (and beyond), to the baffling presidency of He Who Must Not Be Named, one can’t be faulted for wanting an alternative to traditional media. Luckily for us, podcasts are on the rise and better than ever. Here are my top three picks of binge-able podcasts to escape reality with.

  1. Dear Sugars by The New York Times and WBUR

I’ve never been a “Chicken Soup for the Soul” kind of girl. Self-help books? Nah. Yoga? Never. Advice columns? A definitive no.

So when my mom started raving about Dear Sugars and urging me to listen, I was more than skeptical. However, the podcast is billed as “a radically empathic advice show” and, given the year we’ve had, I found radical empathy to be a refreshing prospect.

If you’ve read the book Wild or seen the movie by the same name, you know that Cheryl Strayed has endured, to put it frankly, some shit. Steve Almond is an accomplished novelist by his own right, and his elegant prose quite literally gives me chills.

The show consists of these hosts grappling with heavy, perplexing dilemmas that people write in about. Whether it be an issue you never thought could plague someone’s life so entirely, to something you can relate to on a deeply personal level, every episode offers enlightenment. Listen as these hosts unpack the most complicated of quandaries with insightful, eloquent, compassionate suggestions that will simultaneously blow your mind and mend your soul.

Suggested episodes: Ready to relate? Haunted by Ghosting. Ready for intensity? Can A Sexual Assault Survivor Love A Rapist?

  1. How I Built This with Guy Raz by NPR

Lacking inspiration? Feeling like a small cog in a very large wheel? Needing to hear from ordinary people who built extraordinary empires from just an idea and a work ethic? Look no further.

How I Built This is “a podcast about innovators, entrepreneurs, and idealists, and the stories behind the movements they built. Each episode is a narrative journey marked by triumphs, failures, serendipity and insight — told by the founders of some of the world’s best known companies and brands” (NPR, 2017).

This podcast will make you want to take on the world. Listen as incredibly accomplished business people detail the ups and downs that led them to success. The conversational style of the show will make you feel like you’re having a casual brew with a business mogul rather than listening to an interview through your headphones.

Despite their considerable achievements, interviewees are surprisingly modest, with passion presiding over pretension. Host Guy Raz has a way of asking the right questions at the right time to shed light on seemingly innocuous details that contribute heavily to the successes of these entrepreneurs.

Suggested episodes: Looking for unrelenting resilience? Spanx: Sara Blakely. Looking for enduring passion? Clif Bar: Gary Erickson.

  1. Modern Love by WBUR

This podcast version of the popular New York Times column by the same name has notable personalities (actors, novelists, singers, etc.) reading pieces that readers submit about love. Love isn’t always presented in the romantic sense; it’s often chronicled between friends and family, pets and owners, and essayists and themselves.

Self-described as “stories of love, loss and redemption”, Modern Love has everything from a funny Groomzilla who shocks himself by turning into a monster on the quest to plan the perfect wedding, to a heartbroken mother who decides it’s finally time to give her autistic son tough love by sending him to jail.

These personal essays provide a unique glimpse into the love lives of others with the passion, resentment, joy, surprise, hurt, humour, and comfort that go with it. No two episodes are alike – because readers from all around the world are able to submit pieces, each episode offers a totally unique take on love.

Narrators of the pieces do a phenomenal job of acting their parts, giving you the sense that you’re hearing someone read his or her most vulnerable journal entry out loud. The resulting effect is a feeling of kinship with strangers as they contend with complex feelings associated with love.

Suggested episodes (aside from the two aforementioned ones, which are definitely worth checking out): Looking for unimaginable selflessness? Marry My Husband. Looking for the unparalleled power of a mother’s love? Sharing The Shame After My Arrest.

Podcasts offer a unique opportunity to learn new things and connect with others (for free!) in the comfort of your home, on the bus, in the car, etc. Whether it be true crime podcasts (I highly recommend season one of Serial) or skill-building ones (Grammar Girl Quick and Dirty Tips for Better Writing), there’s something for everyone.

I’m always looking for something new to listen to. What are your favourite podcasts? Agree or disagree with my reviews of these podcasts? Be sure to comment below!

Happy listening!