My Favourite Podcasts (with info for podcast novices)
When I posted last week about my interview on While She Naps, I said that I'd hopefully put together a round-up of some of my other favourite podcasts soon. For me, a mere eight days later doesn't constitute 'soon'; eight days from thought to action feels more akin to having time-travelled into the future like a bolt of lightning - I'm quite surprised to find myself here. But self-surprise aside, before I dive into sharing my favourites, I thought I'd explain a bit about what podcasts are, because I suspect there are probably many people who are yet to be indoctrinated into the wonder of them, perhaps because they don't know how to go about listening to or finding them.
What is a podcast?
Just as blogs offer a way for people to self-publish their written thoughts, podcasts offer the same opportunity in an audible format. Although different mediums, blogs and podcasts have a few things in common: both are free for readers and listeners and both have, in my opinion, a welcome informality and diversity that comes from the content being largely uncensored and self-published. It's not just independent people that have podcasts though - just as many big businesses now have blogs, plenty also create podcasts. What separates podcasts from radio is that you don't have to listen live as things are broadcast - you can listen anytime and enjoy plundering the archives if you find one that you fall in love with. Many radio programmes are now also produced as podcasts shortly after being broadcast live.
How can I listen to one?
You can actually listen to most podcasts just by visiting the podcast creator's website, which may feel less overwhelming at first if you find technology intimidating. But, if you have a smart phone or tablet, you may prefer to download a podcast app, which allows you to subscribe and listen to a vast array of podcasts through one app and which will automatically update each time a new episode is published. It also allows you to listen on the move - I often play podcasts on my phone when I'm cleaning the bathroom, making dinner or sewing in bed on a Sunday morning.
Downloading a podcast app
Apple has its own podcast app, which you can find here (in order to download Apple's podcast app, you'll need to click that link from your iPhone or iPad, as the app isn't available on a computer). If you have an android phone or tablet (or if you don't like Apple's own podcast app), I believe there are lots of other apps for listening, here are a few that I've seen frequently recommended: Stitcher; Acast; Overcast. Once you've downloaded a podcast app, from within that you can search for things to listen to and, with one tap, subscribe to any that you'd like to keep up to date with.
So, let's get started on some podcast recommendations. Each podcast title is also a clickable link for instant online listening, but you can also subscribe or find any of them by searching for the title in whatever podcast app you use on your phone/tablet. I've divided the podcasts into categories (like a game of Trivial Pursuits): Reading & Literature; Thought-Provoking; Interview; Storytelling; Agony Aunts (yes, really!); Documentary; and Other Podcasts of Note.
Reading and Literature
World Book Club (produced by BBC World Service)
The Penguin Podcast
This is a relatively new one to me, but the moment I discovered it, it headed pretty much straight to the top of my list of favourite podcasts. Published fortnightly, it features conversations with well-known authors about objects that have inspired their books, often interviewed by someone famous in their own right.
Revisionist History by Malcolm Gladwell
There are now two seasons of Revisionist History available and it's one of the most well-researched and fascinating podcasts I've found. Malcolm chooses an event, saga, story or idea from history and then explores every facet of it through a mixture of interview, research studies, experiment and his own insights, to see whether our perception of it is actually correct. There's a strong focus on psychology: how people think, why we do certain things (there's an obvious common thread in the podcasts I enjoy). One episode that sticks in my head particularly is Blame Game from Season 1, but they're all excellent.
I imagine TED Talks need no introduction, but just incase, TED offers a stage for short talks given by a range of talented people, who between them delve into every facet of our world to offer a greater understanding of it - gobble these talks up and feel your mind growing. A few that I specifically remember enjoying over the years: Amy Cuddy's Your Body Language May Shape who you Are and Susan Cain's The Power of Introverts.
Created by the aforementioned TED, this is a selection of stories they wanted to share, but which were too sensitive, painful or potentially damaging to reveal without the umbrella of anonymity. Longer and more storied than your average TED talk.
The Turnaround with Jesse Thorn
I found this podcast fascinating! In each episode, Jesse interviews a well-known interviewer (yes, you read that correctly) about their career, technique, research, and interview style and the conversation is often interspersed with anecdotes about their experience of interviewing particular people. In theory, this podcast shouldn't be of interest to anyone other than those who interview people for a living, but somehow it's completely compelling.
Desert Island Discs
Probably one of BBC radio 4's best-loved shows, each week Kirsty Young interviews someone well-regarded or famous about their life. Episodes that have stuck in my head: David Nott, a vascular and war surgeon; John Timpson - I found it eye-opening to discover that this chain of highstreet cobblers is run in such a maverick way; Mary Berry; and Judith Kerr.
While She Naps
Abby Glassenberg has been interviewing creatives since 2014 and I'm still enjoying regularly dipping into the archives. It's tempting to pick out the names that I already know, but on the occasions where I've just plumped for someone from a different creative discipline (illustration/embroidery), I've always enjoyed listening just as much. Abby is not afraid of asking her guests hard questions (eep!) and I found this interview, where she chats to the wonderfully talented Luke Haynes about using uncredited female sewists in the making of his exhibition quilts, thought-provoking.
This podcast is an offshoot of the annual Blogtacular event, hosting an array of interesting guests talking about creative businesses, blogging and social media. It's somehow accessible and fascinating listening even for those who don't tend to think those things through in an intentional way (I'd include myself in that). Kat Molesworth is an insanely knowledgeable interviewer, so the discussions often wander off in unanticipated directions, which I love. I really enjoyed Kat's interview with Kate O'Sullivan and through that I discovered her podcast, A Playful Day, mentioned below.
A Playful Day
Kate's interviews cover a diverse range of subjects from parenting a child with autism, to exploring day-to-day life for a couple running an organic vegetable farm. The interviews are thoughtful and personal, with Kate and her interviewees discussing what lies beneath the glossy surface of life.
The Moth invites regular people to tell true stories in front of a live audience at venues around the world. There are stories that will make you laugh and cry and there's a delicious diversity of voices, which can feel refreshing if you've found yourself in a Radio 4 listening-spell (that's always a good spell to be in, but sometimes a change is nice...I begin to crave different voices if I listen to too much Radio 4).
When the news is particularly bleak and depressing or if my spirits are feeling fragile, I put on an episode of Kind World. Often less than 10 minutes long, this bite-sized podcast tells true stories of kindness and compassion. Occasionally, they can begin to wander toward saccharine, but mostly they just make my heart feel nicely warmed.
The Modern Love podcasts asks famous actors to read aloud stories that have been previously been published in the eponymously named New York Times column and, following that, shares an interview with the writer of the story. The 'love' covered in the stories is varied: familial love; love of animals; romantic love, lost love, self love...
As children, when my sister and I bought our weekly copy of Jackie Magazine, the first page we'd turn to would be the agony aunt column. When I outgrew Jackie, I later transferred my affections to Sally Brampton's wonderful and insightful advice column in the Sunday Times. I always loved reading Sally's responses - she refused to put herself on a pedestal and frequently referenced her long battle with depression in her answers (Sally very sadly took her own life in 2016), but the advice she gave was invariably brilliant and I enjoyed reading her column to discover the unique and intelligent angle that she'd come from in attempting to help a reader solve a problem. I stumbled across Viv Groskop's agony aunt podcast by chance (I think I found it through the online magazine, The Pool, where she also writes) and have found it an oddly comforting thing to listen to. I'm aware that may sound like a curious statement, but it's the solution, rather than the problem, that I'm interested in. Viv has a down-to-earth and friendly tone that makes her enjoyable to listen to and by the end of an episode, it feels like she's taken something that initially felt scratchy and uncomfortable and repackaged it into something that the person can hopefully deal with, whether through acceptance or change. There's something lovely about finishing an episode feeling equilibrium has been restored, even though the reality is unlikely to be so easy. In a similar vein, Dear Sugars by Cheryl Strayed is wise and funny.
This American Life
I think this was one of the first podcasts I listened to and I still love it now. It covers everything from bizarre quirky news stories to culture, politics, humanness...it's really everything and anything. The show's host, Ira Glass, tends to introduce a subject and then explore it through a series of interviews and observations. It's brilliantly researched and produced, and the archives could keep a person entertained for years. This episode about a blind man who navigates the world by clicking his tongue was incredible. I think this extended episode, where This American Life spent a month at a car dealership was the first I ever listened to and it just felt so different and extraordinary that I was smitten...no previous interest in car dealerships required.
The award-winning Fresh Air podcast describes itself as 'a weekday magazine of contemporary arts and issues, the show features intimate conversations with today's biggest luminaries', which sounds about right. I often find interesting things on here.
Other Podcasts of Note
The Crafty Planner; Death, Sex & Money (I'm excited to listen to their recent interview with the author Tayari Jones as I'm currently reading her novel, An American Marriage); Woman's Hour; Ear Hustle (recorded inside a prison - eye-opening); Happy Place with Fearne Cotton; BBC World Service 100 Women; Hidden Brain; Invisibilia; Soul Music; Strangers (this is no longer being made, but has a fantastic archive); Loose Ends with Clive Anderson; All in the Mind.
Rather than listening to all of these regularly, I go through phases where I'll dip in and out of each podcast and listen to a few episodes back-to-back. Or I'll have a podcast break altogether and focus on an audiobook, and come back to find hundreds of new episodes to choose from - there's no real rhyme or reason to my listening...which is really the beauty of the podcast format.
I'd love to hear what you've been listening to - whether any of your own favourites are here or if there are any that you can introduce me to.